Amglish In, Like, Ten Easy Less

Arthur E. Rowse

Part 5

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The December 2010 ceremony in Oslo awarding the n.o.bel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, the political dissident held in a Chinese prison, was also conducted in English. Nothing new for Scandinavians.

University English.

Another indication of how extensively English has spread, especially among young adults, is the number of English courses offered in overseas universities. According to Diane Spencer of University World News, the number tripled from 2003 to 2008. She said the Academic Cooperation a.s.sociation in Brussels found approximately 2,400 courses, almost all at the masteras level. Most of the courses were in countries north of the Alps. In keeping with the cosmopolitan nature of the times, more than two-thirds of the students were from another country.

A more dramatic example of the growth of English in European universities occurred in March 2009 in Groningen, Holland. Marlies Hagers reported in the now-defunct nrchandelsblad that hundreds of students met in the Academieplein Square in that city as university Rector Frans Zwarts lifted a gla.s.s of champagne on the steps of the university building and toasted in English: aTo a very successful next academic year. I wish you all the best.a Earlier that day, he had given a speech in English at the official convocation.

A proposal to make English the official language of instruction at Dutch universities was made first in 1990 by education minister Jo Ritzen as a necessary step to attract more international students. At the University of Amsterdam, 105 of 170 masteras programs were already given in English. As expected, however, Ritzenas plan ran into some opposition from establishment types, who bemoaned the dilution of their national character.

Bad English Works Good.

For American travelers, it is now routine to encounter both formal and informal American words and phrases almost everywhere. Typical was the experience of a group of American psychiatrists, including John Kafka of Bethesda, Maryland, who were invited to teach medical students in Odessa in 2007. When a visitor asked a group of students what language they normally spoke, they replied almost in unison: aBad English.a Call it what you will, abad English,a abroken English,a or Amglish, it is sweeping across the world, and most people are being just as good humored about it.

At the same time, Englishas chief rival and predecessor in the lingua franca business has steadily been losing stature. In 2009, the European Commission reported that the percentage of its doc.u.ments drafted in French had decreased from 40 percent in 1997 to only 11 percent. In response, Michel Serres, a French author, quipped, aThere are more English words on the walls of Paris than German words under the Occupation.a Greek and Latin Roots.

Europeans should welcome English as a family member. Their ancestors contributed greatly to its formation over the centuries. Todayas English is an amalgam of almost every earlier language of the Western world going back to Greek and Latin and the Indo-European languages that preceded them. Many of these early roots have bubbled up the language chain to attain their present forms in dictionaries.

Latin words include animal, animosity, audacious, bonus, calculus, conjugal, diary, disciple, domain, effort, feminine, final, fortune, judge, lunar, marine, matron, maximum, pedestrian, pessimist, rural, suburb, and village.

Greek words in English include the following, starting only with the letter a: abyss, academy, acme, acoustic, aerobic, agnostic, agonize, allegory, anchor, anemia, angel, angina, angle, apathy, arial, and athlete.

When I asked John Robertson, who runs the wordinfo.info website featuring Latina"Greek cross-references, if he had ever compiled a list of English words with Latin or Greek roots in a specific dictionary, he replied, aSo many new words are being created in our modern times from those two sources that no one can keep up with the new entries.a The French Connection.

Outside of the basic Greek-Latin inheritance, French has had the next biggest influence on English. That is mostly because of the Norman invasion of England in 1066 and the subsequent control of that nationas governing powers for nearly three centuries. As many as 30 percent of todayas English words are of French origin.

Some common examples in English are ballet, blas, brunette, bureau, caf, chauffeur, clich, communiqu, critique, en route, entre, gaffe, liaison, omelet, sabotage, silhouette, and unique.

During the period under French control in England, country folk tended to speak a mixture of French and English called Anglo-Norman, while city folk spoke mostly French. The turning point was the devastating Black Death in 1348a"1350. It tended to kill off more city folks than country ones, thus making the latter, who spoke rudimentary English, especially influential in lifting English into the dominant role.

Since then, French authorities seem to have been burning because of their failure to win the language war in Britain. Led by the forty immortels, the French Academy has been fightinga"and losinga"a guerilla war of tongues much of the time since Cardinal Richelieu established it in 1635.

The standard-setting group requires all companies operating in France to communicate with employees in French. It also bans certain non-French words from being used by the media and other elements of society. It even sets the percentage of broadcast music that must be in French. The latest requirement is 40 percent.

One of the fiercest fighters for the fading glory of la langue franais has been Helene Carrere daEncausse, the first female permanent secretary of the academy. In 2002, she delivered a formal speech vigorously defending French and decrying the many aanglicisms that make proper French words die.a She noted sadly that the best French is now spoken in Warsaw, Tel Aviv, Dakar, and other distant iles de France. She ended by saying that French is taught in 118 countries, all of which consider it a asuperior language.a Former premier Jacques Chirac agrees. In 2006, a adeeply shockeda Chirac stormed out of an EU summit in protest when a French businessman addressed the delegates in English. This was the same Chirac who had reportedly used diplomatic English in dealing with Germanyas Merkel. Also in 2006, an unnamed French subsidiary of an American company was fined $800,000 for providing computer software to its employees in English only.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has also been defensive, complaining of asn.o.bisma by French diplomats who prefer English.22 The defensiveness is based on the popular phrase: aMon pays caest ma languea (My country is my language). As Monique Briendwalker, a French teacher in the United States, puts it, aItas a fight to survive as a culture, as a power, as a nation.a23 Signs of Change.

But there never has been any doubt as to which side was winning. It has always been the brash linguistic invaders. One of the signs of change came in 1990 when the National Textbook Company in Lincolnwood, Illinois, published its Dictionary of Faux Amis by C. W. E. Kirk-Greene. Starting with its Frenglish t.i.tle, it indirectly doc.u.mented the way English was altering the French language by including a large number of English words used by the French. Examples are book, building, cake, car, cherry, chips, crash, and legs.

500 False Friends in French.

The Dictionary of Faux Amis contains approximately five hundred afalse friends,a mostly French words that have a different meaning in English from what even a speaker of French might expect, plus words with several meanings to choose from. For example, aimer can mean ato lovea in French while its false friend is ato aim.a Likewise, the word appel can mean both an appeal and a telephone call.

The author also points out that caest un as is not the insult it sounds like but just the opposite: ahe or it is top cla.s.s.a Another example is monnaie, which normally means money or currency. But to say you donat have any monnaie in French may mean youare loaded but donat have any change.

Never mind the trends. Full speed ahead, say French authorities. As recently as March 2008, the Academy issued sixty-five pages of prohibited words, including blog, e-mail, fast food, podcasting, supermodel, and even such terms as shadowboxing and detachable motor caravan. Among the directives to the French people were: use acces sans fil a lainternet for Wi-Fi, diffusion pour baladeur for iPod, toile daaraignee mondiale for the World Wide Web, and courriel for e-mail.24 Bonne chance with all that.

French Ed Chief Gives Up.

Less than six months later, however, at least one key French official quietly hoisted the white flag of surrender. Xavier Darcos, the French education minister, admitted that the key to success was not better French but better English. He was quoted by the London Daily Mail Online as saying that using poor English had suddenly become a ahandicapa because international business was being conducted in that language. He added more money for teaching English to students who did not have money for private lessons.

A year later, French author Eric Semmour sadly noted that the French elite had also given up fighting English. aThey donat care anymore,a he told a reporter. aThey all speak English, and the working cla.s.s . . . donat care about preserving the integrity of the language either.a25 According to a 2004 poll by the Pew Research Center, 68 percent of those aged sixty-five and older in France agreed that young people need to learn English to succeed in the world today. Pew found similar results in other European countries.

Returning to Germany.

The old language is flooding back. Thatas what many Germans must be thinking as English words inundate their nation and the world at a time when most Germans know enough English and American words and expressions to converse with each other in English. The first signs of what we now call English came largely from West German, Frisian, and Nordic invaders of the British Isles midway through the first millennium.

Since then, the German and English languages have shared many of the same words as well as grammatical structure. There are no reliable figures to show which European nation has become the most Americanized linguistically, but all signs point to Germany.

Jurgen Flach, a native German who became a U.S. citizen while serving as general manager for an international pharmaceutical company in the States, says most Germans learn English in high school as a second language in a nation where 90 percent of the music is in English.26 Now retired in Germany, Flach adds that there are many areas in large German cities where only English is spoken.

Dorothea Baerthlein, writing for Topics Online Magazine, says that in Germany she does aerobics cla.s.ses, warms up, cools down, goes jogging and shopping for a T-shirt, sweater, and shortsa"using all those English words before going to a meeting. Itas all part of a long sharing process.

Among German words imported earlier into English are frankfurter, hamburger, kaput, kindergarten, rucksack, schadenfreude, wanderl.u.s.t, and zeitgeist.

Is There a Limit?

However, there is a growing backlash against using English and Denglish, the linguistic marriage of Deutsch and English. Some Germans feel that the constant injection of English into their society is threatening the existence of German itself.

One leader of the resistance is conservative politician Erika Steinbach, who has said, aWithout English or the parody of it that is Denglish, it no longer is possible to get by in daily life in Germany. Millions of Germans are at a loss . . . because so many products and ads are presented to them in a foreign language.a27 Steinbach and others have tried to enact laws restricting ads in foreign languages.

There have also been complaints about the dominance of English in science and research, where Germans have always been internationally prominent. Other subjects allegedly under siege include economics, mathematics, natural sciences, and technology.

The German Language a.s.sociation has also been trying to stop the proliferation of Denglish. A sauerkraut named Walter Kraemer, the organizationas director, calls the German use of English apseudo-cosmopolitan exhibitionism.a Yet he accepts words like s.e.x appeal that have become part of the German language. What riles him most are words for which there are perfectly good German subst.i.tutes.28 All Language in the Mixer.

English is not the only language in the Cuisinart. French and j.a.panese have merged in part into what is called aFranponais.a It is essentially the misuse of French words in j.a.pan. Other terms for it are aFlanponaisa and aFlanais,a with optional p.r.o.nunciations.

The mixture comes from the fact that many j.a.panese think it is stylish to spout French terms in the fields of fashion, cuisine, and hairstyles. But few j.a.panese can actually speak French fluently.

As a result of such complaints, the countryas railroad, Deutsche Bahn, was forced to remove signs in English from station areas and to replace them with signs in German. So a sign saying Kiss-and-Ride turned into Kurzzeitparkzone, and a sign for Hotline was changed to Service Nummer. These changes have not stopped the company from selling tickets, giving out service points, and boasting of a washroom known as McClean.

Lufthansa, the German airline, took the hint several years ago when it switched from its slogan aThereas No Better Way to Flya to a German equivalent. And the German Transport Minister announced at the end of 2010 a list of 150 English words and terms that were verboten. Claiming to have the support of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Peter Ramsauer said the move was taken to preserve the German language from words like babysitten, rebooten, and downloaden.

Aussies Get a Gutful.

Europe is not the only place in linguistic turmoil. By 2003, Premier Peter Beattie of Australia said he had had aa gutfula of Americanisms and was not going to take it anymore. aAmerica might control the world,a he said, abut we must control and keep our language. . . . We donat need diapers, candy, ketchup, trash cans, and friesa"weave got nappies, lollies, rubbish tins, and chips.a29 He added that his island nation doesnat want to be the fifty-first state.

Objections to the American influx apparently went much deeper. According to Sidney J. Baker, the previously cited Sydney linguist, aAustralians have suffered a lingual melancholia that has left them uneasy about their future. . . . They have been told so often by the misinformed that their own slang lacks originality and has been imported in bulk from America that they have lost confidence in themselves.a Baker quoted author I. L. Bird as saying in her Australia Fix in 1877 that there was a tendency even then for Aussies ato adopt words which are rather American than English in their use.a30 Effects on Other Languages.

It is only natural that the revolution in English, with its growing prominence in the world, would cause changes in other languages. This is even true for Asian languages that use ancient images as letters and symbols, a system that presents the greatest contrast to the Roman letters of English.

In j.a.pan, the presence of English is huge, and it is having a profound effect on the j.a.panese, according to Alexander Michaelson, an American student living in j.a.pan. He notes a distinct movement away from kanji, the characters inherited from the Chinese, toward more and more katakana, the phonetic system that represents foreign words in j.a.panese.

In China, English is cutting deep into the learning of Chinese by those who were born there. Zhang Ming-jian, an a.s.sociate professor at Qingdao University, reports that atoo much focus on English has led to a lack of enthusiasm in learning the Chinese language and culture and decreasing proficiency in the mother tongue as well.a31 In South Korea, English has replaced Chinese as the source of most loan words since World War II, when the nation was freed of j.a.panese rule. Since the Korean War, the American influence has increased greatly. Joseph J. Lee, a graduate student at San Francisco State University and a former teacher in Korea, says English words picked up phonetically include coffee, orchestra, cherry tomato, and plastic bag, the Korean equivalent of vinyl envelope.

In Greece, where the natives are especially friendly to American tourists because they spend so much more money than others, everybody connected to the travel business knows English. That includes ferryboat crews, hotel clerks, taxi drivers, police, shopkeepers, and guards at historic sites. In fact, English is creeping into almost every corner of Greek life and raising concerns about the ability of the language to keep its famed heritage as the oldest European language.

Many Greeks have become fed up with the incursion of English words. In 2001, a group of intellectuals including professors and playwrights launched a verbal war against Greeklish, claiming that there was an aunholy plota by international computers against demotic (modern) Greek. Words singled out for derision included erkodission for air conditioning, frikaro for freak out, komputeraki for laptop, and rockatzis for a fan of rock music. Ten years later, it was clear that the purists were losing the fight.

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Obama, j.a.panese English Teacher.

Three years earlier, Slovakiaas Council for Broadcasting and Retransmission had lifted the BBCas radio license to broadcast in Slovakia because its content was in English, a violation of Slovak law.

All Things Wiki.

Amglish is akin to the wiki world, because the two concepts share the same type of freedom, simplicity, and international power. Ward Cunningham, who sired the wiki family, chose to name it after a aWiki Wikia airport shuttle in Honolulu where the word means fast.

The progenies include Wikipedia and Wiktionary, both free and editable by others who have expertise to offer. They have been criticized for errors and for allowing readers to edit the data. But the error rate has been reported to be nearly the same as for traditional encyclopedias. And the editing process has been tightened. Like Amglish, everything wiki is a work in progress.

Family Divisions.

The worldwide popularity of English can also present big problems down the road for individuals and families who donat speak it but face pressure to have their youngsters learn it in school. Parental motives may be innocent enougha"to help their children succeed in todayas English-dominated worlda"but the result may be children who cannot or will not speak the native language of their own parents and grandparents.

as english spreads, indonesians fear for their language. That was the headline over a New York Times article by Normitsu Onishi who quoted several mothers of schoolchildren facing that dilemma. aThey know theyare Indonesian,a one mother of three was quoted as saying. aThey love Indonesia. They just canat speak Bahasa Indonesia. Itas tragic.a39 Onishi wrote that a personas language essentially determines his or her social status, and that until the end of the Suharto regime in 1998, Javanese was at the bottom, Bahasa Indonesia was above, Dutch was the tops, and English was discouraged. Since then, he wrote, English has become the new Dutch.

Aimee Dawis, a communications teacher at Universitas Indonesia, told Onishi, aNow the dilution of Bahasa Indonesia is not the result of a deliberate government policy. Itas just occurring naturally.a The trend is apparently being led by well-to-do parents who can afford private school for their offspring.

Opinions Elsewhere.

As English/Amglish rolls around the world, the debate about its effects is growing. In Thailand, the main complaint is the quality of teaching. Private companies that need employees fluent in the language seem to be the driving force. But many teachers are only part-time workers who may not know English well, so the net effect often merely adds to the linguistic confusion.

In other places, the main worry is the effect on native languages. In an article on the Global Envision website, several respected authorities are quoted as believing that the net result may be a strengtheninga"not weakeninga"of native tongues as a type of resistance to Amglish and a desire to preserve local culture.40 Singapore teacher Anne Pakir calls Singlisha"a mixture of Chinese and Englisha"a akiller languagea because it has made a shambles of her efforts to teach English. On the other hand, author Salman Rushdie says aTo conquer English may be to complete the process of making ourselves free.a41 Juliane House, professor of applied linguistics at Hamburg University, adds that English can help preserve local dialects. aParadox as this may seem, the very spread of English can motivate speakers of other languages to insist on their own local languages for identification, for binding them emotionally to their own cultural and historical tradition.a A Political Backlash.

At the start of the twenty-first century, the worldas love affair with almost all things American turned somewhat sour. The attack on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon in 2001 jarred the nation into realizing that it had some serious enemies beyond the oceans which had protected the nation for so long. In a speech nine days later, President George W. Bush asked, aWhy do they hate us?a Although his word they seemed to refer only to the 9/11 terrorists, who were mostly Saudi members of al-Qaeda, it soon grew to include the 1998 bombers of the U.S. emba.s.sy in Kenya and anyone else who could be described as violently anti-American. A month after 9/11, a mob of Pakistanis torched a KFC restaurant in Karachi when they were blocked from venting their wrath against the local U.S. consulate. The crowd did not realize that the restaurant owner was a locally grown Colonel Sanders.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 added to the negative feelings in much of the world. An international poll by the Pew Research Center showed that favorability ratings of the United States even in normally friendly Great Britain, for example, dropped from 83 percent before 9/11 to 58 percent after the Iraq invasion. Germans switched from 78 percent in 1999 to 45 percent at the start of the Iraq war. A Zogby survey in 2002 reported that 87 percent of Saudis had an unfavorable view of America. Other Arab nations showed similar figures.

In order to answer Bushas question, the government launched opinion polls in many parts of the world. Results showed anti-Americanism running deep in many areas. It ranged from disdain for U.S. culture as depicted on TV and in movies to dislike of government policies, particularly those involving Israel and the Palestinians, a subject often at the top of the list of international sore spots.

In response to the polls, the government chose to sidestep any possibility of reviewing or changing policies but instead launched a ma.s.sive advertising campaign featuring positive images of Muslim life in the United States. However, after several countries refused to broadcast the ads and others found it ineffective, the program was canceled.

Conflicting Messages.

American businesses took the polls more to heart than average Americans did. Firms with connections overseas began to redesign their logos in order to play down the U.S. angles. The object was to save Brand America from having to retrench or rebrand itself.

But it soon became clear that the ominous signs for U.S. brands outside the country had been overstated. A 2003 survey of 105 international students at Regentas College, London, by Jami A. Fullerton of the University of North Texas agreed with a Fortune magazine article in 2003 that athe death of Brand America has been widely exaggerated.a Fullerton also found that the students liked U.S. television, movies, and music but did not like America in general.42 Had it finally become smart for young people abroad to reject what their parents had considered smart now that America had become a world-cla.s.s punching bag? The fact is that anti-Americanism has existed as long as America has. Britain and France are the historical witnesses to that.

Franchises Defy the Trend.

But the continued expansion and prosperity of American franchises overseas clearly demonstrate that the negative feelings about U.S. policies simply donat apply to them or their products, especially not the language that surrounds them.

American franchise operations have continued to expand internationally even while some have been retrenching at home, according to a 2009 report by Richard Gibson.43 He reported that McDonaldas had opened 286 units abroad in the most recent seven months compared to only 53 domestically during a period of tight credit.

aFor overseas investors,a he added, abig U.S. chains are attractive because of their brand recognition and proven profit potential. That, in turn, makes it easier to sell individual franchises in a foreign country.a To prove the point, Gibson said that Subway had opened 1,432 locations abroad in the previous five years, 202 more than were opened in the United States. And a unit of Doctoras a.s.sociates Inc. had nearly doubled its overseas presence to 8,817 outlets. Meanwhile, Curves International, a womenas fitness center, had opened 612 locations abroad in a year and a half, compared to only 19 in the U.S. and Canada.

The message from abroad to Americans at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century seemed to be, aWe donat like your international policies, but we love your Big Macs, smart phones, movies, and especially your lingo.a Amglish doesnat need any promotional or advertising help.

Will English Doom Itself?

The more the language spreads, the more some observers worry about its ultimate fate. A book published in 2010 refers to todayas international English as The Last Lingua Franca: English until the Return of Babel.44 Its first line reads, aThe decline of English, when it begins, will not seem of great moment.a The British author, Nicholas Ostler, argues that since world English is a lingua franca, merely a language of convenience, it will be dropped without ceremony or emotion when it is no longer convenient.

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