Amglish In, Like, Ten Easy Less

Arthur E. Rowse

Part 8

Report Chapter

According to the Modern Language a.s.sociation, the proportion of foreign language courses to all college courses in the United States stood at 8.6 percent in 2009, roughly half of what it was in 1965.26 The U.S. is said to be the only major country where a student can complete high school or college without studying any foreign language.

Also in 2009, the European Commission issued a forlorn plea for help in filling a aserious shortagea of interpreters in nearly every language. It bemoaned athe belief that being able to speak English is enough for international contacts, both for oneas work and for oneas personal or social life.a Why Not Major in Java?

Reacting to SUNYas cutbacks in foreign language study, French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy of the University of Strasbourg wrote, aTo choose between eliminating French or philosophy . . . what a fabulous choice! Should one take out the liver or the lung? . . . Perhaps it would be wise to introduce in their place, as requirements, certain computer languages like Java [or] what is displayed on our advertising billboards and on stock exchange monitors.a27 Meanwhile, English has been recognized as an official language in some seventy nations, with more than 2 billion total population.28 Countries where English has an official status but is not the native tongue include Ghana, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

More like a Tsunami.

Under the rapidly changing circ.u.mstances, Crystalas use of the word revolution to indicate a revolt against the status quo seems outdated only seven years later.

What is happening might be better described as a verbal tsunami that is sweeping across the globe and disruptinga"if not enrichinga"nearly all languages in its path. No sh.o.r.e is unwashed by the waves of new words and new styles of writing and speaking.

Clearly the main catalyst in the past two decades has been the Internet, which has been dominated from the beginning by the United States with its tech terms and slang. In the first wave of websites, over 85 percent were U.S. based. That percentage has dropped considerably since then because of wider usage of local languages, but American English is still the international favorite.

This dominance has forced computer users throughout the world to learn enough American English to get around the Internet efficiently. The pace has been so fast that translators for local and national languages have been unable to keep up in many areas, further forcing people to deal with English terms, whether they want to or not.

Whatas in a Name?

But what to call the evolving international language? In Britain, where language changes arouse much more interest than in the United States, close observers have favored terms like Panglish or Worldlish to represent the broad reach of English.

In addition, there are various engineered languages, including Esperanto, Basic English, Globish, Simplified English, Plain English, and General Service List (GSL). Esperanto was invented by L. L. Zamenhof in 1887 and was officially recognized by UNESCO in 1954 as a mixture of several European languages. Basic English was created and trademarked by Charles Kay Ogden and gained some popularity after World War II. It is based on 850 key words.

Globish was created and trademarked in 1998 by Jean-Paul Nerriere, a French former IBM executive, who selected 1,500 words as a basic vocabulary. He sells books, including his own 2009 book ent.i.tled Globish the World Over, containing rules and lessons. In 2010, Robert McCrum, an editor at the London Observer, chose the proprietary word Globish as the t.i.tle of his book describing the intermingling of English with other languages. His book praises Nerriere without specifically endorsing the learning materials he sells.

A Simplified English was developed for the aeros.p.a.ce industry with rules restricting sentences to no more than twenty words, and anoun cl.u.s.tersa to no more than three words. Plain English is attributed to Sir Ernest Arthur Gowers, a British civil servant and author of The Complete Plain Words. GSL is a list of some 2,000 words selected by Michael West in 1953 as enough to understand about 90 percent of colloquial speech.

Happily for humanity, none of these artificial lingos have caught on widely, though many an English teacher has probably exhorted her pupils with lowercase pleas to write in simple, plain, basic English.

The Case for Amglish.

As for a nonproprietary name for the new lingo, there have been many suggestions, but alla"including Global English, Panglish, and Worldlisha"originate in Britain, the country most worried about the future of its mother tongue.

But not one reflects the dominance of informal American English in the evolving international lingo. Yet in his book McCrum admits that the evolving language ais heavily influenced by linguistic and cultural developments in the United States.29 Googling the word Amglish in February 2011 brought nothing relevant except a single entry in the online Unword Dictionary, which said Amglish is aspoken by the majority of people in the United States, and indeed some young people in the United Kingdom.a Some individual Brits have acknowledged online that the word Amglish better reflects the facts on the ground in their own country than other names.

The word Amglish even has an ancestral quality to it. It is only a tiny blip away from Anglish, the first spelling of English when it separated itself from Germanic and Nordic tribal mutterings in the fifth century.

Perhaps itas time for professional linguists and the international community to finally recognize the leading role of informal American English in creating the first genuine, easily usable lingua franca.

Whatever name eventually sticks to the verbal mlange, citizens of the world have been ready for years to lap up any language that works for them in their efforts to communicate with other people in the world.

This chapter has described how communications technology, globalization, and other factors have made the world so receptive to an informal international language. The next chapter describes more than two dozen international alishes,a the combinations of national languages with English.

The Lishes of Amglish.

feel yourself at home.

a"A welcome sign in Amsterdamas Schiphol Airport.

The sign quoted above is typical of the Amglish found all over the world. It shows the humorous result when a nonnative speaker of English tries to use the language in a public way without making sure that the meaning is what the writer intended. The Dutch are particularly adept at this type of composition.

The sign is just one of many language mixtures seen or heard in todayas global cacophony. Words and syllables from one or more languages are imported into another language, often resulting in a mixture that is humorous, hard to understand, or both.

Hilarious errors on signs and directions in pseudo-English have become so common around the world, especially in China, that they have inspired a large number of fictional works rather than accurate reporting, especially on the Internet. The possibilities are endless.

But the genuine blending of languages with each other is even more fascinating because it is predominantly a natural process that can lead in many directions. One of the sharpest observers of this phenom is Jug Suraiaya, a satirist for the Times of India. In 1999, he wrote about how English itself is often mixed in his own country: Like an indefatigable bindlestiff (tramp, US) or a haggler (itinerant pedlar, West Indian), the English language roams the world, selling its wares and pinching words from other languages, leaving behind a brood of linguistic offspring: Amglish (American English), Windlish (West Indian) and our very own Hinglish.

He proceeds to list various verbal blends popular in India: footfall (number of people entering a shop during a certain time), croning (a celebration to honor an older woman), and ohnosecond (the moment you realize youave made a mistake by pressing the wrong computer b.u.t.ton.1 This chapter is a summary of linguistic mixtures, with names that show a blending of English with various national languages, many of which have already been described to some extent earlier in this book. Not included, with one exception, are local and regional dialects or creoles, such as the French-Spanish creole of Louisiana, which are such thorough mergers of languages that the sources of words are not easily recognizable. The exception is Pennsylvania Dutch.

Spanglish is an example of a well-known alish.a A resident of Madrid may use it to parquear his car near a Starbucks so he can surfear the Web on his laptop. Likewise, a native of Paris might use a bit of pure Frenglish to buy les chicken nuggets at a local McDonaldas, while a Roman signorina plans to stoppare at an Internet cafe to fastforwardare her computer input.

Most of the lishes described here have been mentioned earlier in this book but without the additional details that follow. All are part of the extended Amglish family.

A Mixed Bag.

It is not always easy to categorize each type of verbal mixture because it may be a combination of portmanteaus, loan words, or other types of merging one language with another. It could also be like the airport sign, whose writer didnat know which words to borrow and where they fitted.

But most of the traffic in lishes is oral, often making spelling more of a guessing game than it already is. To help with that, we are already seeing the first wave of books devoted to individual lishes, such as Ilan Stavansas book on Spanglish, which contains a large glossary.

The lishes described in this chapter are among the more prominent of many. The sheer number and the speed with which they have circled the globe without much press notice clearly indicate that Amglisha"in all its formsa"is destined to become even more of an international language.

There isnat room in a small book to describe all these linguistic mongrels. Perhaps such a compilation is another book, even an encyclopedia. But no story about todayas international lingua franca would be complete without citing this extensive, ongoing, unique development. There are perhaps dozens more in the process of forming. See

Of course all languages are constantly rubbing up against others and absorbing or discarding volatile parts. Whatas different today is the acceleration of the process and the ever-ready presence of American English.

Into the Grand Mixer.

The process resembles a huge Cuisinart with all languages constantly spinning around to separate the useful parts from the others. No one can adjust the speed, control the ingredients, or stop the process. Eventually new languages and dialects are formed, while others slide away.

In fact, it is becoming common to hear people frequently shift from one language or dialect to another and then back again in the same conversation. Tony Badran, a Lebanese-American, told me that his family and friends in Lebanon normally use three languages at once: Arabic, French, and English.2 They might say aHia or ah.e.l.loa and then shift to French and Arabic, and maybe an OK. Or they might use a word or two containing parts of all three languages. The net result is Amglish because of the presence of American English.

Most of the lishes described here are new in a historical sense, since they are essentially products of Americaas worldwide hegemony and cultural invasion since World War II. But threea"Hinglish, Spanglish, and Singlisha"are in a cla.s.s by themselves as the oldest.

Hinglish is a mixture of English and Hindi. It goes back to 1617 when the British West Indies Company received permission to trade with India. As trade expanded, the British sent military forces there and eventually obtained control of the country. That control extended to the imposition of the English language in government and the educational system of the country.

The Culture Factor.

In the latter part of the twentieth century, however, American cultural invaders, mostly from Hollywood, started to put an American accent on the common parlance. The ma.s.sive outsourcing of U.S. jobs in recent decades has added further to American influence.

The Spanish portion of Spanglish in the Western Hemisphere was seeded by Spanish explorers and a notable Italian, Christopher Columbus, when they set foot in North America beginning in the fifteenth century. But it wasnat until the early eighteenth century that English was added to the mix when the eastern colonies began to expand into the far reaches of the continent.

The Spanish discoveries eventually led to successive waves of conquistadores who moved from South and Central America into the western parts of what would become the United States. Their descendants are still on the move into almost every community in the country as their Spanish language constantly sinks deeper into American English.

Singlish, the third oldest lish, emerged in the early nineteenth century when British traders landed in Singapore, the tiny nation that has always been a major port for international merchants. The term began with a mixture of British English, Malay, Hokkien, Tamil, and Cantonese.

It wasnat until 1965, when the British ended 146 years of colonial rule there, that Hollywood films and TV shows ramped up their incursion in the tiny nation. Many well-to-do families in Singapore have added to the American influence by sending their children to schools in the United States.

Emerging Lishes.

New lishes are being formed so fast and in so many places that it is impossible to keep current with them. For example, young Tibetans are in the process of creating their own merger of Tibetan and English, according to Andrew Grant, an American teacher of English in the Volunteers in Asia program. He adds that for them, sound is far more important than spelling.

*** You are reading on ***

He says he had to give each student an American name because it was so difficult to remember their native names, the sounds of which did not resemble anything in English. He also says a typical Tibetan male knows four languages: Tibetan, Chinese, his own dialect, and English. Most of their English apparently comes from American TV shows.

Father ainat so good; his eatinas gone away and he donat look so good in the face either.

Ve get too soon oldt und too late schmart.

Go out and tie the dog loose and donat forget to outen the light.


Dunglish has been piling up for many years in tiny Holland, this mostly flat land of dikes and Itas a kind of middle Englisha"or should we say amuddleaa"that speak and write the Dutch in a manner malaprop. They know the English words but have the trouble putting them on the traditional order.

A blogger on WTForum!! explains, aI question me off, or blogging in English would pull more readers on. You see, everybody cans English. Not as fluid as me naturally, but that speaks. For me, writing in English is a little egg, because English knows no secrets for me. In fact, my English is even good as my Netherlands. But make yourself no worries, because when you donat snap a word or a sentence, can you always ask for outlay in the comments. O, in that fall, try to use correct English grammar and gaming.a7 Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam has been called a hub of Dunglish with its signs, such as the one at the beginning of this chapter and another from the website, saying, aNeed Your Baby Some Rest? Visit Our Special Baby Room.a Finglish.

In Finland, the home of Nokia and other large international business firms, the influence of English has been huge despite major dissimilarities in the two languages.

Since English has become the language of international firms, it is natural that English terms would also drift into everyday conversations between Finns. In the past, they have borrowed more words from nearby nations, especially Sweden and Russia. But that has changed in recent decades.

According to Feodor Bratenkov, a business executive residing in the country, the natives may lapse into aOh No,a the name of a Finnish-made movie; aWhatas up?a; or when surprised, aOh my G.o.d.a Finns also transliterate English computer terms into their own language. An example is the word for a mouse click: klikkaa.

Many Finns migrated to the United States from the 1880s to the 1920s, mostly to the upper Midwest and to mill towns in New England. Their descendants like to put the letter i at the end of English words. Examples are: elkki (elk), jarri (a jar), lemoni (lemon), resortti (resort), toiletti (toilet), and klerkki (clerk). The suffix -ata is also popular, as shown by the words kompleinata (complain) and taipata (type). A heart attack comes out haartatakki, and to be satisfied is satosfai.


Despite substantial government fines for egregious use of foreign terms, French conversations and public media are replete with unchanged English or b.a.s.t.a.r.dized English words. Recent examples of the latter include le drug store, le fast food, le software, and my all-time favorite, les chicken nuggets. Others include je suis tired, je ne care pas, le marketing, le shampooing, un parking, and supercool.

Since 1975, use of such words has been against French law. Among other words banned in France are la call girl, le c.o.c.ktail, le dancing, le s...o...b..z, and le weekend s.e.xy, just the words most needed by American tourists looking for a good time with beaucoup dollars to spend and a limited knowledge of Franais.

In August 2006, the countryas Culture Ministry added e-mail to thousands of already banned English words and proposed a fine of up to $1,800 per violation. But the campaign has done little or nothing to stop e-mail from appearinga"with or without the hyphena"in either the sent file or inbox.

The main reason for the bans, of course, is to help preserve whatas left of la culture franaise, but nothing the French government can do will stop la marche de laAmglish. It has too much big mo, as they say in Paree. To show just how bilingual they are, many French retailers invent English-looking words to get the attention of shoppers. Two of most interesting are relooking for a makeover and destockage for clearance sale.

Most of the Amglish words in France get started in the media because of the nativesa efforts to keep current. However, serious French journalists covering the world and national politics tend to stick to the language formalities. A prominent exception for the news pages of Parisas Le Monde for years has been think tank. The Academyas tank is obviously leaking.

Except for the main newspaper sections, just about anything goes. A random perusal of Le Monde revealed this Amglish headline over a story about tennis player Aravane Rezai: aTENNIS: forfait a laopen GDF, Rezai avait abesoin daun break.aa A random perusal of LaExpress, the newsweekly, turned up this potpourri: La Fashion Week parisienne en 50 street looks. Le Point, still another newsweekly, contains sections called aMode et designa and aTech et net.a A story about a rising Spanish star was headlined: la success story daasak adic.8 Gibberlish.

Gibberlish is written or spoken Gibberish with an Amglish tinge. It usually means a meaningless collection of words created by incompetence or accident, similar to a ma.s.sive malapropism.

But there is always a chance of a hidden meaning lurking in the verbal underbrush. So it cannot always be cavalierly dismissed or derided. The most common habitats of Gibberlish are e-mailing and texting. The disease can usually be identified by a mysterious string of letters and numbers that seems to be understandable but is not.

Once again, George W. Bush has set the standard, this time for Gibberlish. He did so on December 13, 2005, in answer to a question from a woman in the audience about his plan to privatize Social Security. He said in part, Because thea"all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculated, for example, is on the table. Whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. Thereas a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting thosea"changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to bea"or closer delivered to that has been promised.


There are two types of Greeklish. One is a technical linguistic transliteration of the Cyrillic alphabet of Greek into English letters and vice versa. Various websites contain converters that will automatically do the job. But because of the un-Roman shape of some Greek characters, the Arabic numbers 3, 4, and 8 are subst.i.tuted for them.

This type of artificial language hasnat gone over well among the natives. In 2004, a few Greek websites threatened to ban any such variations of Greek as a danger to the future of demotic (Modern) Greek. Other critics contended that the Roman letters did not do justice to the Greek ones they replaced.

The other form of Greeklish is the subst.i.tution of common English words for Greek ones in newspapers and magazines. Irene Grossman, a Greek teacher in the Washington, D.C., area, spotted many such words in a random perusal of the Athens daily, Kathimerini, for February 14, 2011. English words were used not only for sections of the paper, such as Real Estate, Articles, Newsletter, and Good Life, but for other parts of the paper as well. Among the verbal mixes was the English word test spelled in Greek letters.


*** You are reading on ***

Popular Novel