Native speakers a hindrance

A survey by David Graddol, commissioned by the British Council, on Global English:

Global English is often compared to Latin, a rare historical parallel to English in the way that it flourished as an international language after the decline of the empire which introduced it. The use of Latin was helped by the demise of its native speakers when it became a shared international resource. In organisations where English has become the corporate language, meetings sometimes go more smoothly when no native speakers are present. Globally, the same kind of thing may be happening, on a larger scale.

This is not just because non-native speakers are intimidated by the presence of a native speaker. Increasingly, the problem may be that few native speakers belong to the community of practice which is developing amongst lingua franca users. Their presence hinders communication.

(Via the increasingly enigmatic and occasional Enigmatic Mermaid)

8 thoughts on “Native speakers a hindrance

  1. I’m rather suspicious about this talk of “Global English” or even “Euro English”. If it happens, I think it will take a long time coming. We’ve had several (German) customers who have been involved in various sorts of joint ventures or alliances with French companies, where the mutual language was supposed to be “English”. In one case, the JV foundered within a year because neither side could understand each other’s “English”. In another, they resorted after just a few months to documenting everything in German and French and having it translated. And in another, the French company bought the German company, so everyone’s having to learn French (“the global language”) anyway :-)
    The “German English” and “French English” were simply mutually incomprehensible, and in fact it was only us native English speakers who could actually grasp what was going on.
    Global “Englishes” perhaps, but not a single common language that enables any form of meaningful – and even more importantly legally watertight – business communication.

  2. At the Languages Show at Kensington Olympia 10 years ago, one speaker referred to ‘Offshore English’. The news may not have yet reached the British Council offshore, but it seems to be more accurate as a label for substandard, rather than Global or Euro {pidgin}English that Robin is right to be wary of.

  3. Robin: yes, it does mean ‘Englishes’. You’re right about the lack of mutual comprehensibility. There was something about the use of English in Switzerland on arte recently.
    That’s a 132-page document which I’ve only skimmed, but there is some very interesting stuff there about world development in general.
    Of course, I don’t think this will affect my work in my working lifetime, but a young lad like you…!

  4. Actually, local English(es) is only one of the possibilities – by ‘Global English’ Graddol does indeed mean an English that should be understandable all over the world, to other non-native speakers with whom people need to communicate.

  5. I’ve often had enquiries for jobs in “Global English”. It strikes me that what they mean is simple, “plain” English just with American spelling. Well what is that exactly? There is a limit to making something plain and still catching the nuances. I don’t actually think there is such a thing.


  6. I hadn’t read much of this document when I posted, but I thought it was interesting. But I almost have the feeling that none of my commenters have looked at it at all. Tell me it ain’t so, Joe!

  7. “Tell me it ain’t so, Joe..” Sorry…Joe has to own up. I just got round to skimming through it. Very well-researched. Still not sure what this “Global English” actually is in the flesh though.


  8. From the little I’ve read (more since last night): I don’t necessarily agree with the British Council changing its teaching content to global English, which this report defines (I think) as what will enable a person to communicate with speakers of as many other Englishes as possible. Even if we knew what that was (maybe such an English is developing, but more likely several), it wouldn’t necessarily be the British Council that should be the first to abandon teaching British English! So it ties in with other questions about what the BC is for.

    I think they have to wait a few decades and see how English develops. Meanwhile, they could do what presumably they have been doing and discourage people from using Germanisms, or Gallicisms, or whatever.

    I do take care in most of my translations not to be incomprehensible (as far as I know) in various places. I have had people wanting a sort of transatlantic mix from me, but that’s a bit difficult in legal texts.

    I thought it was interesting that less straight EFL for adults is wanted, and some people in Switzerland are teaching GCSEs in English rather than just English.

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