Pidgin talk
Posted by aogMonday, 07 August 2006 at 13:22 TrackBack Ping URL

Over at Instapundit is a post on the spread of English as a universal language. Old news, but it does contain this bit:

Jean-Paul Nerrière, a retired vice president of I.B.M., calls his proposal Globish. It uses a limited vocabulary of 1,500 words, taken from the Voice of America, among other sources, which can be put together clumsily to express more complicated thoughts. Little concern is given to the complexities of grammar, and he proposes that speakers of Globish say the same thing in different ways to make up for difficulties in pronunciation…

“Globish is not a language, it will never have a literature, it does not aim at conveying a culture, values,? Mr. Nerrière wrote in an e-mail message. “Globish is just a tool, practical, efficient, limited on purpose.?

This is, of course, what is known as a pidgin language. This is not unique to English nor to our time, but is a common historical occurence where and when ever you have people speaking different languages who need to talk. In general, one language will be used as the primary basis but be greatly simplified (for example, by using only present tense), just as this “globish” would. It would take someone from France to think that one could do this by design, rather than natural linguistic evolution. I was just struck by the arrogance of the whole thing, as if Nerrière were doing something original here, rather than simply relabeling a millenia old phenomenon.

What Nerrière is also missing is that historically, pidgins either die out or become full fledged languages (called “creoles”). The view that one could pick the vocabularly and have it remain fixed is laughable (and typically French, with their French Language Academy). Languages change all the time, it is only recently (last few centuries) that the pace of change has slowed, because of widespread literacy and mass media. Any “globish” will either fold back in to English or become a full fledged language and no official authority will be able to stop it.

For those interested in an well written and interesting book that deals with this kind of thing in much more depth, I highly recommend The Power of Babel by John McWhorter.

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