AngryFrenchGuy

I’m just a typical English-speaker

with 43 comments

Chinese English

I’m an average English-speaker, typical of English-speakers worldwide.

I use English everyday. I use it for work, I use it for fun. I use it to look for stuff on the internet, to read books, to watch films and television. I use it to read my ipod’s instruction manual. I use it on the street with German tourists looking for “the underground city”.

I use English all the time, yet, English is not my language. I’ve never been to school in English. I never ever use it when I’m a consumer with money to spend in Montreal. I never use it to communicate with my government. My newspaper is not in English. The music I prefer is not in English. I’ve never used it with my father or my mother.

English-speaking is not what I am, it’s something I do. I’m more a speaker of English than an English-speaker. A user of English, really.

Today, we, the users of English, are much more numerous than native English-speakers. Estimates vary, but native English-speakers number between 329 million and 500 million. There are at least three times as many of us who use English as a second (or third, or fourth) language.

Native speakers haven’t realized this yet, but we are no longer speaking their English, they are speaking ours.

Awed by the fantastic success of English as the global Lingua Franca of business, diplomacy and scholarship, many did not notice that English was simultaneously losing ground in absolute numbers. While a generation ago English was the second most widely spoken first language after Chinese, it is now tied with Spanish and Hindi-Urdu. Arabic, the fastest growing language in the world today, is catching up fast.

This does not mean that English will eventually lose it’s Lingua Franca status. It means that it is us, the users of English, speakers of English AND other languages who will make that call.

Globalization is not colonization. It is no longer the benevolent British and Americans who are teaching us the white man’s language, but ourselves, teaching ourselves. China made English mandatory in primary schools in 2001. China produces 20 million English-speakers a year. That’s the equivalent of one Australia or one English-Canada every year!

China invested massively in English but it is not converting to English. Chinese schoolchildren are still learning Mandarin. Mandarin AND English. The Chinese government is also encouraging foreigners to learn Mandarin trough the Confucius Institutes, the Chinese version of the British Council or the Alliance Française.

Global English is bigger than any one country or organization, but if any political entity in the world can influence significantly the future of the language today it is not London, Washington or the UN. It is Beijing.

And the new Chinese users of English, like the rest of us, don’t have any strong emotional attachment to the language or the Anglo-Saxon culture.

It’s been a while since Rupert Murdoch was the only man able to uses his satellites to carpet bomb the planet with Baywatch reruns and Rambo movies. Today Al-Jazeera has a 24 hour English language news network broadcasting out of Qatar. So do China, Russia, Iran, France, Germany, Singapore and Egypt. Christ, even Kim-Jong Il has an English-language website. Now, with the exception of Singapore, there is no significant trend toward the adoption of English as a first language in any of these countries. English is just the language these countries use to speak to the rest of the world

We record pop albums in English, make action movies in English and video games in English. What we do in English is not an American product, though. Actually it’s not even for the Anglo market. Disney makes most of it’s profit outside the USA and so do we.

According to the World Tourism Organization three quarters of international travel is now between non-English-speaking countries. We users of English use the language to get on planes, find hotel rooms and negotiate cab fares, but also to learn about our hosts culture and to express our own. Cultures that are not American, British or Anglo-Saxon

Today the world speaks English. But it is not English-speaking. The vast majority of English-speakers speak more than one language. It’s just one part of our communication toolbox. We use English for instantaneous real-time communication with people around the world who’s language we don’t speak.

Some say it’s a whole new language. A lightweight high performance version of English stripped of its unnecessary cultural baggage. A grammatical frame on which engineers, financiers and bobble head collectors hang the vocabulary of their trade. Not a simplistic or partial English. Just the English we need. Some of us will use English all our lives and yet will never read Norman Mailer or get The Office. Less than perfect fluency is not a handicap.

In fact the truly disadvantaged in this new global code-switching world are those insular unilingual native English-speakers with their hard to understand olde Englishe of yore…

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Written by angryfrenchguy

June 1, 2008 at 9:47 pm

43 Responses

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  1. Acajack,

    Last statistics canada in 2001- 2006 indicated that the francos in the ROC had declined 25%.. ( 4 % to 3%) Thats a lot of decline. It is even worse if you look at the language spoken at home.

    French is pretty much done in the ROC….likely not a good thing…. I could go on with other stats but it proves nothing.

    But,….my french lessons are in fact working as well as listening to Radio Canada a lot…..I left Calgary this evening at the airport..a small group of Quebecois speaking about a trip to Banff park ….an I could actually understand them for the most part…which I though was cool…although it was just simple exchanges… I of course didnt engage them as I am positive they would have answered in English for sure..( Je doute me accente du francais ce tres beau)

    It is really a conundrum of sorts.

    ABP

    ABP

    June 5, 2008 at 11:48 pm

  2. British English is not a monolithic linguistic body that some obscure cabal is trying to push on the rest of the world. Maybe that’s what the PQ thinks, but I assure you it’s not the case. There are more idioms and ways of speaking English in the British isles than anywhere else in the world. The Queen’s English was never more than a snobbish class thing.
    Frankly, I don’t quite see the point of your post, if you substract the last paragraph which is just a baseless shot at the “evil” Anglo-Saxon culture (which you obviously despise); it’s also quite ironic that you decry the obsoleteness of “ancient yore”, when Quebecois nationalism is founded on exactly that type of mythology. It’s a truism to say that people in China speak English differently from native English speakers, and it’s quite false to imply that English isn’t English anymore because of the great diversity of its speakers.

    VM

    June 6, 2008 at 12:44 am

  3. “Actually, the use of patois English fits every definition of colonisation — self-colonisation, I mean — ever formulated, down to the pride in barbarisms.”

    Are you freaking kidding me? All English is “patois English”! There is no pure language, English, French or whathaveyou. Only a nationalist could actually believe the contrary in spite of all evidence, because he believes language defines the “Nation”.

    VM

    June 6, 2008 at 12:53 am

  4. Thank you VM for pointing out the obvious. What you haven’t yet grasped, I think, is that even the obvious here in Quebec is often obscured by the obsession with disappearing . Its like a filter on a camera, the reality is there but its coloured with a lot of emotion and hand wringing about every tiny sign that just might represent another indication of French loosing ground.

    Acajack’s reaction to my last post is revealing. He immediately gets defensive and accuses me of Don Cherryism, a very serious accusation in Quebec, where Don Cherry, rightly or wrongly, is seen as the symbol of everything that’s wrong with the ROC.

    He frets on about old Mr. Wosniak, who apparently doesn’t speak while French, while ignoring Aleksandra who is 100 % québécoise. Its what I call fighting battles that are already won, or worrying about perceived problems that are disappearing naturally. Its very common among sovereignists and its why I assumed Acajack’s solution was sovereignty and for making such an assumption, I apologize to Acajack.

    Dave

    June 6, 2008 at 9:31 am

  5. Dave: No worries, and sorry for the comparison to Don Cherry. He’s one of my favourite rebuffs…

    You are correct in pointing out that Bill 101 has been tremendously successful with the younger generation, and will bear even more fruits in the future as the children of Bill 101 spawn their own families. Aleksandra Wozniak could I suppose be an example, although for all we know her mom could be a francophone born and bred in Quebec. Still, Bill 101 is now also producing 100% Québécois francophones out of young people who have absolutely no family ties to the people who settled New France. As such, this is a tremendous change from just a generation ago.

    There is still of course the issue related to the fact that most immigrants to Quebec (or anywhere else for that matter) are working-age adults, and how they are integrated into Quebec society. Some of the evidence suggests that winning them over to French is a much tougher battle. But who knows, maybe the Montreal that their French-educated kids will help build will be so predominantly francophone that adult immigrants 10 years from now will see French as even more of a “must-have” than they do today.

    Acajack

    June 6, 2008 at 10:07 am

  6. I bet 1 million $ that Quebec will be an english speaking province in 100 years.

    quebecois separatiste

    June 7, 2008 at 11:44 pm

  7. “I bet 1 million $ that Quebec will be an english speaking province in 100 years.”

    You separatists really are a paranoid bunch, aren’t you? No worries, just pass a few more laws, and you can probably run out the rest of us that haven’t left.

    Nam

    June 8, 2008 at 12:38 am

  8. QS: how are you going to collect?

    Dave

    June 9, 2008 at 8:56 am

  9. AFG, this is a response to your original post;

    “English-speaking is not what I am, it’s something I do.”

    I think most English-speakers feel the same way about English. Because English is so common in the global culture, they don’t identify with their language the way the Quebecois do with French

    On the other hand:

    “the new Chinese users of English, like the rest of us, don’t have any strong emotional attachment to the language or the Anglo-Saxon culture.”

    Really? Then how do you explain the undeniable success of American movies, music and television. Or the worldwide success of BBC news, or fast food. Regardless of your own personal feelings towards these things, you can’t deny that many people worldwide have a strong attachment to anglo-saxon culture, more so than to any other culture other than their own.

    “Native speakers haven’t realized this yet, but we are no longer speaking their English, they are speaking ours.”

    Which “native speakers” are you talking about. American? British (and it’s numerous dialects) Canadian English? Irish English? Welsh English? Caribbean English? The many African English variations? The whole idea of standardized language is in fact a modern one. Read any old English texts and you’ll see there is no consistency in spelling (I assume other languages are the same).

    Languages are not set in stone. They constantly evolve. “Users of English” have been changing and enhancing the language for centuries. That’s the beauty of the English language. It’s so malleable that people can pick it up quite easily.

    “This does not mean that English will eventually lose its Lingua Franca status. It means that it is us, the users of English, speakers of English AND other languages who will make that call.”

    This is all very true. Indeed, by definition it is the non-native speakers of English who will decide if it will remain the Lingua Franca. And non-English speakers are deciding in droves, to learn English. The underlying tone of your post reveals a false assumption. That us “English-speakers” somehow feel threatened by this is simply not true. We never had much control over it in the first place. Aside from a few old British twits, no “English-speakers” are getting upset about this.

    “Awed by the fantastic success of English as the global Lingua Franca of business, diplomacy and scholarship, many did not notice that English was simultaneously losing ground in absolute numbers. While a generation ago English was the second most widely spoken first language after Chinese, it is now tied with Spanish and Hindi-Urdu. Arabic, the fastest growing language in the world today, is catching up fast.”

    The fact that English is losing ground in absolute numbers is simply a result of demographics. It’s not as if English-speakers are switching languages. They are simply not breeding. The absolute numbers of Chinese and Arabic speakers has a marginal bearing on the status of English as a Lingua Franca. The Chinese aren’t learning Spanish, and the Arabs aren’t learning Hindi. They’re all learning English to communicate with each other.

    “Globalization is not colonization. It is no longer the benevolent British and Americans who are teaching us the white man’s language, but ourselves, teaching ourselves.”

    This is not a new phenomenon. Americans have been “teaching” themselves English since the Mayflower landed. The Indians and Pakistanis have been doing the same for almost as long. In fact, the English themselves have been teaching themselves English since, as a “Simpsons” character once said, “the Angles met the Saxons.” The French language in all its forms evolved in a similar way.

    “Global English is bigger than any one country or organization, but if any political entity in the world can influence significantly the future of the language today it is not London, Washington or the UN. It is Beijing.”

    I’ve never heard of any English-speaking government claiming (or seeking) such influence in a long time. In fact, I’ll take it one step further. What you say about Global English is true of virtually all languages. It’s the people themselves who make the language what it is. Sure, governments can encourage the general use of some languages over others (e.g. Quebec), but they can’t really influence HOW the language is spoken. Think of all the anglicisms in French (both here and in France). My government-sanctioned French teacher in high school really tried to teach me “Standard French” here in Quebec, but it didn’t do me much good out in the real world. Once I tried asking a unilingual francophone store clerk for “4 piles AA” instead of “4 batteries” and she looked at me like I was from outer space. And when have you ever heard someone say “chien-chaud” without chuckling inside.

    The battle for a standardized speech in any language is a losing battle. I think English speakers (and governments) have come to grips with this fact more than any other language, which if anything enhances the ubiquity of its use. Sure, the kids can’t spell and their grammar isn’t perfect (I’m a teacher), but it’s no different for French-speaking students, who are drilled with spelling and grammar for years.

    “China invested massively in English but it is not converting to English. Chinese schoolchildren are still learning Mandarin. Mandarin AND English.”

    It’s actually quite a testament to the English-language that the Chinese government is encouraging its citizens to learn English, given the British colonial history in China.

    “Now, with the exception of Singapore, there is no significant trend toward the adoption of English as a first language in any of these countries. English is just the language these countries use to speak to the rest of the world”

    I don’t think there ever WAS a significant trend toward the adaption of English as a first language in any of the old British colonies in any practical sense, aside from the ones colonized by British settlers themselves (U.S., Canada, Australia, South Africa etc..) Certainly, the American interest was never to linguistically colonize its possessions. They’re interest was economic. Sure, the British introduced English to places like India. But it was really just the elite who learned English. The common people never learned English. It was in their interest to keep the vast majority of the population illiterate and incapable of speaking English. In fact, I’d say that France was more successful in exporting its language to its colonies than the British ever were. The French language is predominant in all of the old French colonies, less so for English in the old British colonies (Egypt, for example).

    “English is just the language these countries use to speak to the rest of the world”

    You seem to be implying that in the past, English was more than just the language these countries use to speak to the rest of the world. The fact that so many people speak English today is not detrimental to the English language. In fact, it enriches it.

    “Today the world speaks English. But it is not English-speaking.”

    The world never was English-speaking, and no English-speaking society ever had such grand designs for their language.

    Peter

    June 16, 2008 at 9:49 pm

  10. We mostly agree, Pete. But I’ll disagree with you on the universal love the world has for British and American culture.

    You see, it wasn’t so much love for the BBC, CNN and Sylvester Stallone that made it visible the world over. It was more the fact there was nothing else like it available.

    That’s not true anymore. Bollywood and Hong Kong movies have as good production values as any Hollywood film and plenty of lucrative markets around the globe. The best selling recording artists of the last 20 years, with Celine right at the top, followed by Shakira and Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias are not British, American or native English-speakers. (Little known fact: Céline Dion was the best selling recording artist in the world BEFORE she sold her first record in the US. I don’t even believe her early English language albums were ever released there. The US was just another market. A very lucrative one, mind you, but she would have be OK without it.)

    Half the TV shows and the movies you see on American TV today are remakes of Dutch, French, of Spanish shows, bought and sold at big conventions in Cannes. On the international market, where audiences are not averse to dubbing like Anglo audiences, Mexican telenovelas sell just as well as American TV shows.

    The media world dominated by Anglo-American products was perhaps only a temporary phenomenon due to the nature of mass satellite broadcasting in the early days.

    That world has ended. Bandwidth is cheap. The pioneer of Satellite TV, MTV World, changed it’s programming to an increasingly local product over a decade ago. And that was before the Internet was a factor.

    The idea that only a cultural product with the widest possible appeal around the world had a good enough cost:profit ratio does not make any sense in the MySpace age. Small niche bands can find their audience anywhere in the universe with no money.

    There was a time when only Britain and the US, trough BBC and Voice of America, had the means to build the infrastructure and put out TV and radio broadcasts in many countries, be it in English or the local language. Today if people in those countries want to listen to the BBC (or CKOI or CBC Thunder Bay or any radio station in the fucking world) they just go online! That’s why the BBC announced that it is stopping production in 25% of the languages it used to serve by 2010 in order to concentrate on the more strategically important and somewhat less well served Arabic audience. There just isn’t a point in the British treasury buying up FM frequencies in saturated markets in Brazil or Asia.

    You can find CNN anywhere in the world. You can find Al-Jazeera too.

    As for McDonalds, the chain might have been a symbol of Western prosperity 25 years ago, but today, I can assure you, the Chinese don’t want burgers. They want beemers.

    angryfrenchguy

    June 17, 2008 at 12:03 am

  11. Excellent point. The worldwide spread of computer video technologies means that Hollywood will no longer have the historic stranglehold on the most popular movie genres (e.g. science fiction, etc.) it has enjoyed thanks to the huge economies of scale that only the U.S. domestic market base could provide. Within the next few years we should be seeing science fiction movies from China, India, etc. – and I am talking about stuff that isn’t just cheesy crap with papier mâché aliens!

    If you want to see the future, look to the publishing sector. Today, your average 12-year-old sitting at home can design and produce stuff that just a few years ago required costly visits to a graphic designer and an offset printing company with large presses.

    Acajack

    June 18, 2008 at 1:13 pm

  12. I think I agree with your point. I’m also a “user” of English, even though I don’t paricularly appreciate the language. Knowing English is just a really convenient skill.

    Suan

    August 20, 2008 at 6:09 pm

  13. AFG, where did you get that fact about Celine being the best selling recording artist in the world before she sold her first record in the US? JW, because I’m doing a study on her and QC nationalism. Any info you could give me would be very much appreciated.

    B-dette

    September 25, 2008 at 5:39 am


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