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…

Written by angryfrenchguy

June 1, 2008 at 9:47 pm

43 Responses

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  1. Good post, you’ve made excellent points.

    Sassy

    June 2, 2008 at 9:26 am

  2. I am English, but happen to speak Esperanto. Fluently, by the way!

    Whilst entertaining a foreign friend last week, whilst travelling on an London omnibus, I was in the company of someone who did not speak English.

    Ergo, we spoke Esperanto.

    I’m an Essex boy, but was told to “go back my own country” because I did not speak English.

    Please help me! The country of Essex does not exist.

    Brian Barker

    June 2, 2008 at 1:57 pm

  3. “Good post, you’ve made excellent points.”

    Like what, that he’s bitter and condescending towards English and those that speak it as a first language? The fact that English succeeds without having to pass laws to force people to use it, unlike French?

    Nam

    June 2, 2008 at 2:43 pm

  4. “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.”

    Oh my God, what a backward and silly nation! Quick, someone show them how to deal with English the civilized way. Chinese schoolchildren are evidently in dire need of being prevented of proper English teaching and the Chinese government obviously has to learn to demonize anyone who speaks it and make sure all businesses with less than 50 employees do not use it too much. And it obviously shouldn’t matter if 80% of their trade is done with English speaking countries.

    But whatever happens, it is imperative, imperative that they learn not to allow signs in English that are more than 50% of the size of the local language!

    Anonymous

    June 2, 2008 at 3:57 pm

  5. Nan,

    To answer your question, one of the points being – the truly disadvantaged in this new global code-switching world are those insular unilingual native English-speakers … and that could be speaking only one langague, no matter what it is.

    The more languages one is able to communicate in the better, the more one is going to be able to exchange information and ideas. (even daily pleasantries, which when traveling is such an advantage and adds a lot to the experience of a new place)

    I speak English as a first language and do not think that he’s bitter and condescending towards English and those that speak it as a first language?

    Sassy

    June 2, 2008 at 4:45 pm

  6. I have had experiences similar to Brian Barker’s in my own country (USA) when I use my barely serviceable Spanish with Hispanics–people stare at me as if I am a traitor.

    I have one minor point of contention with AFG: There is no substitute for being taught an acquired language by a native speaker. If I can function in French at all today, it is because I was taught the language by two native speakers. For Spanish I had two teachers whose native language was English, and I have been paying the price for that ever since.

    littlerob

    June 2, 2008 at 5:29 pm

  7. AGF is just upset about the worlwide popularity of English as a language (even in Quebec) …and the dismal state of french in Canada where it has to be protected to stay alive (nam and anonymous) with huge taxpayer dollars such as the ridiculous and failed OLA and attendent programs. I guess I must be one of “the disadvantaged losers” AGF is referring to in the last paragraph.

    Of course this is likely his opinion of all anglos which is very common in the province he comes from. “Maudit Anglos”

    ABP

    ABP

    June 2, 2008 at 5:34 pm

  8. ABP, his entire article was the EXACT OPPOSITE of what you claimed it to be about. Did you even bother to read it?

    Anonymous

    June 2, 2008 at 8:29 pm

  9. “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…”

    HMMM….what does this say…

    AGF equates uinilingual anglos to “losers” as I stated. Further, a direct knife to the English culture.

    If this is the case why is the “so called” rapid english becoming so popular with business and economics…must be that despicable American Influence,,, He..

    It would appear that some have some form of ESP into the mind of AGF.

    ABP

    ABP

    June 2, 2008 at 9:03 pm

  10. Nice, AFG, there is no depth to which your hatred — not of English but of Montreal anglos — will not take you. Now you are openly advocating the debasement of a beautiful language. Long live the 5th C AD!

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

    Poor AFG. Not really in favour of French, not really in favour of English, not really sure of anything but his private little hates, his compass, his beacon in a linguistic loser’s world.

    hoo-boy

    June 2, 2008 at 10:19 pm

  11. “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.”

    So english a common denominator bringing people together…whats bad about that???…I think its a good thing if it furthers international communication and understanding….seems to have done better in uniting than other languages such as french…which by the way is a beautiful langue.

    ABP

    ABP

    June 2, 2008 at 11:33 pm

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

    Forgive me, but picking up just enough of a language to get by doesn’t make the users of english the keepers of the language.

    RoryBellows

    June 3, 2008 at 12:27 am

  13. Nice, I post a reply that really cuts to the bone and the blog author deletes it.

    Classy, AFG.

    This place is like the QQQ.

    hoo-boy

    June 3, 2008 at 2:22 am

  14. Getting back to the original topic…

    AFG’s proficiency in English is also very useful in dealing with his fellow Quebecers, no matter where they live in the province, and not just in the western part of Montreal!

    I thought about this recently when I saw a report on RDS (the Quebec equivalent to TSN) about the exploits of up-and-coming tennis star Aleksandra Wozniak, who is from Blainville, a third-ring northern suburb of Montreal.

    So the reporter goes and visits Ms. Wozniak’s family, who live in an affluent part of Blainville. Most of the interview is with Aleksandra’s dad, and takes place entirely in pretty good, but Polish-accented, English. This guy lives in Blainville, which is something like 95% French-speaking, and has been there for at least 20 years, since daughter Aleksandra was born and raised in that area. So the Wozniak family aren’t just recent transfers from Brantford or Halifax.

    Not to pick on him in particular but Mr. Wozniak has lived for more than 20 years in a completely francophone suburb of Montreal in the lower Laurentians (also 90+% francophone), has secured a prosperous existence for himself and his family (judging by the neighbourhood he lives in), has seen his daughter come up through the local minor sports system in his totally French-speaking surroundings, yet can’t speak 20 or 30 seconds in French when being interviewed by a reporter from RDS?

    Granted, there are people everywhere in the world who succeed in “functioning” (albeit in a limited way) without learning the local language, but how many can have such an accomplished existence by (delicately it is true) “forcing” pretty much everyone they run into in their daily lives to perform a “language switch” just because they never in 20 years bothered to adapt to their (new) home?

    For the record, Aleksandra herself speaks French exactly the same as if her name was Alexandrine Tremblay…

    Acajack

    June 3, 2008 at 7:57 am

  15. Hoo-boy. I didn’t delete any posts. It’s not stuck in the moderation queue either. Feel free to enlighten us with your thoughts.

    Jeez, I’m always surprised by which posts turn out controversial. Apparently speaking English hasn’t made me think like an Anglo…

    angryfrenchguy

    June 3, 2008 at 10:58 am

  16. For the record Hoo boy, I’ve also been having some trouble posting to this forum for a few days now.

    Acajack

    June 3, 2008 at 11:20 am

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

    Hoo boy: who is that is self-colonising here? Mother tongue English speakers themselves who degrade their own language with “I did good”, “I done it”, etc., or the non-English speakers of the world who are so proud of speaking just a teeny bit of bastardized English?

    Acajack

    June 3, 2008 at 11:25 am

  18. I let wordpress know about the posting problems. Let me know it it persists. For the record, comments with more than 2 links are automatically held for moderation. Peace.

    angryfrenchguy

    June 3, 2008 at 12:39 pm

  19. Too bad Quebec wasn’t conquered by the Dutch instead of the English. There wouldn’t be this love-hate relationship of the English language.

    Sometimes when I read posts I get the impression that some francophones still blame Westmount florists for the global dominance of English. If earlier generations of Quebeckers had been forced to learn Dutch to get a job or to advance, they wouldn’t have such a complex about the English language.

    AFG your post is well taken, the same could have been said about French in the 18th century. Eventually another language will dominate as a lingua franca.

    Dave

    June 3, 2008 at 1:36 pm

  20. And the origin of the phenomenon? The reason why it was promoted and the goal some aimed to achieve with it?

    “Some months ago I persuaded the British Cabinet to set up a committee of Ministers to study and report upon Basic English. Here you have a plan. There are others, but here you have a very carefully wrought plan for an international language capable of a very wide transaction of practical business and interchange of ideas. The whole of it is comprised in about 650 nouns and 200 verbs or other parts of speech – no more indeed than can be written on one side of a single sheet of paper.

    […]

    Let us go forward as with other matters and other measures similar in aim and effect – let us go forward in malice to none and good will to all. Such plans offer far better prizes than taking away other people’s provinces or lands or grinding them down in exploitation. The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.”

    WINSTON CHURCHILL, speech at Harvard University, Sept. 6, 1943

    http://www.winstonchurchill.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=424

    By the way, Churchill is the author of a 4-volume “History of the English-Speaking Peoples”.

    More on the same subject in:

    Phillipson, Robert (1992), “Linguistic Imperialism”, Oxford University Press. Excerpt Online at books.google.ca/books?id=4jVeGWtzQ1oC

    A possible alternative to this system of domination, dating as far as 1887 :

    uea.org/info/angle/an_manifesto_prago.html

    Enjoy your readings, in as many human languages as possible! :-)

  21. A trivial footnote: Churchill spoke heavily accented but nevertheless serviceable French.

    littlerob

    June 4, 2008 at 6:36 am

  22. “Sometimes when I read posts I get the impression that some francophones still blame Westmount florists for the global dominance of English.”

    Sure, the global reach of English is a factor in the sustained presence of English in Quebec in spite of the anglo community’s decline in recent decades.

    But there are others factors at play in Quebec that are not present most elsewhere in the world:

    – Quebec’s geographic location on the North American continent, next to the United States and inside the same country as demographically dominant English-speaking Canada

    – The historical socio-economic domination of the English-speaking minority in Quebec

    It is something of a canard to suggest that globalization is the reason that people here live their entire lives in English in majority francophone areas without speaking a word of French.

    Elsewhere, the global reach of English still doesn’t allow people to live their entire lives, take part in larger society, raise a family, etc. in Chihuahua, Mexico without learning at least functional Spanish. Switzerland is a German-majority country, and German is fairly widely-spoken as a first and second language across Europe, yet you can’t live your life in Geneva without knowing at least some French.

    So there is definitely something different at work in Quebec.

    Acajack

    June 4, 2008 at 7:51 am

  23. According to the 2006 census, 4.5 % of the Quebec population spoke only English. Thats way down from previous census. Although they don’t factor in age, I bet the average age of that group is a lot higher than the general population. i.e. the “problem” is going away all by itself.

    In fact the numbers are so small as to be almost inconsequential. Yes there is something different at work in Quebec, its the French speaking majority’s obsession about disappearing . It obscures the fact that French is the common language in Quebec, every indicator shows that. You can’t reasonably live your life here without some knowledge of French. This is in startling contrast with 30-40 years ago. To accept this, would mean renouncing one of the principal arguments for Quebec sovereignty. So the argument becomes political, emotional and rationality is thrown overboard.

    Dave

    June 4, 2008 at 10:54 am

  24. “Elsewhere, the global reach of English still doesn’t allow people to live their entire lives, take part in larger society, raise a family, etc. in Chihuahua, Mexico without learning at least functional Spanish. ”

    Although I agree with Acajack that the situation in Québec is not “like everywhere else” because of historical and economic reasons, there are pockets of unilingual Anglos spattered around the globe that are just numerous enough to live like it was Montreal in 1855.

    I’ve met people who spent a good deal of their lives in Hong Kong yet wouldn’t know Cantonese from Spanish and kids living in the Embassy district in Beijing with barely enough Mandarin vocabulary to flirt with Chinese girls. It is very common to read in the Mexico City Times Real Estate pages things like “All Anglo complex, no Mexicans.”

    I also feel that although that priviledged global management class owes it’s good fortune to the English language, the times are changing.

    The rest of us have cracked the code of English…

    angryfrenchguy

    June 4, 2008 at 11:54 am

  25. @Brian Barker (related to Travis Barker of Plus44 by any chance? or maybe Bob at the price is right)

    Esperanto was designed to be the international language but just like internationally translated French, it happens that no one speaks it or knows about it.

    Practically, it serves no purpose but that is my humble opinion on the matter.

    Tym Machine

    June 4, 2008 at 11:52 pm

  26. AFG: I actually had a reference to “expats” in my original text on this, but I deleted it. Because that it what you are talking about. The English-only crowd in Hong Kong (minute in size, BTW) hangs out pretty much only between themselves. They don’t really socialize with the Chinese majority there. The same is true of expat pockets the world over. Hence my reference to anglos in Quebec taking part in “larger society”, which they do. My experience with unilingual English speakers in Quebec like Mr. Wozniak (though he likely speaks Polish as well) in Blainville is that they don’t only hang out just with anglos (or English-speaking Poles…) but that they are mixed in with the general population (ie francophones in Quebec) who all switch to English just because they’re there.

    I maintain that there aren’t many places in the world where this happens with people who are *supposed* to be “locals”

    Acajack

    June 5, 2008 at 8:09 am

  27. Acajak,

    Let me guess, your solution to the Wozniaks is… Quebec sovereignty. The problem with your solution is thats its overkill for a problem that is going away on its own in any event.

    Dave

    June 5, 2008 at 2:20 pm

  28. Acajack,

    I think there are many places where the supposed “locals” have to switch languages. In most of the Americas where you have indigenous populations, it happens all the time.

    I have an aquaintance who lives in Northern Quebec. She says that most of the francophones who work up there make no attempt to learn English, and much less learn Inuktitut (the 2 languages most widely spoken there). Yet, they are able to function properly. Surely you are not suggesting that they learn the language of the locals.

    Anonymous

    June 5, 2008 at 2:21 pm

  29. Yes, I actually think that francophones who move to an established Inuit community in the north should make an effort to learn Inuktitut. Absolutely.

    The main reason francophones don’t learn it is because the Inuit, like all aboriginal peoples in the “New World”, are subjugated by colonialist regimes and have been for centuries.

    Surprised?

    Acajack

    June 5, 2008 at 3:35 pm

  30. Dave: “Let me guess, your solution to the Wozniaks is… Quebec sovereignty. The problem with your solution is thats its overkill for a problem that is going away on its own in any event.”

    Thanks for putting words in my mouth. I’m not an even a sovereignist, but I guess everyone who doesn’t subscribe to the Don Cherry vision of Canada is an evil separatist, right?

    Life must be so simple for you. Black vs. White. Good vs. Evil. The ROC vs. Quebec.

    Acajack

    June 5, 2008 at 3:37 pm


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