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lundi 30 juillet 2012


A French academician once put it:
English is a language that is relatively EASY to speak POORLY.
A language so rich as English, with its nearly 200 000 words, lends itself to this abuse mainly because, one can easily communicate to another person with a command of just 200 words.
The best examples are: travel agents in Vietnam, who put notices up to say We Speak English, but on close scrutiny we find that they can carry on a basic communicative act, as in, how much is the bus ticket to Ho Chi Minh City? Ten Dollars. Enough to carry out a transaction.

There are variants of the spoken English, which is grating to the ear, such as the one you hear in Singapore, the so-called “Singlish”. The best AND the worst spoken English I have encountered has been in
USA, UK, Australia and India. India is an exception in that it is not a Native English Speaking Country, but a good percentage speaks it poorly and a small percentage speaks it extremely well. Asia fares poorly in English locution, in Malaysia, it is divided along the racial lines, with Indians speaking English better than the Chinese who in turn speak better than the Malay. In less than one hundred years, it has nudged French out of its centuries old pedestal as the International Language. At one time French was the language of the educated class in Europe, the Near East and the Far East excepting the British Colonies. The demise of the French from its exalted position may reflect the fact that its speakers became smug about the superiority of their language and thus did not bother to learn any other language, thus depriving them of the curiosity of the growing interconnectedness of this world. I see this a lot in UK USA Australia, the predominant Native Speakers of English, where the smugness has resulted in monolingual populations. When I hear a Vietnamese or a Khmer speaking English, I admire them, since they are speaking that language as a Second or Third Language, something majority of the populations of France, UK, Australia, and USA don't have, the capacity to speak another language. I admire the Indians and the Chinese in Malaysia who are usually trilingual, most of the time fluently, all speak the National Language Malay, many speak English, and then native Chinese including its dialects or Indian languages (not dialects, as Tamoul is as different from Bengali as Greek is from Swedish). Poor immigrant parents usually discourage their children from speaking the original language as they think of it as a shame (Mexicans in USA are the best example of this). Of course, we can mourn the daily deaths of many of the indigenous tongues in USA and Australia, the disappearance of regional tongues in France in the past forty years.

Let us get back to our beloved language.

 Those among you who are struggling like me to master French language and pronunciation and meanings of the words, may be comforted by the fact that more than 60 % of vocabulaire Anglais is either French or d’origin francaise. When Alexandre Dumas wanted to learn English, he remarked about the similarite between Anglais et Francais: English is all French, just pronounced differently, question d’accent; diference du pronunciation.
Recently there was a documentary at BBC, about the Great British History which showed the slow evolution of the language which we now call English in the islands (the current Great Britain and Ireland and other smaller islands) where at one time, the main language that was understood was British or Breton (which survives in France, despite the efforts of Charles de Gaulle and the successors to wipe it out).

I wont go into the history how British came to be the language of the land, before the arrival of immigrants from the European Coast facing the Islands, Saxons and Germanic speakers. Normans conquered Britain, was it the one referred to by the welsh as the Great War of 1066? (King Llewellyn?) And during the next 300 years were the channels of entry of Norman words into the budding “English” language, Engels being a Germanic tribe from the northwestern part of what is now Germany.
I truly feel that if you know 2000-3000 words in English you could speak it quite well, like many Indians or Persians or Malaysians or Singaporeans. It is incredible to think that one uses actively only between 150-1500 words and NY Times reported that the daily tally of different words we use in English comes up to only 600!
Ah. I am a lover of the Spanish Language, that ornate and descriptive language, but quite cognizant of the fact that a well written piece in English is equally mesmerizing. Who wouldn't fall in love with a poem by that eternal Chilean poet of the Americas, Pablo Neruda,  “Y sabre acariciar las nuevas flores
Por que tu me ensenaste la ternura.”
And I shall know how to touch the new flowers gently
Because you taught me tenderness…
There are more non-native speakers of the English language than native Speakers, that is why you may hear, English is a dying language. Not the language but the population that speaks it as a native language in UK USA Canada Ireland, Australia and New Zealand and some parts of southern Africa is being dwarfed by the Mainland Chinese, Indians and the citizens of every country between Albania and Zambia, who now learn English. So it is not surprising that some of the best writers in the English language are not native to the language, and the major contribution comes from India. For those of you who do not know the flourishing literature in English from India, may I just mention a few names?  Amitav Ghosh, Terun Tejpal, Kiran Desai, Pankaj Mishra. Their ranks are swollen by children of Indian immigrants to England and USA.Jhumpa Lahiri…
The Caribbean has been and will continue to be the fecund producers of literature in English; Trinidad gave us the best living writer in English Language, Sir Vidia Naipaul. There was another, Derek Walcott from St Lucia who also won the Nobel Prize. Lamentablemente, India has produced only one Nobel Prize winner in Literature, nearly hundred years ago, Rabindranath Tagore. But there are many in the waiting.
Producing good literature is a sign of the civilization of the society; Indonesia produces great writers, whereas Malaysia and Singapour do not, it speaks for itself regarding the priorities of the societies.
I will conclude with giving you examples of the evolution of the words in English language. Before 1600, Revolution was a word exclusive to Astronomy, before Hans Selye wrote his seminal treatise on Stress in 1953, that word was associated with mechanical engineering. I don't have to tell you what became of that description of joie de vivre, Gay!