Never before in history has a single language been as widely used as English. The number of English users in Asia alone is more or less equal to the number of Native English speakers worldwide: 350 million, more or less the combined populations of the United States, Britain and Canada.
The advent of the Internet has boosted English even further, about eighty percent of the world’s electronically stored information is in English, and this widespread use of the language has caused an increase in the demand for English courses. An estimate by the British Council reports that today more than 1 billion people are learning English for work, study or leisure. China is strongly pushing English language in its schools, there are more Chinese children studying English as second language than there are Britons.
Those among the native English speakers who believe their language will soon be the standard for worldwide communication should think again:
Firstly, it can hardly be considered their language anymore, since the vast majority of English users are not native speakers. English is a living language and like all languages it evolves, it changes and adapts itself according to its environment and – especially – the cultural and historical background of its speakers, often mingling with idioms and linguistic structires of the local language. There is no longer one English, but rather various adapted forms of the language, often with dramatic changes in spelling, pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar.
Secondly, the Internet fastlane is producing an even more interesting phenomenon, when one would imagine such a widespread resource as the Web to become a solid reference for spelling and grammar, we are met with quite the opposite, English over the Net is evolving, or rather de-evolving towards a more simplified form.
More and more frequently we encounter what might look like harmless spelling mistakes; blogs, newsletters, chats and forums are full of them. At a closer look we might notice that some of these altered forms are consistent across the Web, in some cases we might encounter simplifications, such as there used indifferently as ‘there’ or ‘their’, or phonetic shifts, caused by the natural tendency to spell similar sounds the same way: thus unstressed _ent and _ant both sound the same and tend to be spelled _ant e.g. consistant.
Other changes might involve the tendency to either spell ‘s no matter what grammar is involved, two chair’s or the opposite, its for ‘it is’ pronoun + verb or ‘its own’ possessive pronoun.
The result of this might be surprising and, for the purists, rather unsettling. If there ever will be a common world language, it won’t look or sound much like English anymore. Current trends might produce a language with simplified grammar, she look chair, phonetic spelling ther is a tendansy to bad wether and foreign words Hungry kya ‘Are you hungry?’ a mixture of English and Hindi found in a recent ad for Domino’s pizza in India.
Being a living language, the de-evolution of English seems unstoppable, in a certain sense this is a signal of its good health and of its massive usage in today’s world. Only dead languages never change.
by Ian Lahey