In the third part of this discussion and explanation on the concept of Standard English, Tim Bowen focuses on International English.
Sushi, cajun, kebab, ombudsman, feta, pilsner and sauna.
These are just some of the thousands of words to have entered everyday use in American and British English from other languages during the 20th century (from Japanese, Louisiana French, Turkish, Swedish, Greek, Czech and Finnish respectively). The latest on-line edition of the Oxford English dictionary includes Homer Simpson’s catchphrase ‘doh’ (from the cult American TV series The Simpsons ), meaning roughly ‘damn’, as well as the phrase ‘the full monty’, meaning ‘complete nudity’ and taken from the recent British film of the same title. ‘The full monty’ originally meant a large cooked breakfast and derives from the name of the British World War Two military commander, Field Marshal Montgomery. Other recent terms to be included in the on-line dictionary include ‘bad hair day’, meaning a bad day all-round that starts with hair problems, ‘clubber’, a young person who enjoys dancing at night-clubs, ‘docusoap’, a ‘fly-on-the wall’ documentary in the style of a TV soap, and ‘boy band’, a pop group whose members may or may not be able to play their instruments but who are both young and good-looking.
At the same time as these words are entering the language and being widely used, other lexical items are gradually disappearing from everyday use. Words and expressions once common in British English such as ‘bobby’, ‘chin-chin’, ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’, ‘tickled pink’ and ‘wireless’ are becoming increasingly rare. As Britain arguably becomes a less formal society, even expressions such as ‘How do you do?’ may be under threat. The rapid internationalization of world society through international travel and the mass media, and in particular through television and the internet, is likely to lead to an even more rapid assimilation of non-English words into the English language. In multi-cultural societies like the United States and the United Kingdom, the names of food items from various ethnic groups (particularly Hispanic, Chinese and Indian) have become common-place in English (eg nachos, chop suey and tikka massala). English words enter other languages at a rapid rate (note the efforts of the Academie Francaise to keep them out) but, arguably, the reverse process is just as rapid.
In terms of the pronunciation of English, there are unlikely to be parallel developments on the same scale in the foreseeable future. While different ethnic groups in both the USA and the UK may well bring numerous items of vocabulary into the local version of English, they will probably not have any significant influence on the local pronunciation. Their own pronunciation of English on the other hand may well acquire the status of a dialect (Hispanic English in the USA, for example).
A more interesting process could be taking place in countries where English is not the first language. Speakers of English from countries like the Netherlands, for example, where English is widely spoken as a second language, may find that their version of English with its mild but distinct Dutch accent is regarded as just another dialect of English. Thus Amsterdam English could acquire the same status as Boston English or Manchester English. The increasing internationalization of English could mean that British RP and American Standard English are no longer seen as the models that learners aspire to. The target might be an accent or dialect that is mutually intelligible to French, Dutch and German speakers who come together in cosmopolitan cities like Maastricht in The Netherlands rather than the increasingly rare and affected tones of British RP. In the area of pronunciation at least there are some interesting questions ahead for teachers of English. In less time than we might imagine the conventional standards of British and American pronunciation of English may be superseded by other more internationalized forms.