I used to write long before the Internet and the so called globalisation came along. I did not imagine that my language could later become obsolete (sort of).
When I grew, up I didn’t really consider the world outside of my country relevant. My country was where all the REAL people lived; foreign countries were all together like a distant stratosphere. I guess everybody grow up in the middle of the world no matter where they live.
Later it became obvious that my home country is not the centre of the world; more like a tiny splash of green dots on the world map. Everybody there are now told that they need to be very fluent in English because English is the Lingua Franca of the world and the Internet. Internationalising the youth is such a high priority that the State subsidises both tuition fees and living costs for studies abroad.
I live in Australia now, on the opposite the side of the Earth from where I was before. I speak English, think English and write English since six years ago. I sometimes have a chat with the dog in Danish (our dog understands any human language pronounced in a soft, friendly voice) and I have one Danish client. That’s about it with speaking anything but English.
I am afraid that I have stranded myself in a linguistic limbo. It sort of hurts to not be a really good writer anymore. This blog shall be my way to re-conquer my ability to express what I see, sense and think intuitively and playfully in words. To tell new stories.
Lingua Franca natives and their ignorance of globalisation
It is funny how a competitive disadvantage can make one stronger, and how an apparent blessing can blind.
This American lady thinks that English-as-a-second-language is a disability and feels so sorry for all those not born in the US, the UK, Australia or NZ. We non-natives can never truly get it right in our struggle to copy-cat the style and proficiency of native writers of English, she thinks. ‘Readers are fickle’ and won’t come back if they pick up even slightly incorrect use of English.
She does have advice for us poor souls. We may want to concentrate on visuals, because she notes that in some countries Photoshop is part of the curriculum (China? Norway? Afghanistan? Canada?). However, what we should really do is find a lucrative niche within our native language, because we may be overlooking ‘acres of diamonds’ in our own backyards, which we’ve been blind to in our desperate quest to cater for the English-speaking audience.
The lady (and others like her) seems to forget that
- English is the primary Lingua Franca of the Internet
- Lingua Franca means:
a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both mother tongues.
– Wikipedia, 7 November 2011
English as a second language is taught from kinder garden or primary school in many (likely most) countries, and writing in English enables writers to reach a global niche across nationalities and language boundaries.
The vast majority of the global audience have English as their second language. For example, India has the largest English-speaking population in the world followed by China, the Philippines, Germany and then the US. US is the only country out of those where English is the native language.
So non-native writers who writes in English don’t write exclusively for a native-English speaking audience; quite the contrary, and the audience is unlikely to be as ‘fickle’ as the American lady presumes.
English evolves into the future
Languages are dynamic, not static. Imitation of native speakers is vital in order to learn the rules of a language; but there is much more to communicating in a Lingua Franca than just trying to live up to a fixed standard.
Whenever languages meet, they merge and change each other. Hybrids and mutations emerge. To write in English as a second language involves to co-develop it and to integrate new words, meanings and imagery from one’s native language. Many non-native speakers of English won’t even be able to tell English-English from hybrid-English; and in the long run it will make no difference. That is how languages evolve. Especially major Lingua Francas.
English is the most widely learned and used foreign language, and as such, some linguists believe that it is no longer the exclusive cultural sign of ‘native English speakers’, but is rather a language that is absorbing aspects of cultures worldwide as it continues to grow.
So here is my advice to fellow non-native writers of English: don’t be shy. Take possession of English and develop your own style; introduce imagery from your native language wherever it helps you to convey your message. Because you are not just trying to keep up with someone else’s language: you create it. Just like anyone else who uses it.