How English Is Evolving Into a Language We May Not Even Understand: “How English Is Evolving Into a Language We May Not Even Understand
By Michael Erard 06.23.08
Photo: Mauricio Alejo
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The targeted offenses: IF YOU ARE STOLEN, CALL THE POLICE AT ONCE. PLEASE OMNIVOROUSLY PUT THE WASTE IN GARBAGE CAN. DEFORMED MAN LAVATORY. For the past 18 months, teams of language police have been scouring Beijing on a mission to wipe out all such traces of bad English signage before the Olympics come to town in August. They’re the type of goofy transgressions that we in the English homelands love to poke fun at, devoting entire Web sites to so-called Chinglish. (By the way, that last phrase means ‘handicapped bathroom.’)
But what if these sentences aren’t really bad English? What if they are evidence that the English language is happily leading an alternative lifestyle without us?
Thanks to globalization, the Allied victories in World War II, and American leadership in science and technology, English has become so successful across the world that it’s escaping the boundaries of what we think it should be. In part, this is because there are fewer of us: By 2020, native speakers will make up only 15 percent of the estimated 2 billion people who will be using or learning the language. Already, most conversations in English are between nonnative speakers who use it as a lingua franca.”