Monthly Archives: December 2008

Talking Taboo: Pidgin English in Literature?

For years, pidgin Englishes have been treated on the same level as standard English at Universities all over the world and considered to be normal “varieties of English”, probably without the consent of the rightful owners, namely the English people. Thus, broken English – that is what Pidgin English mostly is – is ennobled to a higher rank than its scope for expressing ideas permits.

During my research into pidgin Englishes and “Local Englishes”, I came across statements like: “If you despise pidgin English, you despise the people speaking it”, and: “Many people think that varieties [of English] are incorrect ways of speaking, but they are mistaken; they are just different”. The people claiming this may never have been subjected to a prolonged, torture-level-like gibberish during which they gave up trying to understand what was being said and just said “yes” in the right places, wishing at the same time that their ordeal was over. If they had, they would think otherwise. Likewise, the propagators of this theory emphasize the social aspect in communication rather than the actual conveyance of accurate and precise information.

A while ago, I read Doris Lessing`s book “Ben in the World” and I was surprised to find about five passages in which some kind of substandard, non-native speaker English was in fact mentioned and commented on through the characters. The following passages have all been taken from the Flamingo pocket book, copyright Doris Lessing, 2000.
“He felt out of things, the chattering, the embraces, the talk he did not understand, when it was in Portuguese, and even the English was mutilated and hard to follow.”
(p. 90)
“But she was friendly, and helpful, making food for him, offering him juice, and when he sat silent and doleful included him in what she said, in her quick, but difficult English.” (p.94)
“The evenings were full of people, who arrived loudly, laughing and talking in Portuguese but to Alex and Ben in their hard-to-understand English.” (p.94)
“[…] by now she knew some English, not much, but enough to make it seem that she knew much more.” (p. 110)
and:
“She was seventeen, though she pretended to be twenty-two, just as she put on a show of knowing more English than she did.”

“Who can make himself / herself understood, is right”. (Quote by Dr. Joachim Grzega in his interview in the weekly magazine Der Spiegel.)

“Who can make himself / herself understood, is right”. (Quote by Dr. Joachim Grzega in his interview in the weekly magazine DerSpiegel.) http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/0,1518,544420,00.html
I have taken the liberty of quoting Dr. Joachim Grzega, who has come up with a simplified Globbish English – “BGE” or Basic Global English. This sort of synthetic English, which is destined to be handed down to future generations, is a neo-pidgin English, or a barely elevated pidgin English.

The extremely carefully selected vocabulary comprises about 1000 words, 750 of which are general vocabulary and 250 tailored to the individual needs of his 8-year old pupils in a trial classroom. The whittled down vocabulary seems important because it would appear that many non-native speakers of English all over the world find standard English too taxing, too hard to understand, and in all probability, too tiresome to learn up to the level which could actually be achieved.

Mind you, this is not the end of it. Dr. Grzega has reduced English grammar with painstaking care to about 20 rules. He is now working on a BGE course in basic business Globbish. It says in the Spiegel magazine article that non-native speakers with an excellent command of standard English are harder to understand than those who can barely make themselves understood. Shame on all of you very proficient non-native speakers of English. Have you never heard of your “social” responsibilities? Scale down your scope of your speech and writing and narrow the latitude of your mind and help decrease the range of thinking, which is not difficult to do with only a very limited vocabulary. Be bold and try to be a cut below the others.

Incidentally, bankers will be delighted at the new business Globbish course. At last, they can converse globally in a uniform system of balderdash without having to think hard when moving billions of Euros across the globe. I cannot help thinking of an aphorism I came across in a Linux forum a few days ago: “The limits of language are the limits of thought”. But it is results that count, as Dr. Grzega daringly maintains. So learning Basic Global English is a solid investment in your future.

About this posting

This posting is part of a series dedicated to topics dealing with various aspects of the English language which usually get short shrift on the internet and in other publications. It is, in a wider sense, concerned with the English language crumbling into incomprehensibility at alarming speed and how society is influenced by it. How do schools and universities react and in what way is literature affected by all this? Furthermore, how do people working in education and linguistics cope with this avalanche of “Local English neologisms”?
What often sounds like modern Pidgin English can generally be put down to neo-pidginicity. It is an artificially accelerated and manipulated process – or rather linguistic genetic engineering – of attempting to oversimplify Standard English, the result of which is in all cases some sort of Neo Pidgin English or Simplified-Simple-Speak. Four major fields of contact contribute to the gradual encroachment on Standard English: Basic Global English, as advocated by Dr. Joachim Grzega, machine translations of any kind, unedited documents and publications – frequently of international validity – being passed off as standard English but in fact written by non-native speakers of English, the acceptance of “Local English” and non-native speakers of English teaching their version of “Local English”. The result of the English “produced” in all these areas of contact is often, at best, a barely elevated Pidgin English.
And to compound matters, Globish appears to become a composite haphazard mixture of all about 180 Local Englishes and may for that very reason not be as easy as some people think once it has evolved into a sub-language of Standard English.
Finally, it would be interesting to see the first book written in Basic Global English, Dr. Joachim Grzega`s novel and daring invention and see in which section bookshops will display such a work of art.

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