A tsunami has been changing the basic character of the English language. Lexically, grammatically and phonetically, English is not what it was when the IATEFL was established fifty years back!
David Crystal’s plenary on the first day of the 50th IATEFL conference held at Birmingham is an eye opener for the English teachers of the world who are obsessed with the question of the purity of English. With plenty of examples drawn from English as it is being spoken and written around the world, Crystal has made us aware of the magnitude of the changes taking place in the use and usage of English. That English is changing is not a news, but the magnitude of the change that has created a tsunami in the field of the English language is a news indeed!
In his plenary at IATEFL, Birmingham, David crystal dwelt at length on the main changes in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary taken place in the past fifty years and pointed out the magnitude of the changes that are likely to take place in coming days
All living languages change, only the dead ones don’t, Crystal pointed out. The expansion of the vocabulary of the English language makes us wonder-struck. What a creativity and what a novelty! Words or compound words such as ‘emoji’, ‘digital amnesia’, ‘dude-food, ‘skype-family’, ‘pocket-dial, ‘ride-hailing service’ or ‘mansplain’ are the latest coinages of this language. Like many other people listening to Crystal on the first day of the IATEFL Conference, I too wondered what does ‘mansplain’ mean in English. Quick came the meaning from Crystal, ‘mansplain’ means ‘the act of a man explaining to a woman what she already knows’! A former husband is a ‘wasband’!
Many English words have acquired new meanings too. The word ‘basic’ is not a neutral word any more. “Basic” means “unattractive” while “wavy” means “stylish, Crystal reminded us!
Dwelling at length on the processes of grammatical changes, Crystal remarked that the frequency of modal verbs is declining in English. ‘have to’, ‘going to’ are replacing ‘must’. The use of ‘must’ has been reduced by 50%, Crystal pointed out.
English static verbs are being used dynamically and the progressing aspect of the verbs is increasing day by day. (a) “I am loving it.’(b) I am wanting a new fridge. (c) It’s mattering to me greatly. Indian speakers of English will not be embarrassed anymore with the following utterances: ‘I am intending to apply for a new job.’ Or ‘ I’m knowing the answer’!
What is most surprising about the changes taking place in English is the phonetic character of RP. The development of ‘syllable-timed’ speech rather than the traditional ‘stress-timed speech’ is a very significant change taking place in the English language, Crystal remarked and and prophesied that “The future seems to be ‘syllable-timed.” Though English is a stress-timed language, days are not far off when it will be a ‘syllable-timed’ language and in that case each English syllable will have the same length. What a revolutionary change of English pronunciation!. How will the ‘native speakers’ adjust with this dramatic change of English pronunciation?
A good news for the Indian speakers of English whose first languages are syllable-timed. Indians often face problems recognising and producing English contractions, main and secondary stress, and elision. If ‘syllable-time’ becomes the norm of English pronunciation in coming days (thanks to the Global English) Indians can speak English more fluently and confidently without any inferiority complex.It seems that English has been changing its character to accommodate the global speakers of English!