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July 05 2008

Will English merge with Chinese? Wired magazine considers the effect that millions of Chinese speakers may have on the English language. Maybe our favourites should become 'Big Damn Language Teachers'. Dong ma?

[ edited by zeitgeist on 2008-07-05 14:40 ]

Actually, I'm thinking it's going to be Spanish. Which is a good thing because my knowledge of the Chinese language is....well, next to nothing.
Wo dong... ni tsung ming ma?

Just what I was thinking when I read that, mei mei. *g*
Why Spanish, Madhatter?
I'm thinking it's going to be Chino-Spanglish, eventually. In a few places.
I'm gonna start promoting Chino-Spanglish, ProgGrrl lol

I know about as much Spanish from roughly five years of taking the language in school as I do Chinese from watching Firefly. How sad is that?
Why Spanish, Madhatter?

Because they're the fastest growing population on the planet. Just a guess.
I'm thinkin', the UN oughta rework Esperanto to include a little Chinese,
English, Chinese, Spanish...all doable. A whole Esperanto 2 may have to be fashioned, but I like your thinking. :)

[ edited by Jav on 2008-07-05 15:33 ]
As an armchair linguist, I find this an interesting take on the usual ESL issues. Itís not bad English, itís evolved, heh.
But English has always "evolved" spectacularly. It is one of the things that one of my ESL classes began to really get into last year. "What language did that word come from?" The fact that both the Polish speakers and the Spanish speakers had various but different words that were the same as in their language, that so many others were from French, Latin, Greek and Norse, and so many American place names were Native American, gives one the impression that this is nothing new. The accents that they talk about are already in use in various parts of the USA, and have been for a lonnnnnnng time. This language, it be a-changin'.
Oh, totally, newcj. English is always changing, adopting, adapting--which is why it's so fascinating to study. (And that's why I prefer dictionaries that are descriptive rather than prescriptive. Tell me how people are using a word, because that's the future accepted use in many cases.) I just thought this was a novel approach to the "hehehe, silly signs in English--look how wrong they got it!"
I started taking Mandarin lessons after watching Firefly. It's so much fun!
I was watching the Joy Luck Club last night, and at the very end, when June travels to China to meet the twins, they started calling their newfound little sister "mei mei". I thought it was really sweet, and I couldn't help but think that there truly are Browncoats everywhere. ;-)
English is not going to "merge" with Chinese because they are totally unrelated. English like most European language derives ultimately from Sanskrit. Chinese does not; its grammar, vocabulary, tonal pronunciation and writing system are completely different.

However, English is highly susceptible to change and influence. It sucks up vocabulary from everywhere. English also has a long term trend toward simplification of grammar. Anglo-Saxon had noun case endings. The only vestiges remaining are in our pronouns. We've nearly lost the subjunctive mood except in formal writing.

I used to work in a shop with many non-native speakers of English from all over the world. I noticed that the Asians dropped the tense endings on past tense verbs. If you listen to the news, you will notice that even well educated non-native English speakers have trouble with auxiliary verbs and can't get our future tense or our future conditional tense right. I expect the tense and mood distinctions in spoken English to fade away under the influence of non-native speakers, and this will make English grammar more like Chinese.

English speakers from Africa will also influence the way English is spoken in the future. Written language follows changes in the spoken language, but more slowly.
minuet: I know about as much Spanish from roughly five years of taking the language in school as I do Chinese from watching Firefly. How sad is that?

Right there with you. After 6 years, (two in Jr High, 4 in High School) all I know how to say in Spanish is, "no habla espanole." But the Spanish club that went to Spain said that nothing they learned in that class was usefull anyhow.
My Spanish is about the same. If anyone wants to know what color pencil I use, I'll be fine. Other than that I'm lost.
This is a great article (and discussion) for any of us who ever argued with our parents over "slang".
I'm going with Hindi. Namaste.
Uf, las salchichas son judios!

I'm Mexican and this is all I know of the language. Awesome, so Chinese dialect here I come!
Heh. In my "Sure Signs You're a Browncoat" I had "You learn to speak Chinese so you can swear more creatively."

I picked up a smidge of Mandarin from watching "Nash Bridges," and a dollop from Firefly. Not that I ever use it in everyday conversation. (Not like "gorram," "shiny," "bloody hell" or "Oi!", which I use quite a bit.)

As for Spanish - my aunt said the only Spanish you'll ever need is eso, si, que es. (Or, as she put it - "How do you spell socks?") She wasn't real clear on just what it is you were saying, but she did insist that that's all you need to get by.

I had dos anos en...uh...high school. :-D Yeah. I was better at reading it than I was at writing. I had to memorize two poems for contests, and I've still got a bit of one stuck in my head these 15 years later. Couldn't spell a jot of it now, though. Something about eyes.
I seriously wanted to start learning Japanese years ago and started to learn the very basics of that syllabic alphabet (the kana ? I could have that wrong, it was years ago). Mostly an interest in video games and manga/anime at the time drove that curiosity, but also a vague plan of maybe traveling and working there for a while...kinda fizzled and I lost interest quickly though. Japanese ain't easy, personally I don't think I could get very far self-teaching myself a lot of it, classes would be necessary at the same time as studying it hardcore at home.

Slowly slowly learning French (Quebec version). Remembering a lot from Grades 1 to 9 (that's how long English-speaking Canadians have to take it, then it's optional for the rest of highschool). Mostly prompted by French-Canadian significant other. Depending on whether I stick with it (I think so, this time) and how well I adapt, it'll probably prove to be useful in Quebec, France, and some of the South-Polynesian islands (Fiji!), but at least it'll look good on a resume. Thinking of taking classes soon since the book-learnin' and the monthly weekend trip to Montreal isn't leaving enough of an impression/sticking in my head.

I have no idea what the language of the future will be. If there were any that were set to match English in prevalance within my lifetime, and if we for sure knew which languages those would be, which would be the most useful to learn (assuming I'm never going to shut myself away in a mostly English-speaking-only community/country for the rest of my life), I think I would make an effort to learn them.

So so far we have the most votes for Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin ? And are there more ? Yikes) and Spanish (hmm, maybe I should study Latin first or concurrently with any of the romance languages)
This is just a fascinating thread, thank you, technovamp for posting.

I don't think there'll ever be an universal language so to speak. Rather, a blending of languages (and cultures) much as we're seeing now. I've been most fortunate to be able to tour this world of ours and sample the different dialects, each in their own deserves a study. I usually only pick up enough to get through day-to-day basics. Yes, as they say, enough to get into trouble.

German, Japanese, Russian, all so fascinating. I particularly love how differently languages are "blocked" in their forms of meaning. For example, we English tend to be linear in our discussions. "Meet you tomorrow at the front of the Empire State Building around noon. We'll have lunch there." Yet, the Japanese would state, "We'll have lunch tomorrow at noon, meet me in front of the Empire State Building." Very similar statements, yet laid out in a different mind set. Well, the same goes with languages.
I often meet foreigners and speak with them in English, while neither of us are native speakers. The English spoken by Russians is indeed different from that spoken by French or Japanese (I do not often meet Chinese, so I won't comment on their English). Each of them speaks their own kind of dialect of English, and it can sometimes be hard to understand. Indeed the English spoken by Japanese is sometimes unintelligible to me (though clearly some sort of English and not Japanese), but perfectly understandable for the other Japanese.

However everybody changes English in a different way, so the big common ground is still correct English. Moreover I think non-native speakers are often more focused on trying to speak correct English than native speakers (though they succeed less), because they are aware they make mistakes.

The one thing which will change is that complicated grammatical constructs will be avoided and proverbs will also be used less. Both of which are a loss for the beauty of the language, but
I think a higher percentage of conversations in English by foreigners is for business or similar purposes, where beauty of the language is less a concern. I do hope people realize that writing poetry should always be done in your native tongue (and therefore I do not like that a lot of Dutch bands sing in English).

What interests me perhaps even more than how and if English change since it is used by foreigners as a lingua franca, is whether and if and how English will be replaced by some other language. Chinese seems a good candidate for that (China becoming a world power), but it seems a harder language to learn which will hinder its universal acceptance (not having an alphabet just seems so clumsy).
The actual title of the article made me really think it was heading towards the same route that "No Future for You" is in that Whedon is responsible for the downfall of language by adding Ys where they don't belong.

I've been hanging out with Chinese-ish youth from non-American countries lately and I do think it's kind of interesting that despite theoretically all speaking Chinese they all still mostly communicate in English. (Also, Canadians and Chinese totally use the "ah"/"la"/"ma"/"ne"/"eh?" thing to rhetorically end a question) That said, it may be since Chinese is ridiculously hard. (And despite efforts at standardization, all the non-Mandarin dialects still get around quite a bit.)
Hmm, I must really look out for that "expainy" term that I so adore.
"Depending on whether I stick with it (I think so, this time) and how well I adapt, it'll probably prove to be useful in Quebec, France, and some of the South-Polynesian islands (Fiji!)"

Also useful in former French colonies in Africa and the Caribbean.
I studied Indonesian for 2 years before I took up a teaching post in Bali. And when I got there all peachy keen and excited- everyone only wanted to speak English with me so they could develop their skills. So that was a complete waste of time!

It was great fun on the streets though, when Indos (especially the men) would talk about me and think I didn't know what they were saying- and then I'd throw them a few choice phrases and walk away.

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