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10.a Crystal Eng as a global lang

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53 Deterding (1994). 54 Bond and Fokes (1985).
The future of global English
have myself described several differences in syllable-based speech
extracts recorded from India, Ghana, Guyana and Jamaica.55
Whether these differences amount to systematic regional differ-
ences is unclear. However, these variations do not remove the im-
pression that some kind of syllable-based speech among second-
language English learners is widespread, apparently affecting all
areas where new varieties are emerging, in Africa, South Asia,
South-East Asia and the Caribbean.
The emergence of widespread syllable-based speech in what
was formerly a stress-based hegemony has repeatedly given rise
to problems of comprehension, when speakers from both con-
stituencies interact. Individual words can be misinterpreted by
listeners used only to a stress-based system because of failure to
identify phonological structure. Grammatical patterns can be mis-
heard because of the unfamiliar stressing of structural words. Lex-
ical items can be completely unrecognized. The examples in the
sources above are all to do with the difficulty faced by stress-
based speakers understanding syllable-based speakers. It is unclear
whether there are difficulties in the opposite direction, or whether
syllable-based speakers misunderstand each other any more than
stress-based ones do. But there is no doubt that a problem exists
when these varieties come into contact, and that it can often be
severe. Moreover, as perhaps three-quarters of English speakers in
the world are now speaking varieties of English which are syllable-
based, a question-mark must hang over the long-term future of
the stress-based system.
Is it likely that, one day, the standard English of Britain or
the USA will become syllable-based? At present, the L2 varieties
are not sufficiently prestigious for them to become models for
first-language speakers – though some syllable-based speech has
come to be part of young people’s phonological repertoire, no-
tably in the rap chanting of popular songs and in play renditions
of alien, Dalek-like speech.56 And it would take only a small num-
ber of social changes for the situation to alter – for example, the
appointment to high office in first-language countries of people
with strong Hispanic or African-American Creole accents. But
55 Crystal (1996). 56 Crystal (1995b).
at present, in most of the second-language countries, the stress-
timedmodels are still the prestige ones, and there are signs of these
being reinforced, as the increased availability of satellite television
(e.g. in India) makes access to them more routine. The implica-
tions for language learning are considerable: certainly, it suggests
a move away from the typical learning situation where students
(whose mother-tongue is syllable-based) find themselves regu-
larly taught by teachers (whose English is already syllable-based)
with very little opportunity to hear mother-tongue stress-based
speech. If this situation is now in the process of change, we may
see an end to the fostering of syllable-based norms through the
traditional reliance on second-language pedagogical models.
Whether in the long term stress-based speech will replace
syllable-based speech, or vice versa, is impossible to say. But at-
tention should also be paid to a third possibility – that second-
language learners will become competent in both kinds of speech,
continuing to use syllable-based speech for local communication,
as a sign of national identity, and switching to stress-based speech
for international communication, as a means of ensuring intelligi-
bility. Multidialectism already exists in many sociolinguistic situa-
tions (see below), and it would be a natural development for it to
eventually incorporate rhythmicality. Rhythm, after all, is always
present in speech – and is therefore much more ‘available’ as a sig-
nal of identity than are individual segmental phonemes, nuclear
tones, lexical items and other putative markers of style. Whatever
its phonetic basis, its sociolinguistic future seems assured.
The future of English as a world language
Language is an immensely democratising institution. To have
learned a language is immediately to have rights in it. Youmay add
to it, modify it, play with it, create in it, ignore bits of it, as youwill.
And it is just as likely that the course of the English language is
going to be influenced by those who speak it as a second or foreign
language as by those who speak it as a mother-tongue. Fashions
count, in language, as anywhere else. And fashions are a function
of numbers. As we have seen (p. 69), the total number of mother-
tongue speakers in the world is steadily falling, as a proportion
The future of global English
of world English users. It is perfectly possible (as the example of
rapping suggests) for a linguistic fashion to be started by a group
of second- or foreign-language learners, or by those who speak
a creole or pidgin variety, which then catches on among other
speakers. And as numbers grow, and second/foreign-language
speakers gain in national and international prestige, usages which
were previously criticized as ‘foreign’ – such as a new concord
rule (three person), variations in countability (furnitures, kitchen-
wares) or verb use (he be running) – can become part of the stan-
dard educated speech of a locality, and may eventually appear in
What power and prestige is associated with these new varieties
of English? It is all happening so quickly that it is difficult to be
sure; there have been so few studies. But impressionistically, we
can see several of these new linguistic features achieving an increas-
ingly public profile, in their respective countries. Words become
used less self-consciously in the national press – no longer being
put in inverted commas, for example, or given a gloss. They come
to be adopted, often at first with some effort, then more natu-
rally, by first-language speakers of English in the locality. Indeed,
the canons of local political correctness, in the best sense of that
phrase, may foster a local usage, giving it more prestige than it
could ever have dreamed of – a good example is the contempo-
rary popularity in New Zealand English of Maori words (and the
occasional Maori grammatical feature, such as the dropping of the
definite article before the people name Maori itself ). And, above
all, the local words begin to be used at the prestigious levels of
society – by politicians, religious leaders, socialites, pop musicians
and others. Using local words is then no longer to be seen as
slovenly or ignorant, within a country; it is respectable; it may
even be ‘cool’.
The next step is the move from national to international levels.
These people who are important in their own communities –
whether politicians or pop stars – start travelling abroad. The rest
of the world looks up to them, either because it wants what they
have, or because it wants to sell them something. And the result
is the typical present-day scenario – an international gathering
(political, educational, economic, artistic . . .) during which senior
visitors use, deliberately or unselfconsciously, a word or phrase
from their own country which would not be found in the tra-
ditional standards of British or American English. Once upon a
time, the reaction would have been to condemn the usage as ig-
norance. Today, it is becoming increasingly difficult to say this, or
even to think it, if the visitors have more degrees than the visited,
or own a bigger company, or are social equals in every way. In such
circumstances, one has to learn to live with the new usage, as a
feature of increasing diversity in English. It can take a generation
or two, but it does happen. It happened within fifty years between