There’s one more factor I’d like to have farooq’s opinion about here. I had learned, way back, that the evolution of latin into the romance languages—that is the change from a single language into many different ones, passing through different dialects to languages—came about because the local regional variants became increasingly distant from each other over time. That made great sense in the past because people didn’t travel very much, they remained close to home throughout their lives, and thus as language changed locally, the neighbor’s language became increasingly remote, to the point where, I’ve been told, as late as the 19th c, if you traveled from one village to another in Italy people couldn’t understand each other.
I was born in 1943, and I can tell you the accents in the different boroughs of new York were pretty different, esp Brooklyn, which we used to imitate to make fun of it. My family was mostly the Bronx, also w strong accents
Now it’s all gone. Not only the new York accent is all flattened out, not only are there millions of non-new Yorkers who have come and amalgamated into some kind of very mild accent, the differences between the boroughs is gone.
Same here in Michigan. A trace of Midwest accent, that’s what we have. But the shift into dialects and new languages is disappearing because we all move, our kids move, and most of all there is that one accent on the radio and tv or in the movies which is very close to the same thing.
In Africa, at least in the 70s, one had the impression again that regional differences, the wolof of Dakar (called frolof) vs the village was radically different. How many variants of hausa or Yoruba were spoken in Nigeria or across the region? And now, as more people move, as the media have become more accessible, has this process of a language splitting into many different dialects and then different languages begun to abate? I know small languages disappear, but I wonder if the creation of new languages is dying.
Which takes me to English: “world” English should become a zillion different languages, so that something like pidgin should become incomprehensible to “standard” Nigerian English speakers. But is this happening? And is Nigerian English moving away from british or American English? Or does standard English, taught in the schools, published in our books, flatten out the differences and impose a uniformity on the speech and language around the world? Will indian English become radically different from Nigerian English, or will the pressures of globalization impose a uniformity on them, keeping them mutually comprehensible and merely regional variants, or even close to the same language? And I wonder whose pronunciation will win over the long run, and why?
Dept of English and Film Studies
Michigan State University
619 Red Cedar Rd
East Lansing, MI 48824
On Thu, Mar 16, 2017 at 1:16 AM, Emeagwali, Gloria (History) <email@example.com> wrote:
So Standard English has a shelf life. Right?
Elizabethan English was standard in its day but fell out of fashion, somewhat.
Nope. There was no "standard" English in Elizabethan times. There were several regional dialects of the language, as there are now, but none was purposively privileged and codified as the "standard." Shakespeare wrote in the London dialect, although his grammar and orthography, like those of his contemporaries, weren't always consistent since there was no conscious codification of grammar and spelling at the time. He didn't even spell his name in a consistent manner. He variously spelled it as "Shakspe," "Shakspere," Shaksper," "Shakspeare" and "Shakespeare." Eighteenth-century grammarians and printers preferred the last one, and that's what we know today.
The idea of a "standard English," that is, the overt codification of the language through grammar books and dictionaries, didn't start until the 18th century, although the term "standard English" didn't emerge until the 19th century. In other words, Shakespeare antedated Standard English by at least a century.
What came to be known as "standard" English, from the 19th century on, is, of course, no more than the arbitrary social dialect of the dominant class. That's the Marxist in me speaking. But the pragmatist in me also sees the utility in having some form of uniform standards of usage, spelling, and grammar to aid mutual intelligibility across vast swathes of the world. I think that's the core of Ken's intervention. The various dialects of a common language can become mutually unintelligible over time, so a "standard" version of the language in the service of broad communicative inclusivity often helps.
But you are right that standards aren't fixed in time and space; they perpetually evolve, and will continue to do so. A language that does not evolve sooner or later dies. That's a universal linguistic truth. But this fact is no reason for linguistic anarchy, in my opinion. At any point in time, for purely communicative reasons, we need a set of formal rules to guide usage, at least for formal contexts.
Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Journalism & Emerging Media
School of Communication & Media
Social Science Building
Room 5092 MD 2207
402 Bartow Avenue
Kennesaw State University
Kennesaw, Georgia, USA 30144
Cell: (+1) 404-573-9697
Personal website: www.farooqkperogi.com
Author of Glocal English: The Changing Face and Forms of Nigerian English in a Global World
"The nice thing about pessimism is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised." G. F. Will
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