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[European Report]There is no "English"

Andrew Brennan, wayguk@gmail.com

등록일: 2006-09-21 오전 10:31:28

I run two courses each semester in the European Studies Department, each entitled 유럽영어실습. I normally begin the courses by announcing to the students that indeed there is no English. Now, before you tear your hair out and throw your “Eye of the T.O.E.I.C” book in the trash, I will explain what I mean, but before I do that I must digress, as I have a little story to tell.

The story you are about to hear is about an obscure Indo European language from a small Island on the western fringes of Europe. This is a language with a Germanic basis, and French, Latin and Greek aspects; a relatively new language, one which has by virtue of chance and political circumstances come to dominate the world. I am speaking of course about English. English permeates so much of the modern world, it is the language of international business, the internet (80% of all the information on global servers is in English), science and medicine, air traffic control and post world war two diplomacy (before 1945 diplomacy was conducted in French). We could safely call it the “Global Lingua Franca”, the world’s language. It wasn’t always like this, and things could have been very different indeed. Before Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his Canterbury Tales in the mid fifteenth century English was considered a very minor fringe language. French and Latin were the chosen languages of literature and at court throughout Europe, indeed at this time people said of English that it was “Badly pronounced French”. Chaucer was the first writer to popularise and legitimise English. It began to emerge from the shadow of Latin and French, reaching its full flowering in the works of William Shakespeare a century and a half later. The language of Shakespeare has a lot more in common with what is spoken throughout the world today than that of Chaucer. Chaucer’s English, termed Middle English retained much of the vocabulary and character of Old English.

449 AD is a very important date in the history of the English language, this being the beginning of the Anglo Saxon invasions of England. The Angles and Jutes from what is now Denmark, and the Saxons from present day Germany invaded England and violently replaced the native Celtic Language with their own tongue, which was now termed Englisc. The native Celtic language died out completely in England; similar languages survive now in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and parts of Northern Spain. English changed drastically as wave upon wave of Invasion into England brought new elements to the fledgling language, chief among the invaders were the Vikings between 750 and 1050 AD and the French Normans in 1066. The Vikings and the French all had an impact on the language; the words get, hit, skin, same, want and wrong are all of Viking origin, with fashion, castle and attorney coming from Norman French. English has been able to accommodate invasion, influence and change from overseas, in fact it is the flexible nature of English that has made it so resilient and such a powerful force.

We are now beginning the seventeenth Century and the time of two people who had a profound influence on English, William Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth the first. If Chaucer made it ok for learned people to read and write in English, then Shakespeare popularised it. What Elvis Presley did for rock and roll, Shakespeare did for English, where Elvis was influenced by (some say stole from) the rhythm and blues and Gospel of black musicians and created rock and roll, Shakespeare was influenced by (some say stole from) the literature of Middle English, added his own twist and produced a body of work that was to take Europe and Later the world by storm. What I mean when I say that Shakespeare added his own twist is the sheer volume of modern sounding words that Shakespeare brought to English. English was now All Shook Up (excuse the pun), with words such as bedazzle, bloodsucking, fortune-teller, to puke (get sick), shooting star, to swagger, to undress, zany, hot-blooded, embrace (as a noun) and last but not least my favourite weird.

The importance of Queen Elizabeth to the development of the English language lies in ships and naval power. One of the reasons that English was such an obscure language, and lay in the shadows of the Romance languages of French, Spanish and Italian, was that England was separated from continental Europe. The Spanish and Portuguese were powerful maritime powers, and Venice had always been a centre of naval trading, England and therefore English was an island tongue. Elizabeth embarked upon the building of an English fleet that was to see the English language spread to the four corners of the world through a process trade, settlement and invasion. Probably the most important moment for the English Language was the English involvement in what was termed the New World. I am referring of course to America. Can you imagine what the world would be like without the English involvement in America, perhaps if the French had managed to extricate the English then Korean Students would all give out about having to study for the T.O.F.I.C test, instead of the much loved T.O.E.I.C test.

Lets be honest for a moment, English is not the world’s language because everyone thinks it’s such a beautiful thing. English became important because of the British Empire, and is so important because of the American Empire, which takes me to my title “There is no English”. When I say that there is no English, I mean that we cannot speak of one, clear, static language; I mean rather that we can only speak of and in Englishes. We have British English and American English and oftentimes Korean Students scramble to learn American English, because it is the most useful of course, yeah? Well things are never that simple. I like to think of English as a Global phenomenon. We are now in a Post-British English situation and a post American English situation. The country with the most English speakers is India with over 350 million competent and active users, many more in the country can speak it. The English that is spoken in India is a form of British English, due to the Indian colonial experience. It would be vulgar to suggest that they merely speak British English in India; they speak Indian English, a distinct and equally legitimate form of the language. The Philippines has almost 43 million English speakers, and on a recent trip to this country I was amazed at how they mixed and matched their own language Tagalog with English. Filipinos engage in something called code exchange all of the time, where they mix words and grammar from their native tongue with another language. I am from Ireland and speak a variation on English called Hiberno-English (Hibernia is Latin for Ireland). Hiberno-English is a unique mixture of what was Norman Middle English of the twelfth Century, with the native Irish Celtic Irish language Gaeilge. Arguably the greatest novel of the Twentieth Century was written in Hiberno-English, James Joyce’s Ulysses. We can also talk about Australian English being distinct from British English and Canadian English having differences with American English. If we look at the demographics of the United States, we will surely see a blending of Spanish and English as the years go by.

I will end by mentioning something that makes people in Korea laugh sometimes, that is of course Konglish. All I have to do is mention the word Konglish in class and people either smile or laugh. Korean is not the only language that has borrowed directly from English; we have Franglais: (French+English) le Disco Bar, le Pop Idol, le snaque-barre, Russlish: seksapil (sex appeal), noh- khau (know how), Japlish: mai-com (my computer), mai-kaa (my car), aisu-kurimu (ice cream), esukareta (escalator), Deutschlish, Singlish etc. Borrowing from another language is nothing to be ashamed of or to laugh at and Konglish is a legitimate method of communication. We are witnessing a situation reminiscent of the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, but instead of the language breaking up and people being left in confusion, a new Global method of communication is emerging. The dynamism and diversity of the various forms of English mean that the Englisc of Anglo Saxon England will survive in all of the Englishes to come.

By Andrew Brennan
Prof., Dept. of European Studies
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