I hoping they grok my email

My treasured iRiver multiple-codec jukebox is gone missing. After many sniped heartbreaks on eBay, I have thrown in the towel on replacing it with precisely the same or a more capacious model.

I dropped back and punted on a Hong Kong shipped 8GB player that obviously knocks off the smaller iPods. Hey, twenty bucks and make sure the antivirus and firewalls are in place, what's the risk, right?

But it has a spontaneous-reset problem. I've been corresponding with the merchant, and it's obvious their command of English is weak.

But this article gives me pause: which English? Mine, or the language that the non-native speakers are turning it into? We native-speakers are no longer in control of where English is going. A consequence of its success?

I now find myself struggling not to write English clearly in the way I was taught as a native speaker (throw more words at the problem and watch syntax, grammar, spelling) but to compose these emails with a more, uhhhh, emergent syntax that may be more instinctive to the ESLer. Number and person of verb be damned. Word order seems to be more important, as does careful choice of verbs.

Full disclosure: sainted wyffe Barbaloot just finished a community college course in Sign Language, and we've had some late-night breeze-shooting sessions on how American Sign Language has evolved, over the 20 years or so she's been using it, from a signed dialect of English to its own language that merely borrows some English words as cognates.

Dumbing down, or getting across? What say you?

1 comment:

TheCabinetMan said...

Having driven past a Holiday Inn recently...

I've worked around non-native English speakers for years. My experience has shown that most of them have excellent mastery of English. The breakdown seems to be with the Chinese and, to a lesser extent, the Vietnamese and the Koreans. I actually discussed this phenomenon with several Chinese co-workers and the general consensus isn't that it's hard to learn how to speak English but, rather, it's hard to learn what to say.

Let me elaborate.

As it was told to me, Chinese, as compared to English, isn't a very descriptive language and consists of a basic, limited vocabulary. One of my Chinese co-workers was forever confusing 'him' and 'her' while speaking. I asked her about this and she said there is no equivalent to 'him' or 'her' in Chinese. (They say 'person man' or 'person girl'...) So for a Chinese person, learning English isn't so much about "how do you say ____?" so much as "really, English has a word for that?" They aren't just learning a new language; they're learning a whole new way to communicate.

Or so I've been told...