Teach English in Qingdun Zhen - Yancheng Shi

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In today’s world where superpowers are fighting to be world leaders in science, technology, nuclear power, and also ironically world peace, there is a great war that is fought on paper everyday by the common man - the war between British English and American English. To say ‘zed’ or ‘zee,’ ‘full stop’ or ‘period,’ ‘have not’ or ‘did not have’; to write ‘cheque’ or ‘check,’ ‘organise’ or ‘organize,’ ‘programme’ or ‘program’ – these are just some of the examples of the quandaries that are only too familiar to the users of the English language around the world. George Bernard Shaw once famously said that Britain and America were two nations divided by a common language. Indeed, the quarrel between these two major stakeholders of the English language extends all the way into antiquity. Truth be told, in his time, perhaps there was far more commonness than now. After all, the settlers of New England were those who had been displaced from the mainland of Great Britain, willingly or otherwise. Once the linguistic drift happened, it was only a matter of time before differences grew in the way the two Englishes were imagined, spoken, written, and pronounced. British and American English today differ not only in the vast vocabulary of words that are unique to each language, but also in certain grammar constructs, and most notably in the spellings. Grammaticians also like to squabble over niceties of punctuation as well as the rubrics of formatting. For instance, the Americans have an entirely new set of words for the British ‘trouser,’ ‘biscuit,’ ‘holiday,’ ‘petrol,’ and ‘post,’ to name a few. (The American equivalents being ‘pants,’ ‘cookie,’ ‘vacation,’ ‘gas,’ and ‘mail.’) Further, there are many more words they overhauled the spellings of. There are large number of words where a ‘u’ has been dropped by American English – ‘flavor’ instead of ‘flavour,’ ‘color’ instead of ‘colour,’ ‘odor’ instead of ‘odour,’ etc. Similarly, many words were simplified to read as they sound, for eg., ‘center,’ and ‘meter,’ instead of the British ‘centre,’ and ‘metre’; ‘gram’ and ‘program’ instead of ‘gramme’ and ‘programme’; ‘tire’ and ‘check’ instead of ‘tyre’ and ‘cheque.’ In some cases, British words have new meanings in American English, leading to confusion, for instance the difference between American ‘soccer’ and British ‘football,’ American ‘eraser’ and British ‘rubber.’ Grammatically too, many differences have crept in, for example, the American preference for the ‘ed’ form to make certain past participles instead of the older irregular forms used in British English. Examples are words like ‘creeped’ instead of ‘crept’ and ‘learned’ instead of ‘learnt.’ Also to be noted is the common American use of ‘gotten’ instead of the British ‘got,’ as in “I haven’t got(ten) any news so far.” There are many such interesting differences, not just in grammar but also pronunciation, diction, and even the register of the spoken language that makes the two Englishes distinctively different. However, while differences have grown, so has the number of people who are taking to English as their ‘first language’ all over the world. Today, there is a growing number of voices that proclaim that neither Britain nor America can claim to set the standard for Global English. ‘Indian English,’ for example, is the English spoken by the citizens of the largest democracy in the world – India. Known for its highly inflected pronunciation, Indian English retains many trappings of its colonial past, while including a wide variety of words from different Indian languages that gives it its distinctive ‘Indianness.’ Correct or incorrect, British or American, Indians are happy to introduce themselves in their very vibrant English peppered with Indianisms, saying ‘Myself Ravi, son of so-and-so…please update the same in all your records.’ Considering today India is one of the largest providers of outsourced customer support executives and tele marketers globally, does that make ‘Indian English’ more global than any other? Then there is the phenomena of the Chinese English or the Singaporean English. Stringing together words to convey meaning is practically the only rule that Singaporean grammar books might have. In Singapore, one would say - “We no need fighting, lah. You English good. My English good. All English good lah. You want to speak my English? Can, can, lah!” So when we can ‘Can Lah’ our way through one of the most developed countries in the world, then saying that only British English or American English is Global English, is a total “No Can Lah!” In the spirit of unity, a very valid question today is – is it possible to just accept that all manners of English that are understandable, employ an inclusive and acceptable standard of grammar and are free of typographical errors are ‘good English’, and not argue over whose English is better? Today, with the boom in social media, texting language or ‘textspeak’ is becoming an actual thing, a language in its own right! Moreover, colloquialism has confounded the best attempts of language purists, even like Bernard Shaw himself. ‘Clox’st?’ was the question Shaw found himself asking his wife of scores of years, he accepts on a radio talk show titled ‘Spoken English and Broken English.’ ‘Clox’st’ was the end product of the process of colloquialising the question ‘what o’clock is it?’ over many years of informal communication. Shaw goes on to conclude that there is no such thing as ideally correct English, and even two Britishers would differ in the way they speak the language. Hence the best thing to do would be to talk ‘good English’ and ‘understandable English.’ That is the direction in which the world is headed today. As new ‘global’ citizens, the English that we speak must share the spirit of inclusivity and tolerance that our current generation engenders. It is only when the English speakers of today overcome the obsession over ‘correctness’ and give up delimiting labels like ‘British’ and ‘American,’ can we become a speaker of a truly Global English.