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Internet explosion puts English language on top for good

The internet growth now doubles every two years like a tidal wave pushing English language to the zenith of its influence and expressiveness. It has made English the language of international business, technology and popular culture creating a niche for itself which would be hard to beat, according to many linguists. That ascendancy caused by the expanding web use is different from the slower evolution English underwent during centuries of refinement from the time of Geoffrey Chaucer, through William Shakespeare, to the present day.

First IBM computer

Over two billion people are expected to click on to the internet by year 2050, of which nearly half would use American-English. That phenomenal growth is a far cry from the days the first IBM computer of 1956 - that bulky one ton monster came on stage. Today's fancy laptops weigh only a few pounds. Easy access to search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo is expected to prepare everyone to survive the technological innovation sweeping the world. The supremacy of English could only be thwarted by major world-scale political and economical changes, such as increasing importance of the European Union led by the French or a coalition between Japan and China. Even then, they may need a constructed language for international communication or rely on the technology of machine translation to facilitate their own languages in international communication. That would be a long shot.

Web use is also currently spreading at lightening speed among the Chinese fluent in both English and Chinese languages. Within a decade, they would put over 200 million users into the fold of web browsers, half joining the American-English stream. Spanish language is a close second with South American countries getting in at a brisk pace. India, France, Germany and Russia are also in the running. American-English use among web users in all these countries is also rising fast.

Why English gets affirmed

English is an invaluable weapon in the quest to compete and succeed. Many people were just won over by a language that is expressive and virile beyond comparison with home-spun idioms, ethnic phrases, even humour-filled slang and the computerese, which many found to be astoundingly user friendly and refreshing.

Getting your children master verbal, written and social skills to advance in the workplace is considered vital by many. It is legendary the way parents nurture children to hone in on those vital skills, to be better prepared to get the cushy, plum jobs. After-school tuition has become a hallmark of meritocratic aspirations. It is a fact that, when a language has got the position of a universal language, the position tends to be affirmed and extended by itself.

Since millions use English, others see its efficacy instantaneously and want to possess it. It is no surprise, that English, the mother tongue of nearly 60 million British people is now the first language of over 320 million people living in US, Canada, Australia, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, as well as a second language of millions more living in other British Commonwealth countries and elsewhere. The imminent explosion in internet use in China and India would cause a generational change as millions join the fold every year according to projections by leading linguists.

Within the English stream many linguists predict a steady expansion of web growth with American-English readership in the fore-front due to its dynamic nature. Those of us attuned to Queen's English need not be worried; as both versions of the language would exist side by side. The British may have just lost their mojo a little bit. It is hard not to sense the irrefutable surge of American-English.

Mixed borrowing and invention

The evolution of language in the West grew out of mixed borrowing and invention. The thirteen colonies fought the British but also the cultural dominance by a superior power. That motivational force enriched the language. Numerous native Indian words became common parlance immediately: bury the hatchet warpath, peace-pipe, moccasin, tomahawk and powwow. Other borrowings came in unhindered as seen below: albino, banana, breeze (Portuguese), boss, poppycock, spook (Dutch), liverwurst, noodle, coleslaw, semester (German), levee, chowder, prairie (French), sauna, zither, tundra (Finnish), bronco, meaning wild or rough, cafeteria, cargo, patio, savvy or saber, to know, tornado and vamoose (Spanish). The list is almost endless.

Expressions were born in many other ways. In the 19th Century, prudishness influenced the English language; legs were called 'limbs', and being pregnant 'in the family way'. Similarly, Americans, in their reluctance to be politically incorrect, coined such euphemisms as 'senior citizen' or 'golden ager' for old people and 'nursing home residents' for old folks.'

Many internet users find it hip to use expressions associated with movies, best-sellers and television hits, Americanisms-sometimes American slang-some have in large numbers found their way even among British internet users, thus blurring the distinctions between the two forms of the English language. Said one cynic:" the hip and the square are merging at a brisk pace."

Spawned its own vocabulary

Internet growth is adding a new dimension to language development. It is spawning its own vocabulary ushering in rudimentary beginnings of new expressions at an alarming rate. Not all of them enter the main stream. Some are mere puerile attempts to foster a cultic presence. But it is a phenomenon worth looking at. See samples given below.

"Hi Dude, What'ssup. Just hanging out! Meet us at the beach-front. I'm good with texting but this is giving me carpel tunnel, let's "go primitive" (to phone) tomorrow at 8. I had parking karma (got ticketed) yesterday.

Man, I just saw Lala in skin-tight canary-yellow stretch pants wearing a beauty booger (nose ring). I needed hours of brain bleach (therapy) to erase her face from memory.

"Hey, did you see Jane's newest Facebrag? (Photos in FaceBook) Eesh. My boss almost caught me looking at porn at work, good thing I was Alt-Tabbing'(getting back to normal work)."

It's not our cup of tea. Some may label that speech gobbledygook, strangely it is a word first coined by the Texan Maury Mavericks about nonsensical talk. She was appropriately enough, a descendant of the Samuel Maverick, after whom the word maverick (a non-conformist) came into being.

Words and expressions have poured in many ways: belittle, prioritize, interface, incentivize, give me a break, and get off the dime, bottom line, jump-start, baby-sit, gimmick, brain-storm, and brainwash etc. just came in unnoticed. That list may be ten thousand words long. We might see alt-tabbing, facebrag or brain bleach in use some day.

No hidden minefields

Nowadays, no language wizards had set up hidden mine fields to catch people practising imperfect grammar. No puritan cop handcuffed anyone for violating syntactic errors.

Everyone got off the dime. It was all that jazz all the time explaining things without getting their heads chopped off by conformists insisting on adherence to strict linguistic norms.

English language is refreshingly supple as many vibrant influences feed it. In fact, several versions of 'Spell-check' are offered on computers nowadays besides British-English: American English, Spanglish and Jamaican English so on. The dialects spoken in the US alone are innumerable.

The Hill-Billy spoken among the Appalachian mountain folks, Ebony by the refreshingly warm Blacks in Oakland, California and the folksy Southern dialects with the silky drawl were just a small segment of the traits that went into the American lingo.

At one time the Greeks were the masters of prose. Then the Roman Empire bested every one in style and stature. The British and Spaniards surpassed everything for centuries as they towered over all other languages in the West continuing the quest for communications supremacy. English language has surpassed everyone else.

P.S. Estimates of how many people speak a language are quite general and can vary considerably: Chinese speakers are from 900 to 1.1 billion, English users are estimated at 380 to 450 million, Spanish from 150 to over 300 million, Hindi from 150 to 350 million, and Russian from 150 to 180 million.


LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lanka
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