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“Bad” English would be a more-competitive global language

 

As an American, I like it that English is the global language, at least for now. Travel and commerce are easier when there’s a common lingua franca; I cer­tain­ly like being a native speaker of the existing world tongue.

But English isn’t easy to master.  English would be more competitive in the mar­ket­place — versus, let’s say, Mandarin or German — if non-native speak­ers could more quickly pick up the basics and feel com­for­table that they were reasonably proficient.

Toward that end, English-language purists who immediately notice “bad” spelling and gram­mar (yes, I’m one of them) should lighten up and accept simpler, easier forms as they naturally arise.  Here are a few examples:

  • Less vs. fewer:  The “correct” form is (for example) fewer people, because the word people is a count­able noun; compare with, e.g., less time.  But all the time I see “incorrect” usage such as less people.  We ought to accept the latter form, because there’s no logical reason that the word less shouldn’t do double duty — it’d be one less thing (!) for non-native speakers to learn, not to mention a bit more intuitive to spell.
  • Who vs. whom:  Let’s just use who for everything, as many do anyway.
  • It’s vs. its.
  • The subjunctive — e.g., if I was a carpenter (“incorrect”) vs. if I were a carpenter.

This brings to mind the likely-apocryphal story of a new college campus whose architects supposedly didn’t design in any sidewalks: instead, they planted grass, waited six months, and then paved over where people actually walked.  Likewise, if we purists want English to continue being the global tongue, we shouldn’t grumble if it evolves to be more serviceable for others.

With one exception:  I still maintain that impact is not a verb (shaddup you kids, get off my lawn) ….

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Louise 2017-07-05, 10:08 pm

    What about attendees vs. attenders?

  • D. C. Toedt III 2017-07-06, 4:43 am

    Hah! That goes with not using “impact” as a verb!

  • greg 2017-07-06, 11:20 am

    The architect story isn’t apocryphal. Good designers do that. People will take some direction, but only so much. So if you design great curving walks on the way from point A to point B, you’ll immediately see straight trails through the grass. OTOH, a fairly straight walk with a slight curve seems to be OK. When I was attending Indiana University, there were two entrances at each end of a building. The walkway between them formed a great arc. In the rain and snow, people didn’t have the patience to take a leisurely stroll, notwithstanding the fact that the designer probably felt his vision should control their behavior. Eventually the administration decided that a second, direct sidewalk between the two entrances was better than a muddy trail.

    As far as English lessons go, it’s one thing for foreigners to make very logical mistakes. What’s distressing is the illiteracy of native speakers, even at the college level.

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