Published on February 17th, 2006 | by Greg0
It’s Not Just English
English – everybody's favorite lingua franca. Unbeknownst to most of the population, there is a war being raged out there. It's not over land, but language. Which form of English is the standard?
In many foreign countries, studying English is a prerequisite for success. It's a business prerequisite for talk with native English speakers, and also as the regional language. ASEAN, the Associate of Southeast Asian Nations, uses English as it's official language. For a fun look at the Korean obsession with learning English, check out the movie Teach Me English, one girl's struggle with 'why isn't being Korean good enough?'
With the decision to learn English comes another for educators and learners: British or American (or even Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand) varieties? The standard for a while has been British English, as it is the origin of the language. However, the US with its massive population, business prowess, technology and culture has been responsible for most of the spread of English. Tests, like the IELTS, vary between the two languages, with no clear winner.
In Hong Kong for example, American English is considered the non-standard version. Having been a British colony, they were instilled with British English as the norm. The same is true for some South African nations, and other former colonies. For the most part Britain thinks itself the standard. It even tried to pass legislation to make British the international standard, but failed. For the most part the language war can only be won by public opinion.
I remember during my time in China that Britain had surveyed the Chinese for their opinions of the UK. They found out that most Chinese felt they were 'stodgy', that the US had a much better hold on coolness and innovation. To counterattack, Britain sent in the cultural ambassadors: Morcheeba.
It remains to be seen whether America can overcome the long British history and origin of the language, or whether Britain and British colonies can encourage growth of "the language of royalty". Right now, American English appears to be winning, thanks largely to Chinese interest in studying the language. Time will tell whether Morcheeba's mission worked.