English to Chinglish to Panglish.

English is evolving into Panglish, writes Michael Erard on Wired.

Thanks to globalization, the Allied victories in World War II, and American leadership in science and technology, English has become so successful across the world that it’s escaping the boundaries of what we think it should be. In part, this is because there are fewer of us: By 2020, native speakers will make up only 15 percent of the estimated 2 billion people who will be using or learning the language. Already, most conversations in English are between nonnative speakers who use it as a lingua franca.

Standard English will survive, he predicts, but most people will speak another variation of the language.

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  1. It’s a continuation of the process that brought us American English, Australian English, New Zealand English, Jamaican English… With luck, we’ll continue to have a more-or-less standard written English, which serves the purpose for us that Latin did for readers in the Middle Ages, but there hasn’t been a single spoken Standard English in a long time.

  2. That’s what happens to language, it evolves. Personally, I think it’s pretty cool.

  3. Bill Leonard says:

    As a student of English, its usage and its history, I often wonder what such a future lingua franca will look and sound like.

    But I’ll bet it will remain lrgely intelligible to today’s speakers. The great strength of the languge is its immense flexibility and the ease with which non-English words and phrases can be adapted and are accomodated.


  4. This is a poor article than anyone with actual linguistic knowledge would laugh at. While it is certainly true that English has – and will continue to – change (“stop the bakkie at the robot” is a perfectly cromulent sentence in South African English that most Americans will find puzzling), the examples given in the article are of mistakes made by language learners, not of actual language evolution.

    Millions of English speakers may say “je aimer vous” while trying to say “je t’aime”, but that doesn’t mean that French is evolving in that direction. It’s just a common mistake caused by substituting grammar of the mother tongue for grammar of the second language.

  5. BadaBing says:

    Cromulent: adj, fine, acceptable. Usage: slang.

    Thanks, Peter.

  6. Half Canadian says:

    Peter, ‘mistakes’ are how languages evolve. Look at the pronunciation of ‘again’. Most people in the states say ‘agin’, but the Queen’s English is ‘agane’. Add been (most pronounce as ‘bin’), and a few others I can’t think of.

    Improperly used words is another one. Gay did use to mean happy, but it’s primary definition is no longer that. While we as individuals may not be the masters of words, society is. They can change the meaning. Add slang to this as well.

    And grammar? Well, like, I don’t know, it could be . . . That changes too.

    Mistakes are a way in which language changes. There are others, but it is a significant one.

  7. Some great comments here. I always wonder at people who mistake grammar books for the Ten Commandments. Of course we teach kids standard English. But its ability to evolve has certainly contributed to making American English the most successful language in the history of the world.

  8. @ Half Canadian –

    “Mistakes are a way in which language changes. There are others, but it is a significant one.”

    In a sense, this is certainly true (at least for a broad definition of “mistake”); a similar formulation you sometimes hear is that linguistic change is driven by laziness. (There are, of course, other drivers of change as well). However, the mistakes or laziness that cause a language to change come from *native speakers,* not from people who are learning the language as a second language.

    @ NYC Educator –

    *All* languages evolve. English’s premier spot in the language hierarchy has everything to do with the geopolitical importance of first the British Empire and then the US. English as a language is no more (or less) suited to being the premier language than French or German or Polish, all of which have also evolved. (Although I do think that a language with a non-roman alphabet would be at a disadvantage).

    English is also in a very good position now due to the phenomenon of increasing returns. That is, because so many people already speak English (mostly as a second language) it is the language that non-speakers benefit the most from learning.

  9. Kelly A. Mezick says:

    These are all great view points. I studied linguistics in college and really enjoyed the things I learned. This article and your comments made me realize what an exciting field linguistics is. I do agree that languages evolve over time because of mistakes being made over and over again. The example of “again” from Half Canadian was great. Languages will always evolve and merge, changing our “standards” and the way we view language itself.

    Kelly A. Mezick
    Auburn University
    Auburn, Alabama

  10. history of the worldsh to Chinglish to Panglish. at Joanne Jacobs