So, it turns out that I can not speak English anymore. This was the alarming realization that Matthew Engel’s ingenious and brutal controversy had imposed on me, but still convincing. That’s how it crumbles: the American conquest of English. Because by English, I mean British English.
Although born, raised and educated on the British coasts, it seems that my mother tongue has been irreparably damaged by the linguistic equivalent of the gray squirrel. And I’m not alone If you are a lover or a phrase with words such as “Can I take a decaffeinated coffee with soy?”, It is likely that your vocabulary was colonized in the same way.
Alistair Cooke, who spoke on the radio in 1935, said that “all English people who listen to me are now unknowingly using between 30 and 40 Americanisms a day.” In 2017, according to Engel, this number should be around three or four hundred: more for a teenager, “if they use so many words in a day”.
But how did this happen and why is it important? After all, as a nation, we have been invaded and invaded, and our language is the richest. Words like bungalow, bazaar, even Blighty, find their roots elsewhere. Go, go far enough back and is not it almost all that is distorted in Latin, French or German?
The first American words that crossed the pond were largely utilitarian: signifiers of flora and fauna that did not exist in Merrie, England. Among them were moose, corn and tobacco. But there are also others which, in retrospect, may seem full of meaning: words like abundance, monstrosity and conflagration.
Without a means of rapid communication or an easy passage between the two countries, American English has simply returned to its source to begin with. But as the balance of power between Britain and its former colonies changed, as the United States became dominant militarily, economically, culturally and technologically, the net became a torrent, eliminating all control of the quality.
Cookies and closets
Throughout the nineteenth century, Engel claims that “the Americanisms that permeated the British language have largely done on merit, because they were more expressive, more euphonic, clearer and smarter than their British counterparts.” Which lover of the word could resist the likes of “ornament”, “hogwash” or “scuttlebutt”? It’s been a long time since it’s been that way, leaving us words and phrases that feel euphemistically (“pass” instead of dying) or make fun of its insignificant user, like the non-existent Rose Garden, that the political journalists decided that the number 10 I had it, simply because the White House has one (it does not have it either, not in the strict sense, but it’s another story).
Call me a snob, but there is also the fact that some American neologisms are simply unpleasant. I recently chose a thrilling new American thriller to find the elevator used as a verb in the opening chapter. As time went on, Ahmed “reached” the peak of his profession in Manhattan.
Nowadays, no sphere of expression remains intact. Students talk about campuses and semesters. Magistrates, brainwashed by CSI’s endless rehearsals, ask lawyers “Will lawyers go to the bank?” We disable the boxes in a futile effort to avoid being flooded with junk mail which, when it arrives, does not matter, we go to the trash.
That’s understandable, of course. Sometimes American words seem more glamorous. Who wants to live in an apartment, a word that evokes wet problems and unidentifiable carpet stains, a word that sounds right, well, flat, when they could have their house in an apartment? Sometimes this glamor is covered by egalitarianism, it’s a glamor that has not been tainted by our national eternal class.
Take “movie”. The word has all the clarity of Hollywood and none of the intellectual claims (nor of what one could say) of the word “film”, which suggests more and more subtitles (“film in foreign language” is the one of the rare cases in which – the word does not seem interchangeable with its American counterpart – “foreign language film” is strange). At other times, they fill a void by naming something British Anglophones have not been able to decide, as is happening more and more with ATMs, a boring but brief alternative to ATM, ATM, the hole in the wall. It is also necessary to take into account what Engel calls “the cultural crisis of Britain”, which predisposes us to embrace the foreigner.
It is often pointed out that many of these Americanisms were in early English English, we exported them and then re-imported them. A typical example of this is “I guess,” which emerges in Chaucer. When Dr. Johnson wrote his seminal dictionary of 1755, “got” was still used as a past participle of “get”. In addition, his flesh does not really have to do with authenticity; It’s more about our thoughtless complicity. Because it’s not just cookies and cupboards, or even garbage, it’s the insecurity of everything. We have reached the point where most of us can no longer say whether a word is an Americanism or not. By 2120, he suggests that American English will have completely absorbed the British version.
The new Esperanto?
For more than half a dozen years (I almost wrote “more than half a dozen”), I was a columnist for books in the UK for Bloomberg News. Despite the nature of my pace, my British identity and the pride of organization in the world organization, I was forced to write in American English. Child’s play, I thought, but even at the end of my term, I always found words that my publishers considered British. (“Charabanc”, of course, but “fifteen days?” It was a minor revelation, suddenly explaining the many empty looks he had received from American friends over the years.) What’s Right : business. And yet, I can not help but feel a bit of retrospective resentment towards my British publishers for all the Americanisms I overcame without questioning them. Similarly, when I published a book in the United States, I was excited to discover how it would be read after its “Americanization”, but I noticed that it is quickly becoming the norm for American works are printed here having a “z” changed by an “s” or a “u” attached to an “o”. And if we can not trust our editors to defend British English …
None of this would matter if these imported words increased our existing vocabulary. It’s impossible to have too many words, right? But just like in a hity-toity club, the language seems to work one at a time, one at a time. Engel quotes the researchers behind the British National Corpus organized in 2014, who discovered that the word “awesome” was now used in conversation 72 times per million words. Wonderful, meanwhile, is used only twice in a million, less than 155 times 20 years ago. “Cheerio” and, yes, “fifteen days” apparently they are considering the same fate.
Nevertheless, you might wonder if this is really such a bad thing? When my grandfather returned from the front during the Second World War, he became a staunch supporter of the unifying powers of Esperanto. With Volapuk, Ekselsioro and Mondlingvo, this idealistic language did not succeed. American English triumphs where it failed. But it’s hard not to feel that diminishing linguistic variation does not reduce the world. Engel believes that our national character is becoming London’s “manhattanized” horizon and that reluctance is becoming self-promotion.
And then there’s the very valid theory that you can not feel or think about things you do not have a language for. A borrowed vocabulary, which has evolved to meet the needs of people whose lives are subtle but profoundly different (ask all those who live in the United States for a while, these superficial similarities and familiarities will soon disappear to reveal a resolutely foreign country) they deprive us of everything while experiencing ours. It’s nothing less than a “self-imposed slavery crisis,” says Engel. “A nation that subcontracts the development of its own language, a language that has developed over the centuries, is a nation that has lost the will to live.”
It may seem difficult to regret the state of any branch of English that conquers all, while many other languages are completely eliminated. But in the end, the battle is not really the battle of the English against the Americans, but that of individual experience facing the effects of homogenization of global digital culture. For a provocative view of all this, it should be noted that Globish, a “type of language” (Engel’s expression) created for business types by former IBM CEO Jean-Paul Nerriere , consists only of: 1500 words Jokes, metaphors and acronyms are verboten because they are too loaded with possibilities of misunderstanding. Personally, I think I would prefer to communicate in emojis. But here is the hope that it will not happen to that. Engel’s book is certainly an alarm bell. I’m sorry, cry of heart. Wait, it’s better to be a call to arms.