David Madore's WebLog: Why English sucks as the language for international and scientific communication

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Entry #2284 [older|newer] / Entrée #2284 [précédente|suivante]:


Why English sucks as the language for international and scientific communication

For a change, I'll be writing this entry in English—ironically because my point is to argue how English is a terrible choice as a language for international communication, and particularly in scientific and technical fields. (I initially intended to also publish a translation into French, and/or perhaps Interlingua, but on second thought my laziness has persuaded me to pass.) I should start with a few clarifications.

One is that I honestly don't think I am prejudiced against English. While English is technically not my first language, since I only learned it at age 8, or my mother tongue, it is literally my father tongue, the language in which I communicated with my father through most of my childhood and adolescence (now that my father is rather deaf and has difficulty articulating, we tend to speak French instead, for the phonetic reasons that I am about to point out below). English is not just a language which I read and write with pleasure, speak and understand in spoken form, it is also one in which I often phrase my own internal thoughts, especially when doing math, and in which I dream: so it is definitely not alien to me.

Verily, I am in love with it. English is a beautifully poetic language, capable of summoning vibrant images, crafting rousing speeches, conveying powerful emotions. And the wonder of it is that it empowers even the less talented. When English is wielded by the greatest of the great, by the hallowed likes of Shakespeare or Nabokov, when reinvented by Whitman and Joyce, it comes as no surprise that it can inspire awe: it doesn't take a diamond to shine in the hands of a star. But English is so manifold in its modes of expression, so opulent in possibilities, so richly laden with quaint words and nearly frivolous idioms, so mirthfully malleable, that even a lesser pen can reveal itself in its gleam. If some languages seem arid, English is their polar opposite: English is bountiful and ornate, English is a cornucopia of synonyms, a mine for metaphors, a fountain for apothegms, a luscious garden for the poet; each idea can be expressed through a whole gamut of terms, and from each word sprouts a rainbow of meaning. Quite bewildering—and quite the reason why English is a poor choice when it comes to precise communication on mundane matters, when poetry is not of the essence.

I am not trying to argue that we should now give up English for international or scientific communication, or try to replace it with this or that other language (except possibly in a limited way, e.g., see below on Basic English). I am not proposing to use Interlingua, Esperanto, Latin, Italian, Chinese, Russian, or anything else: I am maybe saying that we should have used Interlingua, Esperanto, Latin, Italian, Chinese, Russian, or something of the sort (probably any of the above would have been better than English) in the first place. That we (as a “global” civilization) have been stupid, bewitched or misguided. That we should realize this, even if it is now too late to correct our mistake, and perhaps reflect on the reason why we made it. (But I will not do this—at least not here and now.) Even if we can't fix things, even if we can't prevent similar bad choices from being made in the future, we should at least be aware of them, to contemplate our idiocy and keep in mind that collective decisions are not necessarily the wisest ones. (Memento, homo, quia stultus es, et in stultitia remanebis.) So, again, I am not suggesting a switch away from English; I will, on the other hand, make a few modest proposals (one for each major flaw that I find with English) that could alleviate the problem—I am well aware that even these less radical proposals have infinitesimal chances of begetting anything concrete, but their chances are perhaps less infinitesimal than if I were to suggest using Interlingua instead of English.

There is also, of course, the issue of how unfair the dominance of English is to all the peoples of the Earth of whom it is not the first language. How not being raised from the start in the global lingua franca makes them second-class citizens, or even third-class ones if they cannot communicate in it at all. How, contrariwise, native English speakers can find an opportunity of employment pretty much anywhere in the world by teaching English. How, even among non native speakers, a good knowledge of the global language constitutes a cultural capital that impedes social mobility for those who lack it. This is something that would be equally true had any language other than English been chosen as “Globish” (perhaps choosing a constructed language would avoid some of the aforementioned problems, but at the cost of others), so it is orthogonal to the specific problems with English that I wish to discuss here; this unfairness is also something that probably cannot be remedied, but that we should still keep in mind. (And, more importantly, it is a fact which we should not deny or ascribe to an irrational rejection of English.) I plan to discuss this aspect of things some other time (viz., probably never).

So, on to English specifically (and linguistically). What, exactly, is wrong with it? I see essentially three things: its vocabulary is too abundant, its syntax is highly ambiguous, and its pronunciation is unclear.

Its vocabulary is too abundant. This comes, in great part, from English being a Frankenstein-monster kind of hybrid between a(n Anglo-Saxon) Germanic substratum and good measure of (Norman) French. As a matter of fact, English is almost a superset of French, because we can look up practically any French word in the OED and find some recorded use of it in English. Now maybe the OED is an unfair (as in: absurdly large) metric of English's lexicon, since it includes inscrutable (to modern English speakers) Anglo-Saxon words or other historical oddities, hapaxes (or words for which they failed to find a single recorded instance and which somehow still ended up in the book, like palumbine—an adjective which means to a pigeon what canine is to a dog), highly specialized terms and other things nobody ever says or writes. Nonetheless, it is true that English often has a redundancy in its vocabulary due to its double Saxon and Norman origins: Wikipedia has a page about this, of course—actually, quite appropriately, it has two—and the fact is also famously noted by Sir Walter Scott in the beginning of Ivanhoe:

The swine turned Normans to my comfort! quoth Gurth; expound that to me, Wamba, for my brain is too dull, and my mind too vexed, to read riddles.

Why, how call you those grunting brutes running about on their four legs? demanded Wamba.

Swine, fool, swine, said the herd, every fool knows that.

And swine is good Saxon, said the Jester; but how call you the sow when she is flayed, and drawn, and quartered, and hung up by the heels, like a traitor?

Pork, answered the swine-herd.

I am very glad every fool knows that too, said Wamba, and pork, I think, is good Norman-French; and so when the brute lives, and is in the charge of a Saxon slave, she goes by her Saxon name; but becomes a Norman, and is called pork, when she is carried to the Castle-hall to feast among the nobles; what dost thou think of this, friend Gurth, ha?

It is but too true doctrine, friend Wamba, however it got into thy fool's pate.

Nay, I can tell you more, said Wamba, in the same tone; there is old Alderman Ox continues to hold his Saxon epithet, while he is under the charge of serfs and bondsmen such as thou, but becomes Beef, a fiery French gallant, when he arrives before the worshipful jaws that are destined to consume him. Mynheer Calf, too, becomes Monsieur de Veau in the like manner; he is Saxon when he requires tendance, and takes a Norman name when he becomes matter of enjoyment.

Even beyond the specific explanation of Saxon versus Norman sources, English seems to have a plethora (profusion, abundance, affluence, bounty, myriad, opulence, wealth, surplus…) of synonyms for anything. I don't have a precise measurement for this: but my very unscientific experience that, in writing literature in French, when I look for a synonym, the quest is generally much less fruitful than in English. In French I often have a hard time finding a word that I like: in English I have a hard time choosing a word that I like. And French itself probably has an uselessly large lexicon anyway.

Unlike the—uh—sensible, i.e., lexically agglutinative languages like German, Hungarian, Turkish, Finnish, Japanese or the like, English doesn't allow you to construct your own words (only your own syntagms by juxtaposing words in its quirky ambiguous syntax, see below). You just have to know (i.e., learn) which ones exist. Few suffixes are productive; even those that are suffer from odd exceptions (for example, -ly normally makes an adverb out of an adjective, e.g., happyhappily, but costly is inexplicably an adjective, and there is no way to make it into an adverb: there is no such English word as costlily; why? because fuck you). English vocabulary is a hodgepodge of words randomly imported from various other languages or constructed by arbitrary means and which cannot be analyzed systematically. For example: hodgepodge (neither hodge nor podge exist in English—well, the second exists because English has everything, but doesn't seem related—so you can't explain it, you just have to memorize the freak). Or why does English need to have the absurdly specific and un-analyzable word serendipity (which German might render with the perfectly analyzable Zufallsfund)? or adamant? cantankerous? rigmarole? niggardly? (I chose these examples because these words look like they can be broken down into pieces, but in fact they can't. And they're fairly common: I'm not going to go into cachinnation or—Athena forbid!—the utterly absurd eleemosynary. The only possible answer to the word eleemosynary is go home, English, you're drunk!.) I realize that every language has this sort of things, but English makes it into a perverse art. English is a wanton word hoarder with a fetish for the heirlooms of Papa German and Mama French (or is it the other way around?).

This is very good for poets, surely, and more generally authors of literature. I made this point earlier. But for scientific, technical, or legal communication? not so good. In what way is having a rich vocabulary bad? Let me take an example. A French speaker often can (and sometimes will) write in English by assuming that every slightly complex word they know from French also exists in English: sometimes this fails, either because the words don't exist or because they have a subtly—or grossly—different meaning (the so-called faux amis—this is no more English's fault than it is French's, and not my point here, but it is aggravating). But when it does works, the resulting English will often be replete with rare or unusual words and therefore difficult to read for people not acquainted with French or, at least, some other Romance language. (A bit like saying all articles that coruscate with resplendence are not truly auriferous instead of all that glitters is not gold—not truly an example of what I mean, but the same sort of idea.) My point is this: we can't reject this kind of “Gallicate” English, because it is “correct” English, but asking non French speakers to understand it amounts, in effect, to demanding that they understand French (or at least, French vocabulary). So English fails in much the same way that it would be a failure to decide for a language of international communication to be any random mixture of French and German, at the speaker's whim—surely this would be nice for French and German speakers who wish to be understood, but other people would, in effect, have to learn both French and German to make sense of it. The fact that native English speakers can generally read Interlingua without having learnt it, despite the fact that Interlingua takes its roots from the Romance languages, is a sign that English includes, so to speak, a practically full-fledged Romance vocabulary in its entrails (oh, here's a nice example of Gallicate English: entrails). The situation is somewhat parallel to what we get if we speak, in about any European language, with an excessive use of words made up from Greek roots: hyperhellenic paralexia, if you will; except that English will happily take these words as its own.

Can English's hyperglossia be tempered? Here is at least one modest proposal for a change in the language of international communication: replacing it with a controlled subset. Editors of scientific journals, for instance, might decide to restrict the word set of published papers to something like Ogden's Basic English (plus whatever technical words are required for the field under consideration, e.g., mathematical terms): this can be done in an automated way (or at least, deviations from the restricted vocabulary can be detected automatically). This would demand (very slightly) more effort on the authors' part, especially from native English speakers who might otherwise be tempted to use more sophisticated terms than strictly necessary, but correspondingly lighten the reader's burden: if we truly believe in the stated objective of having English (or some other unique language) as a single permissible vehicle for scientific publication, namely to minimize scientists' effort in learning languages, then surely Basic English is the logical continuation of this effort. (I'm not sure I personally agree with the premise, nor with the conclusion. However, hardliners who insist that it is absurd and senseless to publish scientific papers in anything other than English, and who don't pursue the reasoning all the way to some kind of Basic English, are being inconsistent.) Something of the sort has been standardized in the aerospace industry as Simplified Technical English; other similar subsets of English are Nerrière's Globish and Grzega's Basic Global English. Sadly, no core vocabulary set seems to have been chosen in a very scientific way, but there is no reason it could not be done.

At this point, I should probably mention the interesting experiment that is Toki Pona, a conlang that has a lexicon of merely 120 words (in comparison, Basic English has 850, and the OED has about 300000 main entries), which supposedly can be learnt to the point of fluency in two days. Toki Pona certainly isn't a reasonable candidate for an international language, let alone for scientific or technical communication: it is more like a zen concept of a happy language with a delightful logo; but it should at least encourage us to rethink questions like how many words does a language need? how complicated does it have to be? how long should it take to learn?.

But back to English.

Its syntax is highly ambiguous, In fact, syntax is perhaps a bit too exalted a term for what English has: paratax is more like it. By this I mean that English merely juxtaposes words in a number of situations where many other languages will somehow connect them with a kind of grammatical particle (e.g., conjunction, preposition, postposition, or whatever the language uses).

The most egregious examples of paratax in English are (A) the omission of any kind of connective between modifier nouns and the noun they relate to (e.g., a metal ▢ box, a book ▢ page, a football ▢ player, the village ▢ church, a gift ▢ shop, a police ▢ officer, a syntax ▢ ambiguity, and so on, where the box symbol denotes omission of a connective; note that the underlying relation differs from one example to the other, and might be expressed using different prepositions in other languages); (B) the optional omission of the conjunction that in various subordinate clauses, most typically indirect discourse, especially in informal speech (she said ▢ she would come, I wish ▢ you were there, it's true ▢ it can be done, and so on: here, the box can always be replaced by that), and (C) the optional omission of the relative pronoun when it serves as object in the relative clause (the sentence ▢ she just read, stuff ▢ I made up, and so on: again, the box can be replaced by that, except that now it is a relative pronoun and not a conjunction). The use of the bare infinitive with an oblique pronoun as subject, as a subordinate clause (I hear ▢ him speak—I don't know exactly how English grammarians call this), can also be considered a form of paratax. The problem with these various omissions is that, while they make sentences terser, they also deprive us of valuable clues as to how the sentence should be parsed. Now combine this with English's endless supply of nouns that can also function as verbs (truly unlimited, following the well-known adage that in English, any noun can be verbed), or more generally the number of words that can exist as different parts of speech, a phenomenon known as class ambiguity, not to mention that past participles and preterites often have the same form, and we have a mess.

Newspaper headlines, because they tend to omit even more words (like determiners, and the copula is or are), are even more ambiguous than “ordinary” English, to the point that it has become something of a recurring joke (Police Helps Terrorist Attack Victims, Court to Try Shooting Defendant, Experts Hear Car Talk, Crowds Rushing to See Pope Trample Man to Death, Student Loans Mushroom, the list goes on).

True, the overwhelming majority of English sentences in normal use can only be parsed in a single way, or at least a single way that makes sense. Most examples of truly ambiguous sentences, or initially ambiguous sentences (garden path sentences like the cotton clothing is made of grows in Mississippi) are contrived or improbable. Or at least improbable in any given context (abuse pains!, I see her duck).

If we hear the story told the previous week was true, even though it is, technically, syntactically ambiguous, we know that it should be interpreted as ‹the story [that] was told [during] the previous week› was true, not the story told [≈said] ‹[that] the previous week was true›. (Unless the context calls for it: Ada's story was stirring something in my mind: I had lived so many lies and falsehoods, but not last week—no, last week was different, Ada's words revealed something that I had not dared to hope: these days were not a lie, Ada's words said to me—the story told the previous week was true.) If a scientific paper, say, contains a sentence such as the experiment shows result X is impossible, obviously the meaning is that the experiment shows (proves, demonstrates) that result X is impossible, not that experiment ▢ shows (whatever they may be) result in that X is impossible. And so on. But the fact remains: parsing an English sentence requires more brain effort (be it unconscious) than for a number of other languages that I can think of and which don't have so many ambiguities. (English, of course, is not alone in having ambiguities. I remember, when I was learning Latin, that I could always come up with several alternative ways to analyze a rhetoric period, some of which made more or less sense, and I was often angry when I was told my translation was wrong because it seemed to me that it was defensible and there was no way I could have known that I should have preferred such-or-such other meaning. Eduardum occidere nolite timere bonum est.) Even if this effort is nearly unnoticeable for native/proficient English speakers, it could considerably complicate the task of someone who does not know a word, or who is struggling with the overall meaning because they are not wholly familiar with the scientific field. Conversely, when English is not the author's first language, they might come up with syntactical constructions which have a wholly different meaning than intended; or a simple mistake in a word might turn the entire sentence's syntax upside down. Such features are undesirable, to say the least, in a language used for international communication.

And if it can be bad when both ends of the communication are well-intentioned and cooperative, it is worse yet when they are at odds and actively trying to misinterpret each other's words—typically in matters of international law and litigation. There is the famous case of UN Security Council resolution 242 and the reading of the sentence withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict, which because English omits articles in a generic or indefinite plural context, is ambiguous (from the (=all) occupied territories or from some occupied territories?): here the French version makes the intended meaning clear (retrait […] des territoires occupés, not de territoires occupés), and part of the debate is whether it is equally authoritative; now this is not quite the sort of ambiguity I was referring to earlier, and in this respect English is at least better than the many languages that simply do not have articles, but the point remains that international norms of any importance should always be written in several languages, all having equal force of law, not just English (or even any single language). English and French may not be an ideal choice of languages, but they are certainly better together than English alone. However, not every context where the English language is in use can afford the same resources that are available when negotiating international treaties (where we can assume that translators aren't the most difficult or costly part of the negotiation).

Can something be done to tame English's syntax ambiguities? Unfortunately, we are (collectively speaking) unreasonably conservative when it comes to language, so any attempt to reform English is doomed by our stubbornness, just as it is futile to suggest replacing English by some other language. The best that can be done is probably for editors, in any context of international or scientific communication, to forbid the syntactic omissions (B) and (C) mentioned above (and also (A) when it can be avoided), and to be otherwise vigilant for ambiguities. Even this modest advice is possibly a lost cause, like the aforementioned idea of restricting oneself to a simple subset of the English lexicon. A bolder suggestion would be to use some sort of special marker, a new punctuation sign, perhaps the single guillemets (‹…›), to mark syntactic groupings in any kind of complex sentence (the point being ‹that this “enriched” English can still be read as English ‹if we ignore the guillemets›› so ‹that the latter simply serve as hints in figuring out the correct parse tree›): but I know too very well that even this idea has no chance of catching on (and again, this should serve as a reminder of how we are incapable of taking intelligent collective decisions).

But on to my third point, which is now about spoken English.

Its pronunciation is unclear. There are several aspects to this.

The first part is how little relation there is between the written and the spoken forms of a word. Some languages are bad in this respect, but English is downright atrocious, as an infamous poem illustrates (see also this table of vowels). Some languages have irregular spelling (French, for instance, is very bad in this respect) or irregular pronunciation; some leave out important information in their spelling (such as Russian, which doesn't put stress marks, or Arabic, which generally doesn't mark short vowels); some (like Chinese or Japanese) don't even really try to make written and spoken forms match without the help of huge tables of characters that must be learnt; but English just makes it all look like a bad joke. It simply makes no sense for the language chosen for international communication to not only have a gigantic lexicon, but also force its learners to memorize each word twice because there is essentially no way to connect the written and spoken versions. But also, because there is simply no form of logic relating written and spoken English, when a new technical term is coined, or when a foreign term is imported, nobody knows how to pronounce it, because there is no logic that can be applied, and no preexisting usage. (The word neologism, in fact, may be a good example: there is no way to guess where the stress should fall, and different people will put it in different places. As for imported words, consider the last letter of the Greek alphabet, the astronomical bodies Uranus and Io—or just about any word imported from the French pour faire chic.) And it's not just annoying that people pronounce things “wrong”, it can be a real cause for confusion. (Random examples: if someone pronounces signal by applying the same logic as sign, it could easily be confused with final; if someone is not aware that record is pronounced differently according as it is a noun or a verb, it can lead to the class ambiguities that I discussed earlier.) Conversely, native English speakers pronouncing words “correctly” might confuse non native speakers. (Someone who doesn't know that in English RP, the words iron and ion are often pronounced identically as /ˈaɪ.ən/ might be in for a surprise in a chemistry talk. Someone who isn't aware of the pronunciation of American intervocalic ‘t’ might understand writer, /ˈɹaɪt̬ɚ/, as rider.)

To make things worse, English has a number of different accents. These differ mainly by their vowels but, as English is not a Semitic language, vowels are essential, and we get a lot of cross-accent homophones. I like to point out that an Englishman's pronunciation of part, /pɑːt/, might well be nearly identical with an American's pronunciation of pot (this remark often confuses French people, who are typically unaware of the r-dropping of accents of England or of the unrounding of American ‘o’). The way an Australian says sane buy (/sʌɪn bɑɪ/) could easily be understood as sign boy by an Englishman or an American. John Wells reports in one of his books how a Canadian describing his son as autistic received congratulations by English people who had understood the word /ɑːˈtɪstɪk/ as artistic. I already mentioned how my father and I were once told in London to look for the Shaw Theatre (/ˈʃɔː ˈθɪətə/) and spend some time fruitlessly looking for the Shore Theatre. And, to give another famous example, Americans believe Canadians say a boot when they say about (/əˈbəʊt/).

But even within the context of a single accent, English pronunciation is unclear. The realization of vowels is subtle, especially compared to the clear cardinal vowels (in contrast, the vowels of Italian are very crisp and fall rather squarely on the cardinal vowels). Some distinctions are downright fussy and yet have minimal pairs: compare cup /kʌp/ with cap /kæp/; or kin /kɪn/ with keen /kiːn/ (many native French speakers are unable to distinguish these) or more subtly spirit /ˈspɪɹɪt/ versus spear it /ˈspɪəɹɪt/ (American accents typically merge these); or sale /seɪl/ and sell /sɛl/ or more subtly Mary /ˈmeəɹi/ versus merry /ˈmɛɹi/ (again, American accents typically merge these); or full /fʊl/ and fool /fuːl/ (Scottish accent merges these); or book /bʊk/ and buck /bʌk/ (the result of a historical split; accents from the north of England do not have it); or the very fussy distinction between hurry /ˈhʌɹi/ and furry /'fɜːɹi/ (not all accents do this, and there probably isn't a STRUT-NURSE minimal pair, but I'm not sure either way). All of these are a possible source of confusion. Different people might have different difficulties: German speakers find that pat /pæt/ is close to pet /pɛt/ whereas French speakers find that it is closer to part /pɑːt/ in non-rhotic accents (so, a more convincing example: Pam /pæm/ and palm /pɑːm/). As for week vowels, they are essentially useless in distinguishing words: English RP does not distinguish /ə/ and /ɚ/ (tuna and tuner, for example), and Australian does not even distinguish weak /ɪ/ (making pick it homophonous with picket, or boxes with boxers). English consonants aren't quite as bad, but non native English speakers might still have trouble distinguishing, for example, sin /sɪn/, thin /θɪn/ and shin /ʃɪn/, or at least a subset of these (and I already mentioned the trouble between writing, /ˈɹaɪt̬ɪŋ/, and riding, /ˈɹaɪdɪŋ/ in American English, which may or may not be homophonous).

This is not just a theoretical worry. I have had many occasions to observe how English spoken over a noisy channel, has distinctly worse error-correcting capabilities than French.

Can we do something about it? As far as the mess that is English spelling goes, probably nothing (𐑕𐑹𐑰, ·𐑖𐑱𐑝𐑾𐑯 𐑓𐑨𐑯𐑟!). As far as English accents and confusion between them goes, however, I again have a modest proposal of which I am fully aware that nothing will come: invent a standard world English accent by mapping the English phonemes to sounds that are chosen so as to maximize clarity and have some degree of logic, while remaining generally within the realm of variation of existing English accents (something like KIT→[ɪ], DRESS→[ɛ], TRAP→[a], LOT→[ɔ], STRUT→[œ], FOOT→[ʊ], BATH→[a], CLOTH→[ɔ], NURSE→[øːɹ], FLEECE→[iː], FACE→[eː], PALM→[ɑː], THOUGHT→[ɔː], GOAT→[oː], GOOSE→[uː], PRICE→[aɪ], CHOICE→[ɔɪ], MOUTH→[aʊ], NEAR→[iːɹ], SQUARE→[eːɹ], START→[ɑːɹ], NORTH/FORCE→[ɔːɹ] and CURE→[uːɹ]: this would be somewhat similar to a French or Italian accent, which English speakers are able to understand; and for consonants: no voicing of intervocalic ‘t’, no loss of rhoticity, and no h-dropping). Introducing a new accent is not like reforming English, because it is meant to become one new accent among many, not replace any existing one. The major shift in paradigm would be to realize that this accent is no more wrong than any existing English accent, and that there is no reason not to teach students to speak like this instead of demanding that they simulate an RP or General American accent (there is a great deal of hypocrisy in this respect: English RP and American accents are no more correct than, or preferable to, Scottish, Irish, Australian, Indian, Nigerian, South African or American Southern accents, yet they are considered the norm when teaching English to foreigners—why?). We should keep in mind that English RP, which is now considered the “standard” British English, (1) is, to a large extent, an artificial construct (an effect of the English public school system, as witnessed by its earlier name Public School Pronunciation, that was popularized by the BBC's deliberate choice of RP as a non-regional English accent for its broadcasts, whence it being also widely known as BBC English), and (2) is the native accent of only a small, albeit influential, proportion of the English population (perhaps 2 to 5 percent), which, of course, is itself a small proportion of the native English-speaking population on Earth (note: many Americans refer to RP as British English, which is completely wrong and fairly insulting).

Here is a broader point: if English is to be a “Globish” language common to all the peoples of Earth, all the peoples of Earth should realize that they are its owners, no less than the “native speakers”. So long as there is no dictionary of international English, that (as opposed to the specifically national Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary) would record all global usage of English, and not just in “English-speaking” countries, — so long as the forms of English taught in schools and universities throughout the world are based on those spoken in a very small set of countries (considered as more “correct”), — English cannot truly be said to be part of our common heritage as would behoove the lingua franca of all mankind. Both the prescriptivist and the descriptivist sides have to ask themselves how world English should be defined, instead of avoiding the question as I believe they have mostly been doing. But here I digress away from the specific issues with English as a language of international communication to the general problem with choosing one particular language in this role, and the unfairness associated with this choice—and this is something I would rather leave to a later entry.

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