Journal: News & Comment

Monday, November 15, 2004
# 10:14:00 AM:

Writing the dialects

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Local author and writing instructor Crawford Kilian has posted a wonderful essay on global English, in which he talks about how the Web, contradictorily, helps both homogenize and diversify the English language.

If you're interested in the topic, I recommend a (printed) book that pre-dates the Web by about six years: The Story of English. It was a companion to a 1986 U.S. PBS series of the same name, and provides a wonderful, thorough, and easy-to-read overview of the evolution and spread of English around the world. The references to technical English and some of the regional dialects (particularly of South Africa and, sadly, Sierra Leone) seem a bit dated, but overall it has aged well, and discusses many of Kilian's topics in some detail.

Today we forget that, even a little more than a hundred years ago, English was still an also-ran language, and that only the rise of American influence through the 20th century cemented it as the leading tongue of world discussion. In Shakespeare's time, English was still very obscure and essentially confined to those rainy islands off the north coast of Europe. French, Spanish, German, Russian, and other languages all exerted more influence over the subsequent centuries.

Nothing guarantees that English will persist, either. Chinese is surely moving up fast.


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