NOTE: I don't post to this blog super-duper often anymore, because I'm busy writing, well, books. (Read more about that here.) For more up-to-date, day-to-day ramblings, visit my Facebook page.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Learning Your Konglish

The great thing about having a blog that, honestly, few people stand in line to read is that you don't have to feel guilty about not posting. (But thank you, Jen Brubacher, for caring.) Still, despite lacking a childhood steeped in Jewish or Catholic traditions, I seem to have an inborn sense of guilt. *SIGH*

So here I am, passing on a link to the New York Times review of Robert McCrum's book about the way English is taking over the globe (Globish: How the English Language Became the World's Language, Norton, $26.95). I love watching language morph and bend, even as I rail against textspeak and people who don't know that one exclamation point is really all you need. If you can be objective about it--right, I know, I can't--it's fascinating to learn how English is spoken both in Buckingham Palace (where we hope, dear God, they've got it right) and in South Korea (where a hybrid strain is known as Konglish) and in Malaysia (Manglish). But why is it that Konglish seems charming while textspeak is cringeworthy?

Maybe it's because American English is the prophet in its own country, to my mind. Familiarity breeds contempt. (Feel free to insert your own cliche here.) I live in the American Midwest, home to some of the laziest speakers on the planet. (No, no, Kansas farmers: You're incredibly hardworking. Put the pitchfork down.) I mean that the Midwestern pronunciation is lazy. One can speak Midwestern without hardly opening one's mouth. The vowels are flat, the consonants fuzzy, the word endings mumbled. When we learn other languages in school, we have to be taught to appreciate the musicality, the subtle tonal differences, of our language. We have to work at it. I have no research to back this up, but I would presume that people who speak more precisely pronounced tongues, like French, have an easier time learning to make the different sounds of other languages. (Though granted, French speakers have a devilish time learning to speak Midwestern English. They can't seem to swallow half the sounds as we do.)

We grow up here, isolationist, unwilling to consider that other folks in other parts of the world not only speak English differently, but possibly other languages altogether. I apologize in advance to fellow Midwesterners who might read the blog. Of course it isn't true of all of us, and it's a natural result of living in the middle of a large, self-serving nation. But while the spread of English makes my life a lot easier, I weep just a little too. It wouldn't kill us--English speakers, Midwesterners, Americans--to have to learn someone else's lingo for a change.

Think about that the next time you're put on hold when someone says, “Para continuar en español, marque el dos.”