Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Translators needed to span glossal gaps as Globish grows

According to Burchfield, English was like Latin. Just as Latin broke up into mutually unintelligible languages like French, Spanish and Italian, so would global English similarly disintegrate into separate, mutually distinctive tongues. To the delight of leader-writers from Sydney to Saskatchewan, he pointed out that, historically speaking, languages have always had a tendency to break up, or to evolve. There were, he argued, some "powerful models of the severance of a language into two or more constituent parts, especially the emergence of the great Germanic languages of western Europe – English, German, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, and so on – from the mutually intelligible dialects of the 5th century. The obvious objection to this model, which his critics were swift to deploy, was the contemporary vigour and interconnectedness of global English. In the age of mass media, the future of world English, said Burchfield's opponents, would never follow the Latin model. To which he replied that such objections overlooked one vital fact: "English, as the second language of many speakers in countries throughout the world, is no more likely to survive the inevitable political changes of the future than did Latin, once the second language of the governing classes or regions within the Roman Empire."
From an article in The Observer by Robert McCrum, author of Globish: How the English Language Became the World's Language.

The manifest extension of English-language commerce and culture across much of the globe, and its subsequent fragmentation into varieties of regional patois, should keep literary translators busy--if they can recognize the opportunity to mediate communication across all the new gaps appearing in the world's linguistic landscape. "Builders needed," the sign reads, "of bridges in a variety of forms. Must work quick, and work must be strong." Hopefully the pay will be good.