Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Globish (1): Some good ideas

In the entry on international understanding 18 months ago I wrote in passing about Globish. This is a simplified English that Jean-Paul Nerriere observed non-native speakers using effectively with each other when he worked for IBM. By chance I just came across a book that he and David Hon wrote about this. Of course they wrote it in Globish – with a few additional words that they explain in Globish, like pajamas and punctuation.

The first part of the book is about why we need Globish. In an increasingly globalized world, more and more people use English. Most are non-native speakers. They have no time, and no need, to use English like native speakers. But they can learn Globish easily. Globish cannot take the place of English for Americans and Britons. It cannot take the place of Spanish for South Americans, or Hindi for Indians. But it is enough for most international communication.

Nerriere and Hon also explain how non-native speakers of English have an edge over native speakers. They are more adaptable. They are used to hearing different kinds of English. They know how to make good use of simple words. And because they are using a foreign language, they are not forcing their own cultural ideas upon anyone.

The second part of the book gives some details about what Globish is. There are few hard rules, but there are guidelines. For example:

We need only 1500 words. (They give us a list.)
We should use short sentences.
We can improve understanding with body language when speaking.
We can improve understanding with punctuation when writing.
We should avoid figurative language.
We should use the active voice. (He wrote it, not It was written by him.)
We should avoid humor. (Unless we know our listeners well.)
We should spell correctly.
We should stress words correctly.

But we do not need to sound like native speakers. A 2009 experiment showed about seven sounds that are difficult for most non-native speakers to say. Native speakers and other non-native speakers may not understand them when non-native speakers say them. If we master these sounds and use stress correctly, it is enough.

Globish is a good idea. It is similar to other ideas that I wrote about before, like EIL. I agree with many of its aims. I do not think all English should be like American or British English. And I do not think native speakers always communicate better than non-native speakers. However, I also have some problems with Globish. I will write about them in the next entry.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tsunami and Ganbare

Sometimes an event in one part of the world attracts so much attention that it creates a new global word. This was the case with tsunami after the disaster in the Indian Ocean in 2004. This Japanese word was already in use in English but not so widely known, and few people were clear about the difference between a tsunami and a tidal wave. After 2004 almost everyone in the world knew what to call a sudden rise in the sea level caused by an earthquake or volcanic eruption.

The next time everyone around the world was saying tsunami was March this year, and this time the focus was on Japan itself.

There is almost nothing good about this Asian addition to English and many other languages. Perhaps 20,000 people have already died. Thousands have lost their homes. Entire towns, together with their factories and farms and fisheries, have disappeared and may never be rebuilt. And now people throughout Japan are worried about the possible effects of damage to nuclear reactors.

Yet there is another Japanese word that is also becoming widely known around the world and has a more positive meaning: ganbare. I found nearly half a million hits on Google for Ganbare Nippon! and another 200,000 for Ganbare Japan! All of them led to English-language websites. Many of these concern fundraising activities by Japanese groups overseas, such as the Japanese Red Cross Branch in Hong Kong (see picture above); So Restaurant in London; Leicester University’s Japan Students Association; and an organization for Canadian Nikkei. But many more have no direct connection with Japan.

For example, an interactive media firm in Cambridge is collecting artwork to raise awareness for the tsunami victims:

A university in Florida held a charity concert:

An elementary school in New York posted a video on Youtube in which children from almost every background except Japanese shout ‘Ganbare’ to encourage people in Japan:

You can also find Ganbare mugs, Ganbare T-shirts, and even a music complication by UK-based DJ Gilles Petersen called Ganbare Nippon!

Ganbare gets translated into English in various ways, including: 'Don’t give up!', 'Fight!', 'Hang in there!' and 'Stay Strong!' Petersen’s English title for his music mix is ‘Pray for Japan’. But in many cases the word is not translated at all because it is assumed most people will know it.

When people around the world think of Japan I hope they will not think only of tsunami. I hope they will also think of the spirit of ganbare.