Saturday, June 11, 2011

Globish (2): Some questions

Last time I wrote about Nerriere and Hon’s book on Globish. I like their idea that we need a simple tool for international communication. I agree that I sold the house to that man is easier than He’s the man I sold the house to and it means almost the same thing. But I have some questions.

Does Globish really not have any cultural viewpoint?
Nerriere and Hon use some words that are not in their list and not explained. It is not unreasonable for them to assume that words like phone are already global. After all, the French say téléphone and Germans Telefon, and Japanese used to say terehon kad (with mobile phones almost no one uses a telephone card now). But for Japanese, ‘phone’ is usually denwa or keitai, for Chinese it is dianhua or shouji, for Thais, torasap. Deciding what is ‘international’ does involve cultural assumptions and generalisations.

Is Globish enough to explain technical things'?
They explain many ‘technical’ words that are not on their list using Globish. But they do not explain 'technical' until page 35. The explanation is ‘tied to a trade or an industry.’ Is this enough?

Is correct spelling so very important?
They say English spelling rules are too difficult, but we need only 1500 words, so we only need to learn the spelling of these. English spelling is indeed difficult and the words in their list include some of the most difficult. (In fact, longer and more difficult words are often easier to spell.) But most incorrect spelling is close to how words sound, so I can usually guess words that are spelt incorrectly. But maybe I think like this because I make many spelling mistakes!

Are short sentences easier than long ones?
They also say it is best to use short sentences. So Globish is very useful for short messages, like the ones we send from our phones. At the back of the book they change a speech by Barack Obama into Globish. The Globish version might be easier. But it is much longer.

Is it easier to learn one expression with several meanings than to learn several words with one meaning?
For them, the center of Globish is limiting the words we use and making sure everyone understand basic words. It’s not a bad idea. In fact it is an old idea. Basic English, invented 80 years ago, has 850. Perhaps it is easier to learn 'go up' instead of 'ascend', and 'go out' instead of 'exit'. But 'go off' can mean 'depart' or 'explode' (which are in the Globish list) and 'rot' and 'proceed' (which are not). And is 'sleeping without clothes' clearer than 'sleeping without pajamas' or 'sleeping naked'? At first that expression was not easy for me to work out.

Are short words easier than long ones?
I tried to write these two entries about Globish in Globish. But when I checked my writing, I had to change 'advantage' to 'edge' and 'mentioned' to 'wrote in passing'. But I am not sure if these are easier to understand. Both 'edge' and 'pass' have a lot of different meanings.

If we know part of a word, is it easy to understand all of it?
To my surprise, 'adaptable', 'entry', 'expression', 'figurative' and 'guideline' are all in the Globish list - because it has 'adapt', 'enter', 'express', 'figure', 'guide' and 'line'. If we know 'mind' and 'set', do we understand 'mindset'? I am still not sure if I should use 'activity' or 'effectively' or 'maybe' (the list has 'act', 'effect', 'may', and 'be').

However, Nerriere and Hon say that few native speakers of English fully understand how useful Globish is, so my questions may be unreasonable. I would like to hear the opinions of ESL speakers.