Manner of speaking

November 18, 2010

Brian Bloch claims that "Non-native speakers (of English) are generally unable to write an acceptable level of English for academic purposes" ("Trips and falls of the tongue", 21 October). But what is deemed to be "acceptable" or "accurate" in language is subjective and changeable.

Languages continually develop as speakers reshape them in innovative ways. English has undergone several processes of globalisation that have turned it into different "Englishes", and is today so internationalised that it is used more in international contexts than domestic ones.

Numerous linguists have argued that the language no longer belongs solely to native speakers. Proficient international users can also develop ownership by appropriating the language while respecting intelligibility. Most audience members at academic gatherings are not British. So why should native-speaker standards remain the "acceptable" reference point?

A German conference organiser who opens an event by saying "Hello everybUddy" (as described by Bloch) is going to be understood by his international audience; his usage will not (or should not) bring his academic research into disrepute.

In order for English to work as an international lingua franca, accommodation is crucial. That is what we seek in international academic contexts, as opposed to expecting other users of English to maintain UK norms or standards instead of their own perfectly valid, creative and intelligible productions.

Sonia Morán Panero, PhD student of global Englishes, Modern languages, University of Southampton.

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