I have worked with language for a while now. In fact, over the past 45 years I learnt a number of languages. Most of them I have forgotten because I did not use them on a regular basis. However, even if you forget a language, you somehow do remember a few words, syllables or even a song or nursery rhyme. The other day I counted and if I was able to say that I am proficient in a certain language because I know a few words, then I am proficient in at least 11 languages!
One of those 11 languages is English. I have come to the conclusion that I actually know at least four different versions of English. How did that happen? In South Africa, we learnt ‘the Queen’s English’ at school. I knew is and are and all my tenses. I knew when to write to and when to write too. I knew of something but I also knew to get off something.
In came the television and most of the programs we got came from America. Not only did the way they pronounce their words sound different, they had quite a few differences in grammar as well. Add to that the fact that I am from South Africa where language is seen as a living, expressive organism you use the best way you can to express whatever you think or feel, then you have what I came to Australia with: English but not quite like it is spoken in Britain, the USA or Australia.
After two years in Australia, I still haven’t got used to the way the Aussies use English. Everybody is called mate, a robot is a traffic light, a circle is a roundabout and a geyser is a hot water system. And nobody thinks it is funny when they say: “I should of known that the Reds could not beat the Stormers.”
The one conclusion I came to, is that the English language is alive and well. The world is becoming smaller and as we bridge the oceans that divide us, we are starting to bridge the language barriers that divided the English elite from the plebeians. We write our books and we have a freedom to express ourselves in an English that is descriptive, emotive and uniting.
Long live English!