Episode 10: Who Owns English?

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For our final episode, Babel goes global. English is now spoken by about two billion people, more than a third of the world's population. As English expands in countries such as India, China and South Africa, regional varities are emerging. And it's not surprising. Most conversations in English nowadays occur between people who speak it as a second, third or fourth language. That's because there are four times as many non-native speakers in the world as native speakers, and they're developing their own standards and lexicons. Babel wraps up its summer series by asking: Who owns English, and why does it matter?

 

bookshelf-web.jpgEnglish started in England, then the Americans created their own version of English, and eventually British colonies like Canada, Australia and New Zealand did too. But India, China and South Africa are now putting their own stamp on it. And that's shifting the "ownership" of English away from the UK. We'll chat with global English expert David Crystal about that.

 

English is the main language of science and technology, business and diplomacy, and American English seems to be the dominant force. Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington explains why.

 

Even as American English flexes its powerful muscles, other Englishes are on the rise, especially in India. We'll go into the streets and restaurants in New Delhi to find out why English has taken off.

 

Most people immigrating to Canada now have to take an English proficiency test. Usually, they take the IELTS, a British-Australian-owned test. But a company in Vancouver wants more new immigrants to take its test, an all-Canadian one. Jake Stone is with Paragon Testing Enterprises, and a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University.

 

With different English varieties rising within Canada, plus the influence of our powerful southern neighbour, and our British English past, is Canada owning a more distinct English than ever before? Sociolinguist Sali Tagliamonte enlightens us.

 

And that's it for Babel for 2012. Thanks so much for your interest and love of the English language!

 

Feel free to leave a comment below. Who do you think "owns" English? What's your experience been with taking an English proficiency exam? What does Canadian English mean to you?