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Estrangement by Colloquialism

The range of stylistic inappropriateness in language use is immeasurably wide, but one subspecies is deserving of note in the current climate of the spread of English as the world’s lingua franca, namely the insertion of a colloquialism by non-native speakers in an otherwise formal context. This act invariably makes for an estrangement from the speaker by listeners when the former has a marked foreign accent, no matter how grammatically fluent the person’s command of the language.

This stylistically jarring phenomenon was exemplified by the radio clip (on NPR) of a recorded pronouncement by the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, Olivier Blanchard, a Frenchman with a marked accent who has apparently spent his professional life in the USA. Mr. Blanchard, who was heard today using the colloquialism “getting their act together” in referring to the European nations’ sovereign debt crisis, exemplified the alienating effect of such an irruption, which moreover has the conceivable subsidiary (and clearly unintended) consequence of diminishing the listener’s credence in the utterance’s validity.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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