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Grades of Well-Formedness in Language (Cacoglossia)

With globalization has come the rise of English as the world language and the concomitant development of various Englishes, i. e., versions of what started as the language of England and then spread throughout the globe as a lingua franca. In the twenty-first century this development has involved the use of English with varying degrees of grammatical well-formedness, quite apart from the matter of different regional accents characterizing the language of native speakers and second-language learners alike.

When one listens to the BBC World Service over the radio, one sometimes encounters a peculiar version of English that can only be called ‘cacoglossia’. This is speech that is identfiably English, spoken at a fluid rate of delivery but with many grammatical mistakes. Psycholinguistically, the interesting thing about this phenomenon is the realization on the hearer’s part––but evidently not on the speaker’s––that the person uttering string upon string of cacoglossic language is not speaking grammatically well-formed English while communicating a completely understandable meaning. One recent example of such speech heard on the BBC was that of a Syrian national born in Syria but raised in the United States, who spoke with what passed for an American accent but whose utterances constituted some kind of idiosyncratic grammatical pidgin that the speaker had internalized as an ersatz form of English with its own wayward structure.


One Response to “Grades of Well-Formedness in Language (Cacoglossia)”

  • Michael Lamb says:

    Spot on again! The best you can expect even of native-speaker performance is paragrammatism piled on paragrammatism. And I don’t just mean Jafaican and such. But well-formedness itself is vastly more context-determined than most people realize.

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