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Archive for September, 2014

Mispronunciations in Ersatz English (colleague)

Having given a name in the preceding post to the species of faux English that abounds in this age of linguistic globalization, perhaps an example is in order, viz. colleague, with the stress on the second syllable instead of the first. This incorrect rendition of the word is frequently produced by non-native speakers of English from South Asia and Africa, who have evidently not assimilated the rule of English prosody (accentuation) that regularly places the main stress of dissyllabic substantives on the first syllable.

It is interesting to learn that historically this word was (according to the Oxford English Dictionary Online) “still commonly accented on the second syllable” in the 17th century, having come into English from French in the 16th (“Etymology: < French collègue, < Latin collēga, one chosen along with another, a partner in office, etc.; < col- together + legĕre to choose, etc.”). Varieties of English, including dialects, typically differ in where they place the main stress of certain words. Cf. ínsurance in Southern American English instead of insúrance. Over time, even in Standard American, a stress that was current in earlier times may recede, e. g. consúmmate (adj.), which has all-but-disappeared from the language except in the speech of especially careful and knowledgeable members of the community.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

Ersatz English

English in the twenty-first century is veritably the global lingua franca, the universal medium of linguistic communication between people whose native language is not English; and between people in situations where only some of the interlocutors have English as a native (or “near-native”) language. This sometimes leads to the psychologically interesting phenomenon when a person imagines that he/she is speaking English, but in fact the version of English being produced is defective grammatically as well as phonetically, and can (only at best) be called something like “ersatz English,” the meaning of ersatz being ‘a substitute or imitation (usually, an inferior article instead of the real thing)’. This sort of faux English is often heard, for instance, in interviews with African and Asian speakers on the BBC World Service––in a phonetic rendering, moreover, that is so impenetrable as to be barely recognizable and hardly comprehensible even by professional linguists.

Unfortunately, this kind of ungrammatical patois can now be found in written form as well. In an era when book publishing is in retreat and economically less and less viable, publishing houses leave the written form of English unedited to its authors and routinely offer books for sale that are rife with grammatical and stylistic errors. This species of ersatz English is especially to be found in publications by authors whose native language is Spanish or one of the Germanic tongues. Thus some Scandinavian and Dutch authors, having studied and heard English from early childhood on, have obviously been lulled into thinking that they have a command of the language that is error-free and adequate to the demands of scholarly discourse, when in fact what they say and write is grossly short of the mark. The loss in some global sense redounds to the great English language itself as a cultural institution, whose native speakers must often suffer in silence while being assaulted by speech (written and oral) that is only a specious simulacrum of the norm.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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