Nerrière's "Globish" and LangX

Jean-Paul Nerrière, vice-president of international marketing at IBM in the US, realised one day in 1989 that, as a Frenchman and non-native English speaker, his conversations with Korean, Japanese, Brazilian etc. business contacts were easier and more efficient than those between such contacts and his British and American IBM colleagues - and that the language he was sharing with fellow second-language English-speakers wasn't exactly English but rather a simpler "pidginised" version with basic vocabulary and short sentences. He decided that this language "was the worldwide dialect of the third millennium", and called it "Globish" ("Globe-ish" = "Global English").

Such is the gist of numerous press reports about Nerrière and Globish, some of which are linked to his website (where can be found the Globish list of 1500 words - cf. the 1500 words of VOA Special English and the 2000 words of Ogden's Basic English, including recent extensions) - and there's an excellent recent article (7/3/09) in "The Toronto Star".

Nerrière's discovery has additional ramifications too, since it demonstrates that a second language such as English might be "consensually regressed" to a more "primitive" level for ease of communication. Moreover, the ability to do this confirms the reversible bioprogram hypothesis: the same which allows an adult (who has already experienced childhood of course) to code-switch in a split-second and speak to a young child in language it can understand. Bickerton was the first to hypothesise that the impetus for the JPVP derived from this bioprogram. In LangX we propose extending the theory to its logical conclusion with a global IAL. Such an IAL should prove even more reversible than English, as a result of being structured in cognitive gradations according to an ideal linguistic bioprogram, thereby allowing anyone to speak or write within a hierarchy of registers (though as described at LangX only the lowest register at any one time would be the Official IAL).

But why do mother-tongue English speakers evidently find this "regression" more difficult? Is it due to self-consciousness, a debilitating awareness that they are speaking English "incorrectly", or perhaps a fear of being thought patronising? Any answer must surely lead to the same conclusion: which is that an elaborate and painfully-acquired acculturation will tend to resist regression in normal adult circumstances - and that the same should apply in the case of any existing language with established norms.

Perceptions from the non-Anglophone side are likely to be as negative: embarrassment or inhibition at not being able to speak English well, or fear of prejudice, or that a native speaker might gain the advantage in negotiations. All such factors probably account for the tendency identified by Nerrière for non-Anglophones to congregate exclusively when talking in a reduced or "pidginised" idiom. A new constructed language in the IAL role would initially be free of most of this baggage.

How did English emerge from the inflections and complexities of Old and then Middle-English during medieval times? Some say this occurred as a result of being the speech of the masses while the educated and upper classes were using Latin and French. But there's also a theory that this was an effect rather than a cause, and that the true cause of this simplified speech was a pidgin origin - i.e. a bridge language between Latin-speakers, Britons, Vikings, Norman French and Anglo-Saxons, with the dominant Angles (Engles) providing the superstrate - and it's certainly true that English has an underlying "pidgin-type" structure. Thus the words and short sentences intuitively employed by Nerrière's "Globish" co-respondents conform exactly to typical "pidgin" patterns, including subject-verb-object syntax. Indeed, the role of English as leading de facto IAL may well be connected with a relative conformity to the "global pidgin" ideal - an ideal we hope to approach more closely through LangX.

Could what Nerrière has done with Globish be repeated with languages besides English? Doesn't every language have a juvenile lect spoken by small children acquiring their mother tongue? Wouldn't this be the equivalent of Globish, if spoken by non-native speakers? Not really, since the relative success of Globish as a concept owes more to the average status of English within the body of languages than relationship between juvenile and adult speech. The latter is probably a factor but the main international resonance comes from average status (in grammar, phonology, prosody etc.) and therefore a superior facility for being learned by a global cross-section of non-Anglophones. Typical "Western" synthetic languages, including Esperanto, depart from this average because they cannot be readily employed in a "pidginised" or "regressed" way without breaking too many grammatical rules, and any juvenile lects that are recognisable are still too far from the international mean to be viable as a "Globish". And similarly in a converse way with "Eastern" tongues - more specifically Continental South-East Asian languages such as Chinese - where the main difficulty for an average cross-section of users is not so much grammatical as phonetic.

But can the average status of English which makes Globish a feasible possibility be separated from the forces which have made English the leading de facto international language? For instance, it might be claimed that if Chinese or Farsi or any other existing tongue were the de facto international language it would be de facto average, and there would thus be scope for a Globish version attached to it. However, the political and economic changes needed to bring about such situations would be enormous, and any corresponding language would change accordingly. So the question is academic, and in any case international trends are very much in the other direction towards international rather than national bodies as main agents of influence, and language might be expected to move accordingly - suggesting a future role of a Globish as an international core vocabulary and "global pidgin".

In conclusion, then, Globish is essentially about complex language deconstructed into more elementary units for ease of communication. The same process occurred historically in the pidgins - as it does today to some extent in mixed languages such as Spanglish: words brought in and relexified in a simpler way. A parallel process might be seen in another means of global communication - computer software - within which information is disassembled into proven or stable elements before being reconstituted.

And just as Nerrière seeks to free up international communication in English with a much simpler version, LangX aims to unlock a constructed IAL hiatus which has lasted since the heyday of Esperanto by starting again with a very basic "prequel" to a more sophisticated offering at and far beyond the Esperanto level. In other words, if we don't want people speaking English and feeling at a disadvantage in front of native speakers or natural lingusits neither do we want it with an IAL, and an answer in either case would be a much easier "entry-level" grade. Nerrière has succeeded in formalising such an idea with regard to English and it remains to be seen whether LangX can do likewise with regard to a new constructed IAL.

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