viewpoint British CouncilDivided by aCommon Language?Stephen Jenner, Director of the British Council Professional Developm...
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Article for HR Magazine on Global English


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Article for HR Magazine on Global English

  1. 1. viewpoint British CouncilDivided by aCommon Language?Stephen Jenner, Director of the British Council Professional Development Centre in Singapore,shares some reflections on the place of English in today’s worldG Stephen eorge Bernard Shaw famously said that England and America jenner were two countries ‘divided by acommon language’. Jump a century aheadto an exchange on Facebook I read recently: “Went to see Contagion and woke upthis morning with a sore throat and sorehead! Was it contagious?” Director – British Council Professional “haha..hp not cz v saw contagion Development Centre, Singaporeyesterday bt so far v r ok 2day!” One of the speakers above is a nativespeaker, but which strain of English is former coloniser rather than the new this would have on the wide range ofthe other speaker using? How did we get rulers to the north. Travel in North and communicative situations in the this? Things have become a lot more South India today and you will see widely The article concludes:complicated since Shaw’s time. differing levels of English fluency. “We are all capable of code-switching, Global English has developed rapidly Mr Lee’s prediction at the launch of the not only among languages but betweensince the days of colonialism, when the English Language Institute of Singapore playful and sober, casual and formal,Queen’s English ruled the world as the last month, that American English will be hyperlocal and widely accessible. The moreQueen’s navy ruled the seas. At de- ‘most likely to prevail’, might have adept we are at that, the more accurately,colonialism, the British left many of their bothered George Bernard Shaw, but it does authentically and productively we will beinstitutions in ‘host’ countries, including get to the heart of the question; which able to communicate - and to think - in atheir language. This language dividend standard of English do we adopt in complex, interconnected world.”meant more countries could now do today’s globalised world? Here I would We do not need to be divided by ourbusiness with each other directly, but it also offer two criteria; communicability and common language. But we do not need tomeant a gradual transfer of ownership, as audience. In the Facebook excerpt above I speak only one version of it either.local dialects of the language developed. understand the response, although I do notSo we entered the period of Englishes. recognise the language as my own. The + The author welcomes comments on this article, Not all former colonies took the same response achieves its purpose (it by email to,language path. Lee Kuan Yew’s communicates meaning) and is also or on Twitter @sdjenner.promotion of English as the first, ‘Master’ appropriate for the context. It would + At the British Council Professionallanguage of Singapore, gave the new certainly not be appropriate if the Development Centre we offer a range of softnation a huge competitive advantage it audience were a boardroom of executives. skills and English training for professionals.still enjoys today. In India, Nehru’s new So, standard is a moveable feast. We work with some of the biggest Singaporegovernment declared Hindi the National A recent Harvard Business Review companies and public sector bodies and welanguage with English an Associate article describes how the imposition of train over 8,000 professionals a year.National language, and regional languages English as the first language in a German + British Council Professional Development Centrein third place. The ‘tri- language’ policy company actually disempowered 480 Lorong 6 Toa Payoh, 09-01 HDB Hub East Winghad far-reaching consequences, as south employees from using English, because + Tel: 63972022Indian states chose the language of the not enough thought went into the impact + Web: issue 11.11 67