What Language is Usually Like

Contrary to what you might think, explains McWhorter, the bigger a language is, the more widely it is used, and the simpler it will be. The smaller the language, the less number of people that speak it, and the more complex it will be. Part of the reason for this is because of the number of adult people that learn the bigger language will be significant enough to impact the complexity of the language. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, when a large number of adults learn a language, that language tends to shed complexity. 

The number of adult learners of English in the world today has got to be at an all-time high. I’m absolutely guessing this here, but considering economic globalization and the amount of access that learners have to authentic language, I would be surprised if this isn’t the case. Local versions of English exist and are being developed all around the globe. In Japan, for example, adult language learners have to make a choice of whether to learn American English, British English, Pilipino English, or English from a fellow Japanese person (often the best option for those studying for tests), just to name a few of the options.

Normal Language is the product of step-wise developments of transformation of material, reinterpretation of material, and renewal of material.

This sounds very much like the remix, reuse, repurpose slogans of contemporary digital workspaces, that it makes me wonder if we’re not amidst a major language shift right now, more than anything else. Stephen Downes wrote a wonderful article that describes changing language use in the digital world. There was one point he made that really stood out, however, and it was something about how he used or defined the word language. (I can’t seem to find the original post, but only this slideshow – also, this article with the use of the term ‘language’ on page 13) McWhorter makes a distinction between the word “language” and the word “lingo”, and like many distinctions these days, I think it is a distinction that people will need to explore and expand.

A Lingua Franca is a standardized, user-friendly kind of language. How does this term translate into the digital realm? Where are the Digital Lingua Franca? 

Link to the first post in this series is here.


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