Do we have to speak Maclish?

Posted by on May 25, 2010

To mark Saints Cyril and Methodius Day, which commemorates the creation of the Slavic Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets, we have a guest post by Biljana Naumoska, Senior Lector in English at the Department of English Language and Literature, “Blaze Koneski” Faculty of Philology, Ss. Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje, Macedonia. Biljana holds an M.A. in English Linguistics and is currently working on her PhD. Her fields of interest are: morphology, lexicology, semantics, methodology, the history and development of the English language, academic writing, British and American history and civilization.

___________________

I love the English language. In fact, teaching English is my livelihood and I love teaching others to love it as much as I do and to help them understand and appreciate the wonderfully creative and unlimited potential the English language offers: the great variety of phrasal verbs, the rich vocabulary, the grammatical structures, the spelling system, the interesting and diverse idioms, proverbs.

It goes without saying that as a result of careful and long-term language planning, English is nowadays accepted as an international language, the lingua franca of the modern age. Thus, there are accepted varieties now such as Spanglish, Frenglish, Japlish, and Denglish, a combination, or a mix of English and Spanish, French, Japanese, and German, respectively, where English components and English vocabulary have been introduced into the said language. However, there is a phenomenon taking place in the Macedonian language that I honestly fail to see the reason for, and that is the persistent and relentless massacre of the Macedonian language through the use of English. Namely, it seems to be ‘in’ or fashionable nowadays to replace perfectly good Macedonian words, words that are neither archaic nor old-fashioned, with words from the English language. To make the irony even worse, this trend is further supported by public personae: journalists, singers, actors and TV hosts, people who have wide audiences and who have a significant amount of influence on the young. I cannot understand the logic behind the need to anglicize the Macedonian language to such an extent, and overnight at that.

I understand and accept the fact that this influx of English vocabulary makes the language more expressive, but what is the reason behind replacing perfectly acceptable Macedonian words with English equivalents? To make matters worse, sometimes both the Macedonian word and its English equivalent are used together, as if they represent two different notions! So, are the Macedonian words less worthy? Inferior? Do the English equivalents carry more weight? Are they more expressive than the Macedonian words? Does using foreign words and phrases make people think they sound intelligent? Educated? Sophisticated? Different from others? Maybe, but carried out to the extreme seems to defeat the purpose and only achieves the opposite effect. How can you sound different from others if everybody else is doing it for the very same reasons?!

Yes, it is a fact that a great many people in Macedonia know English to some degree. It would not be incorrect to also say that English has practically reached the status of an unofficial second language in the country. For example, the great majority of job announcements, if not all, require that the potential applicant has some level of proficiency in English, and in fact, some job announcements go so far as to appear in English only, or with a very brief note in Macedonian.

Certainly, there is no need to be fanatical in terms of wanting to keep the language, any language, ‘pure’, i.e. to only accept and use those words that have origins in that particular language because then the language is not given the opportunity to grow and develop. Languages evolve and encompass words and expressions from neighboring languages and the culturally dominant language. The English language itself is an amalgam and consists of numerous borrowed words from other languages and that does not appear to have had a harmful effect on its development at all, quite the contrary, in fact. However, in my opinion, there is something very disturbing and unnatural in not valuing and appreciating your own mother tongue so as not only to allow it, but also to encourage it to be suppressed and undermined. All languages have their own characteristics that make them special and unique, different from other languages. Those differences are in no way a bad thing; in fact, they provide diversity, and diversity is what makes and keeps things interesting.

In conclusion, I am going to repeat what I said at the beginning, but slightly modified. I love the English language. Teaching English is my livelihood and I love teaching others to love it as much as I do, and to help them understand and appreciate the wonderfully creative and unlimited potential the English language offers. However, I also love my native language, my mother tongue, Macedonian, and I do not, for one moment, think that using English words will make me sound smarter, more interesting or better. The meaning is in the content of what is said, not in the form. In order to fully love, understand and appreciate other languages, you have to first love, understand and appreciate your own. The point is to keep what is yours and add to it, enrich it, and not to destroy everything that makes you unique or change it beyond all recognition.

Email this Post Email this Post
Comments (7)
  • I live in London and if anyone says to me “everyone speaks English” my answer is “Listen and look around you”. If people in London do not speak English then the whole question of a global language is completely open.

    The promulgation of English as the world’s “lingua franca” is impractical and linguistically undemocratic. I say this as a native English speaker!

    Impractical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. That is how English is used internationally at the moment.

    Undemocratic because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well. The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which places all ethnic languages on an equal footing is essential.

    As a native English speaker, my vote is for Esperanto 🙂

    Your readers may be interested in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2LPVcsL2k0

    Dr Kvasnak teaches English at Florida Atlantic University.

    A glimpse of Esperanto can be seen at http://www.lernu.net

    Posted by Brian Barker on 25th May, 2010
  • Well the fact that Esperanto is so easy to learn is only because it hasn’t yet been developed into a fully blown functional language. People are complicated and if Esperanto ends up being used by so many people it will also develop into a complicated language with lots and lots of thick books being published and sold (for good money) about its grammar and pronunciation. I think the argument should be…how many people will have to start learning Esperanto from scratch vs how many people have to learn English now. And what about computer software in Esperanto, websites in Esperanto and so on…?

    Posted by Sigo Gatt on 25th May, 2010
  • Dear Biljana,

    I have enjoyed reading your relevant points concerning the English Language as a “lingua franca”, its many borrowings from other languages/cultures, which in my view adds to a nice, harmonious, cultural blend.

    In fact, one mustn’t exaggerate at the point of the “massacre ” of one’s native language/mother tongue. We think every native language speaker should be proud of their mother tongue, and, what is more, should be concerned about speaking and writing it accurately, enhancing all age-levels to use it respectfully, intelligently.

    I always loved and keep loving English, not just for the “… rich vocabulary, interesting and diverse idioms, proverbs,”, but above all for the strengthening of relationships it has enabled me throughout my professional career and personal life. An enriching gift!

    Rather than thinking of it as “undemocratic” (sorry Mr Barker) I see it as a necessary link to a vast audience, allowing us to share and democraticise… views, feelings, suggestions, mutual understanding, ways to promoting peace and development across the world.

    Thank you all for your opinions.

    Posted by Maria Costa on 25th May, 2010
  • Well, I completely agree with Brian Barker. I’m a Brazilian Portuguese speaker and, after 20 years “fighting” with English, I don’t feel so comfortable as when I talk in Esperanto. It’s easy to learn, it’s neutral and completely useful for international communication. Why not to give to Esperanto a chance to show its potential?

    Posted by Paulo Amariz on 31st May, 2010
  • I apologise. Perhaps I should have used the word “imperialist” about English 🙂 Brian

    Posted by Brian Barker on 31st May, 2010
  • Well the fact that Esperanto is so easy to learn is only because it hasn’t yet been developed into a fully blown functional language.

    Actually, the opposite has happened: Esperanto already is a full-blown functional language – has been for decades – all the while remaining (relatively) easy to learn. Note the keyword relatively: even if Esperanto is a few times easier to learn than English, even for speakers of non-Indo-European languages, it’s still a complete language, and requires a significant investment. It’s just that the investment is counted in hundreds, not thousands, of hours, and you get a lot more bang for your buck.

    People are complicated…

    No argument there.

    … and if Esperanto ends up being used by so many people it will also develop into a complicated language with lots and lots of thick books being published and sold (for good money) about its grammar and pronunciation.

    Only if Esperanto is spoken widely as a first language by groups of people with relatively little contact with each other. That’s not Esperanto’s vocation (an easy-to-learn second language for all), it’s not the case currently (about 99.9% of all current Esperanto speakers learn it as a second language, and the community is scattered around the glob yet uses it widely to communicate with others of different native languages), and Esperanto certainly is not heading in that direction. On the contrary, Esperanto has remained amazingly constant and uniform, due to the stabilizing effect of its international community and its ease of learning.

    I think the argument should be…how many people will have to start learning Esperanto from scratch vs how many people have to learn English now. And what about computer software in Esperanto, websites in Esperanto and so on…?

    I’ve done the math. Let’s assume Esperanto is 5 times easier to learn than English – i.e., that it takes 5 times less time to reach a given level of competence in Esperanto than to reach the same level in English (studies suggest Esperanto easier than that, but for argument’s sake…) Most people in the world – about 80% – do not speak English; to get everyone speaking Esperanto from scratch would cost *far* less than to get only the 80% who do not yet speak English to learn it. Even if we were to assume that the 20% or so who speak English are the only ones who need to, and that only they would need to learn Esperanto, consider that people have a limited lifespan, and that a rising generation needs to be taught. Even in that case, in just over 20 years, the total, accumulated cost of teaching just those people Esperanto from scratch and then maintaining the status quo by continuing to teach the rising generation would equal the total, accumulated cost of just maintaining the status quo in English by teaching the rising generation in just over 20 years. After that, the total accumulated cost of English would rise higher and higher over that of Esperanto.

    As for translating things into Esperanto, the same type of recycling phenomenon exists: old publications become obsolete or fall into oblivion, and new ones make the scene at an ever-increasing rate. Esperanto is easy enough to learn, fluency being within reach of everyone, that people will be able either to translate their own works into good Esperanto, or write them directly in good Esperanto, and will often do so (that’s what happens now), unlike English, where expensive translators must almost always be hired. The same cost-crossover effect would occur as for teaching people the language.

    The best way to know for sure is to try it out for yourself. For anyone who’s interested, http://www.lernu.net is a good starting place, with a number of free self-study courses of varying levels.

    Posted by Miĉjo on 31st May, 2010
  • I’ll be short. I just completed a career as an English as a Second Language teacher. Why is English still spreading and dominating other languages? Average people tell me it’s because the Beatles were great. (They were.) However most people don’t understand history. Languages spread and disappear largely through force. This is what truly attracts people: strength, military strength. But there will always be a non-violent/peace-loving minority who wants languages to spread for peaceful purposes AND UNDERSTAND HISTORY. That is why I support Esperanto since I was a sixteen-year-old, several decades ago. From its inception by Zamenhof until today it attracts many idealists. For the best of Esperanto my English blog is at EsperantoFriends. Please join us for friendship and peace.

    Posted by Neil Blonstein on 1st June, 2010
Leave a Comment
* Required Fields