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English the &iLingua Franca&j




English is virtually the worldīs lingua franca. This places on it a special responsibility. It has the advantages of a rich vocabulary and a simple grammar. Its disadvantages are an absurd spelling and a lack of consistent and clear pronunciation. I listen every day to the news in many languages. Castilian Spanish is by far the clearest, indeed it is beautifully so.

English is going from bad to worse. Oxford English used to be the standard, but it is now downgraded to RP (received pronunciation). Then, quite naturally, the U.S. began promoting "American English." But what is that? Some years ago, politicians were advised to use the local lingo so as to be close to the voters. But I have travelled in the South and when I met some rustic people we could not understand each other.

Then the BBC, formerly the beacon of RP, followed the same course, telling its announcers to adopt the local pronunciation; this was in addition to the confusion caused by the promotion of Welsh. A school of linguists was to blame, among them the noted Economst columnist with the penname Johnson. He was at it again in the issue of 3/27/99, although he reports that the BBC has ordained that "whatever the accent, words must be spoken clearly." That is a flexible statement. Some of my American friends find some varieties of English incomprehensible.

We need a new standard pronunciation, be it English or American. It should meet two criteria, which Castilian meets. It must be clear and harmonious. There are objective ways of testing various pronunciations to this end, but linguists have not studied the problem. In the name of lingua franca, they should.

Ronald Hilton - 04/08/99


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