Since English is the world’s lingua franca, I wonder what dialect or accent of it will emerge in the coming decades as the most admired and most easily understood.
Will a new style of English pronunciation arise? One sounding neither British nor American? One that avoids the peculiarly English sounds I’ve been writing about lately?
Recently I was talking to a well educated Egyptian professional. His command of idiomatic English was perfect, but his accent was impossible to place. I thought, “He could be from anywhere on the planet.” He was smack in the middle of the “linguistic comfort zone.” No one would find him difficult to understand; everyone would be instantly comfortable in conversation with him.
I began thinking about a dialectal equivalent of Esperanto. Esperanto, while clearly Western Indo-European, is a constructed language that cannot be identified with any nation state, and therefore favors none politically.
What would a global English dialect sound like, I wondered, free from any identifying pronunciation.
Of course, in such a dialect, the “r” sound would be tapped or trilled – its most common treatment among the world’s languages. So “we would huRRy quickly thRough the daRk foRest bRinging pRetty pResents home to gRandma.” Notice: hurry, through, dark, forest, bring, pretty, presents, grandma.
English is almost alone in having those pesky ‘TH” sounds; they have to go! Through and the will become trough and da. So “we would huRRy quickly TRough Da daRk foRest bRinging pRetty pResents home to gRandma.”
Since English “w” sounds are difficult for some, let’s replace them with a hybrid sound between “w” and “v” and nobody will complain. So “Ve Vould huRRy qVickly TRough Da daRk foRest bRinging pRetty pResents home to GRandma.” Notice: we, would, quickly.
As I reminded you in an earlier blog, the aspirated, voiceless plosive is found almost nowhere outside English. So pot, top, and cop (aspirated) have to change to top, pot, and cop (unaspirated). So much easier! Now, “Ve Vould huRRy QViCKly TRough Da daRk foRest bRinging PRetty PResents home To gRandma.” Notice: quickly, pretty, to, and presents.
The English “ng” is often a clue to someone’s national origin. So instead of bringing (with the “g” sounds silent), I’m admitting bringing (with the “g” sounded). English without guilt for another 50 million friends! Now “Ve Vould huRRy QViCKly TRough Da daRk foRest bRinGinG PRetty PResents home To gRandma.”
Should we change the “h” sound for our friends who don’t have it? Let’s do it! Make it a “kh” sound on the soft palate? Or just drop it? Your choice! So hurry (guttural) or home (dropped “h”). Now “Ve Vould KHuRRy QViCKly TRough Da daRk foRest bRinGinG PRetty PResents ‘ome To gRandma.”
Of course, we’ve addressed only consonants! There are lots of peculiarly English vowels. At the top of the list are the lax, short “i” of kit and the lax, short “oo” of put. They have to go. So would (short “u”) must be would (long “u”); and quickly, bringing, and pretty (short “i”) will become quEEkly, brEEnging, and prEEty.
Let’s add all these sounds together, and do some time-traveling eavesdropping on future English:
Ve VOOld KHuRRy QVEECKly TRough Da daRk foRest bREEnGinG PREEtty PResents ‘ome To gRandma.
Try it on for size! What do you think might be the sound of global English in 2058? Let me know.