Vehicular Dialect

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As both British subject and American citizen, I have both styles of speech available to me. But the style I use most of the time, particularly for these blogs, is a blend — the sort of mid-Atlantic you hear me using now. It steers a middle way between Britspeak and Yanktalk.

For example:

I use only light r-coloration when I say burn, barn, and born, instead of full-strength British (burn, barn, born) or full-strength American (burn, born, born).

I say bath, somewhere between the British (bath) and the American (bath).

I say thought, somewhere between the British (thought) and the American (thought).

I opt for secretary and schedule, American style, rather than the more British secretary and schedule. But I prefer hurry and marry, Brit-style, rather than the more prevalent hurry and marry of many Americans.

Some say this reminds them of an earlier style of American broadcast speech. Listen, for example, to Edward R. Murrow, the great radio journalist, broadcasting from London in 1945. My fellow theatre speech trainers advocate this same style for performing classical roles in Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Euripedes, since it seems to have a fortunate timelessness and placelessness.

In our search for a global style of English — one not overtly British, American, Canadian, or Australian — this seems to fit the bill, providing a kind of linguistic passport or lingua franca. Perhaps vehicular dialect is the term that might best describe it. A vehicular language is one that “goes beyond the boundaries of its original community and is used as a second language for communication between communities.” I’m quoting from the Wikipedia article on lingua franca here.

So perhaps VE, short for Vehicular English, would be a good term to use, describing a dialect that navigates between the many Englishes spoken on this planet. However, I imagine Global English is the term that says it most clearly.

Whatever we call it, the concept is attractive. Particularly for those of you listening to me whose first language isn’t English, but who seek an English style of speech that will open doors around the world, VE is what you might best pursue.

I’ll finish by quoting Socrates on Justice, who speaks to us from the ancient time, in a voice without connotations of modern national and political boundaries—a perfect candidate for VE. This is from Benjamin Jowett’s translation of Plato’s Republic, Book 2:


“Glaucon … said to me: Socrates, do you wish really to persuade us, or only to seem to have persuaded us, that to be just is always better than to be unjust?

I should wish really to persuade you, I replied, if I could.

Then you certainly have not succeeded. Let me ask you now: How would you arrange goods—are there not some which we welcome for their own sakes, and independently of their consequences, as, for example, harmless pleasures and enjoyments, which delight us at the time, although nothing follows from them?

I agree in thinking that there is such a class, I replied.

Is there not also a second class of goods, such as knowledge, sight, health, which are desirable not only in themselves, but also for their results?

Certainly, I said.

And would you not recognize a third class, such as gymnastic, and the care of the sick, and the physician’s art; also the various ways of money-making—these do us good but we regard them as disagreeable; and no one would choose them for their own sakes, but only for the sake of some reward or result which flows from them?

There is, I said, this third class also. But why do you ask?

Because I want to know in which of the three classes you would place justice?

In the highest class, I replied, among those goods which he who would be happy desires both for their own sake and for the sake of their results.”