Sunday, November 20, 2005

Can We Define The Lingua Franca of Blogging?

Blogging has become a worldwide phenomenon, transcending geographical frontiers and delimiting borders. An astounding coterie of peoples in different countries around the globe, with differing ethnic and language backgrounds, all meet in the blogosphere in intimate and understandable two-way discourses of most topics under the sun. They congregate and flourish in countries big and small, from pint-sized Belgium to gigantic China. And the global explosion continues unabated exponentially.

But what would be the lingua franca of blogging, albeit unofficially?

A little review of the not too distant past might help us arrive at some consensus of an answer. For its birth as a new medium, blogging arguably owes its origins in the US. After all the words, weblogs, and its contracted form, blogs, were a creation of one of its own citizens, living close to technologically predisposed Silicon Valley in Northern California. Another US citizen gave us the word, blogosphere.

Understandably then because of its longevity, it is the US blogs, in most discernible categories, that are more sophisticated, widely read, and have become primal models for the rest of the world to track and follow. Most of the technologies now fueling the proliferation of blogs likewise owe their origins in the US. The top companies selling/leasing or making available the resources and media to create and maintain blogs are based in the US.

No doubt, there are blogs out there that are written in the authors' native tongues and are thus intended sectorally for those familiar with the languages. But we can deduce that the more popular and more respected ones are the ones written in English, whether they be authored by native-born speakers of English or by those whose multi-linguistic orientation allow them to also communicate using the King's language.

I well remember the widely read and eagerly anticipated Iraqi Raed who while in Baghdad during the onset of the current war, risked all to be able to update his blogs about the blistering bombing raids. All this in perfect English. Some respected blogs in the US debate relevant issues with their counterparts in countries in Europe, such as Belgium and Liechtenstein. Again using English as the medium. Many Asian countries, like the Philippines, can boast of cadres of blogs all written in either very good or at least understandable English, since at times entries are interspersed with the local languages or dialects. One can also spend time googling about blogs and their entries and the results would invariably show not only how geographically dispersed the blogs are but also that most of them are written in the locals' versions of the English language.

So is the answer: American English?

And written American English, to be specific?

I had to resort to re-reading old textbooks to arrive at some informed and adequately reasoned notions about this language we all call English.

I bet you not too many are familiar with the discussions on which of the two, spoken or written, exerts more weight on how and where the English language evolves or drifts.

We may not even be sure if there is one global entity called the English language, given the very many local dialects of English far removed from its origins which date back to pre-colonial times in the England of antiquity. There are many native-born speakers of English in many communities and countries, each distinctly speaking their own local versions or dialects of English. English-speaking USA has scores of dialects of English scattered throughout its many regions.

But first let's settle which is the egg and the chick in this dilemma. Many authorities point to spoken English as the primary determinant of language, giving it its grammar, syntax, pitch, tune, phrase, word meanings, etc. Written English is only some 2000 years in existence, but spoken English dates back to great antiquity. And many preach that spoken English grows with the speaker as he matures, interacting with the small circle that defines his environment - family, friends, community. It is this rather limited environment that defines for the speaker the kind of language that is integral to his existence, language that for him and like-minded speakers is the correct and appropriate form and usage.

So, indeed there is American English, though in reality many local variations of it culled from many distinct local flavors of spoken English, from the northeast, to the south, to the west, and those in between.

There is nothing to suggest however that there is one standard American English, fixedly determinate, definable, and monolithic.

And this conclusion could be tenable if we can discuss and accept the five simple facts about language that many liberal-minded linguists appear to agree on.

But first it must be noted that this viewpoint is not looked upon too kindly by those more conservative purists who consider language as fixed, assigned specific and permanent values in their original usage, and who generally consider changes in usage or locutions as unacceptable, implicitly comparing language to the tenacity and unchanging nature of moral absolutes.

The first simple fact is that language is basically speech. And we have shown why many adhere that spoken English is defined by the speaker in his little community, apart and distinct from the rest of his country. This is not to say that written language has no influence at all in his language, just that the influence is minimal or accidental.

Second, that language is personal. It is the experience and patterns of habit that are very intimate because it is only the sum of the individual's experiences, which is not expected to acquire all the wealth that a copious language can offer. And we are at one with the rest of the country because of our easy command of our own hometown's pitch, tune and phrase

The third fact is that language changes. It can change in sounds, meanings, and syntax, from one generation to another. While these changes may at times be imperceptible and imprecise, they can add up in time to perceptible changes and eventually to noticeable drifts.

Fourth, that users, one way or another, are isolated. Users maintain familiar and comfortable relationships that unite them into one language community. Isolation comes in many forms aside from just distance. It could come because of education, of economic status, of occupation or profession, age, sex, etc. Sometimes, these forces can exert greater influences on languages than oceans and rugged mountain terrain.

And fifth, language is a historical growth of a specific kind. True, the nature of English is akin to the laws of physics or physical reality. English simply is. But it changes much like physical reality. Land mass changes and geography is what it is today because of the geologic upheavals of the past. The same is true of the language of English.

The blogosphere has made possible certain assumptions:

a.Since it is essentially a medium catering to the written form, it goes without saying that because its use and patronage has become very pervasive and influential worldwide, the written form of the language, and in this instance, English, will in the future determine to a large extent how the language itself will evolve, grow, or change. Especially as a global language.

b.Secondly, the very phenomenon of the Internet has broken down physical barriers that used to impede the development and spread of language. The planet has become one global community and more particularly in this respect.

These developments then would tend to make irrelevant some if not all of the accepted basic facts of language enumerated above.

Are we then near the time when one global language will be determined, agreed upon, and assigned fixed values and meanings, for universality of form and usage?

Regardless of where this is heading to, English continues to be the language of choice in the blogosphere.

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