Common ground

Common Ground

If you live in Indiana or Tennessee, it may never occur to you to use the spellings organise, colour or oenology. Actually you might never use oenology, or the American counterpart enology for that matter, unless you are a true wine enthusiast. By the same token, if you live in London or Dublin, you would never consider using color or flavor. You may however use organize instead of organise, especially if you are an academic or follow Oxford Dictionaries’ spelling preferences.

But this situation appears to be changing with the increase in exposure to all regional varieties of English. And the common ground of course is the Internet, or if you prefer, the internet. Now we all have access to any corner of the world from our own living rooms, kitchens or local cafés.

During the last three decades I have lived in five countries and taught English to many non-native speakers, as well as native English speakers in the US at the university level. Foreign students of English are often exposed to a variety of “Englishes”, and often they don’t even realize there are variations of English. Add in their exposure to English worldwide on the Internet – the good, the bad and the truly ugly – and the result is a true hodgepodge of linguistic chaos. Pure anarchy.

Everyone is able to communicate in English, with some mishaps from time to time. So is there really a problem? For simply communicating, probably very little. For writing well and writing professionally. A lot. A heck of a lot. To use the colloquial, a helluva lot. (Yes, it is in Webster’s New World, 4th and 5th editions.)

Our common ground then is an English that can serve us as a useful tool to communicate both informally as well as an advanced tool for writing, be it for your own blog or to submit to The New York Times or the Financial Times.

Fortunately we are entering a time when there are more and more programs and tools to aid us in our writing endeavors (or endeavours). Under Links above, this blog will list some of the most useful sites and programs currently available.

2 thoughts on “Common ground

  1. The British and we are two peoples separated by a common language (attrib. famous British writer). Their cars roll [on the wrong side of the road] on tyres; the cars have “boots” and “bonnets”. Terribly Write mentioned that of all the British “our” words (“colour”, &c.), only one comes into American English with the “our” intact. Naturally, I forget which one.

    To your main point, have you ever looked into the efforts made to come up with a “universal language”? Esperanto was one. My own solution is ever so much simpler: everyone learns English. I also remember Basic English (which I though was on a level with trying to paint with only 5 colors).

    It used to be that a reasonably talented listener could tell you which part of the country a speaker came from, which state, which city, and even which part of a city (think New York City or Boston). But then we developed a sort of “received English”. taken from network newscasters &c.

    Whether or not the average college graduate can write and speak as well as his 19th Century counterpart is another topic.


    1. First, yes, the -or and -our distinction is interesting and a little more complicated (in fact, it is worth a separate blog — coming soon.) And dialectologists used to have it easier — our moving about nationally and internationally has presented them with many more challenges. (You are probably thinking about “glamour” — although some in the US try to spell it glamor which has some degree of acceptance — but in both the UK and US, the derivation is “glamorous”…interesting, isn’t it.)

      And thank you — in fact a major point of this blog is to discuss how we could simplify, while still keeping the richness of, English. This is a point that I have brought up in several blogs that talk about Globish, World English, International English, etc. Your thoughts are therefore greatly appreciated. Esperanto did not really take off, except as a novelty, because it was constructed, artificial. There are actually some speakers of Esperanto; I never got that hooked. But you can expect to see much more here about how we might consider a standard form of English while still maintaining our separate and rich dialects — sociolects and idiolects. See my discussions of diglossia in several blogs.


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