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English Today: Keeping up with the Lingua Franca

All languages change over time, and so does English, the lingua franca of our times. Learning the grammar and vocabulary the traditional way is not enough anymore. In order to keep up with what is acceptable, normal and creative in the English language, we need to listen to how people communicate in recent works of literature, journalism and various forms of social media. The more connected we become through digital mechanisms, the faster our community-specific “lingos” develop and the further away we stray from what was once considered the norm. It also seems that British English is losing its status as “the most correct way” to speak and write English and that US English is becoming more understandable to a growing number of people.

There is great freedom and confusion in sight regarding the choice of words and style of writing.

Native speakers who live in a non-native English-speaking country have various ways of keeping up with their language, and the same methods apply to the non-native users of English, too. Visits to the home country occur but may not be effective regarding language updates. Restoring the mother tongue requires proper, several months’ immersion in the culture. As this is not possible, many rely on following their favorite TV shows, stand-up comedians, websites and publications. Audiobooks, urban dictionaries, corpus collections, the Economist and Vanity Fair, for example, are in frequent use by language professionals living in fear of becoming linguistically estranged. When editing a translated text, it may be a good idea to have it read by someone who has no idea about the source language to avoid too much foreign influence.

The social media, Twitter in particular, have greatly impacted our use of language for about ten years now. In order to convey a message in 140 or fewer characters, we compromise punctuation, capitalization, spelling and often readability. Yet we tend to get our points across. Twitter has become an important medium for politicians and journalists and a way to gain interest with hashtagged buzzwords or to spread strategically coined semantic prosodies. At the moment, it is considered the fastest channel for new information, but this status may be lost soon due to economic realities. Twitter is not advertising as much as other social media and publications and is thus losing money.

For these thoughts and many more, I’d like to thank the Nordic Editors and Translators association and the Finnbrit Language Centre for their seminar on March 10, 2017. Special thanks to featured speakers Carol Norris, Pamela Kaskinen, Jukka Tyrkkö and Nely Keinänen.

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