Monday, September 29, 2014

David Crystal on Contemporary English and Its Possible Futures

David Crystal is a British linguist who has written engagingly on various aspects of the English language.  I came across this video on youtube and I thought readers of this blog might find it interesting:

I was really struck by Crystal's observation that there are 400 million Indians who speak English.  That is a huge block of English speaking people.  And as Crystal notes the dialect that has developed in India has its own shape and norms.  And I suspect that these norms will influence how English is spoken and comprehended in the English speaking world at large.

From the perspective of prosody, and how English language poetry is shaped and heard, I think there are a number of applications, or tendencies, that are already reshaping English language verse.  I have written before about how I suspect that the emergence of syllabic verse in an English language context is at least partly due to English becoming a global language.  Add to that global context the relative lack of accentual contours in some of these populations, like India, and this creates a precedent for a non-metrical approach to English language poetry.

This is particularly true, I think, for formal verse in English.  What I sense is a kind of shift from the accentual to the syllabic.  A good indicator of this is, I think, the way Syllabic Haiku has become so widespread and how it has assumed a place in popular culture.  The widespread usage of Syllabic Haiku, of a form that counts syllables in three lines of 5-7-5, has created a numerically large group of people who have approached English language verse in syllabic terms.  What this means is that someone who has the experience of composing Syllabic Haiku will not have difficulty understanding a syllabic approach to the sonnet, even though that approach differs from the traditional metrical approach.  The basic mechanism of counting syllables is the same in both cases.

As Crystal notes it is difficult to make claims for the future.  Even so I think it is clear to all of us interested in language, and specifically English, that the contours of the language are changing.  And I suspect that the contours of our poetry will change as well.

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