Is resistance futile? Or can we go Globish?

News reports from Iran say that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ordered governmental agencies, newspapers and publications to use modified Persian words instead of English terms such as pizza and chat. The emphasis is on words slipping in from English, French and other European languages, but Persian has many more loan words from Arabic. 

An online Persian Language Purification Project on the Iranian Languages & Scripts site offers an open opportunity to help “reinvigorate ‘sareh’ (or pure) Persian” by suggesting available—or new—Persian words to replace the foreign equivalents now in use and to provide samples of pure Persian online. These suggestions, which participants can comment on, are available as lists of revived and new words and may become an online lexicon of borrowings and Persian equivalents.

Will it work? The reports say many Iranians are skeptical about trading the foreign terms for Persian circumlocutions and inventions. But even if Persian is purified in Iran, the Persian-speaking teenagers in Los Angeles and Paris are not likely to give up pizza.

Meanwhile, in The New York Times, Noam Cohen writes that with English growing stronger around the world, perhaps—rather than fighting all incursions from English—countries dealing with this problem might adopt a simpler form of the language as a means of basic communication. He cites a report that says that as many as a billion people speak English as their first or second language now.

Cohen also describes the World English Project (to teach the language in schools) and the development of a sort of controlled language or simplified English called Globish. Jacques Lévy of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology comments about Globish that he likes “its idea of reminding native English speakers that they cannot assume that the entire world is as fluent as they are.”

Cohen also points out that “if there are two billion people who can speak English, the English speaker without knowledge of another language will be at a disadvantage.”

So, if a standardized simplified “Globish” English will work, what about Globish versions of Persian, Spanish and Chinese for those of us English speakers who would like to acquire other languages and know that fluency is more than we can hope for? A systematic Global Chinese (Globese?) rather than a “catch as catch can” vocabulary picked up along the way. 

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