Archives par mot-clé : language

Divine interjection

Watching television and listening to podcasts in English has made me aware of something about interjections: a lot of them are references to God or Christianity. Many people casually use interjections such as “oh my God”, or “Jesus”, without thinking too much about it. But is this religious aspect important to those who use them? It doesn’t look that way.
The fact that a person uses terms like “God” or “Jesus” in their daily life could mean that they are more or less Christian, it could also simply mean that they were raised in a Christian environment, or even that the use of those interjections has become part of the English language. It is quite interesting to think hat, about only a few decades ago, such expressions were considered profane language. People supposedly swore so that their words would have impact, but that same impact has lost its force nowadays due to the widespread use of profanity in our modern society.
In the “No Fear Shakespeare” section of SparkNotes1, you can compare original Shakespeare texts with translations into ‘modern English’. There, you will find the interjection “oh my God” being used as a translation for Gertrude’s “oh, me” in act 3, scene 4. An example that shows how such interjections have become more common in English throughout the years. Of course, some religious people still criticize the use of such interjections nowadays, but they do not seem to be as numerous as the people who use them. However, you can still hear more neutral versions of those religious interjections, such as “geez » (for Jesus) or “oh my gosh” (for “oh my God”), which shows that some people are still conscious of the religious aspect of these exclamations. There is also the other end of that spectrum, mostly on the internet, where people are trying to come up with more elaborated versions, often as jokes; my personal favorite being “jumpin’ Jesus on a Pogo Stick”, which shows some creativity, as opposed to others that just sound disgusting or rude even to non-Christians.

« jumpin’ Jesus on a Pogo Stick »

The spread of the acronym “OMG”— oh my God — on the internet also led to other cultures using it. In France, for example, you might even find a text fully written in French with that acronym being used as an interjection2. This Anglicism may seem weird considering that French interjections related to God and religion have more or less disappeared from young people’s language, such as “bon Dieu” or « Jésus, Marie, Joseph”.
Thus, it appears that most people using these interjections, whether they be native English speakers or not, do not use them to call upon God’s name or because they are part of the Christian community, but rather because such divine interjections have become part of modern English and modern usage in general with “oh my God” being used in countries that are not part of the English-speaking world like France.

1http://nfs.sparknotes.com/

2http://sandraelle.com/article-oh-my-god-40693767.html

Other sources:

-Crowther, John, ed. “No Fear Hamlet.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2005. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
-Floyd. « Top 25 Des Interjections Qui Ont Mal Vieilli, Nom D’une Pipe En Bois ! » La vie, du côté top. Topito. 30 May 2015. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
-Sandra. “Oh my God!!!” Sandra, dans tous ses états. sandraelle.com. 8 Dec. 2009. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
SwankSpike. “Jumpin’ Jesus on a Pogo Stick” Urban dictionary is written by you. Urban dictionary. 01 Mar. 2006. Web. 19 Feb. 2016

Picture by Charlotte Khemiri.

What Future for English?

One of the great advantages of studying English is that it does not just grant access to a wide array of different English-speaking cultures extending over five continents, but to a rich repository of non-native cultures as well.

A scholar of English literature does not only read Wilde, Walcott and Hemingway, but also Nabokov, Conrad, Ishiguro and Rushdie. Nowadays English is not only the universal second language, but also the second most spoken native tongue worldwide, the official language of 70 countries, which controls about 40% of the world’s total GNP1, and influences international media, cinema, music, science and computing. But how long will its supremacy last?

That English has become the de facto universal language is less tied to the language itself, and more to the former dominance of the industrially-preeminent British Empire, and the current influence of American political, economical, technological and cultural hegemony. By a lucky coincidence, it also happens to be “one of the simplest and easiest natural languages in the world”2, thus more easy to acquire by large foreign populations, and easier to adjust to diplomacy and business, science and culture, all at once.

Yet universal languages rise and fall. French was a lingua franca in the 18th century, the “unchallenged sine qua non of diplomatic patter”3. It had dislodged Latin, which had itself dethroned Greek; in the era of world mass communication, English has long since toppled French, but how long before it gets deposed in turn? If language is, above all, a powerful tool of subjugation, its importance necessarily fades whenever the power erecting it dwindles. If China is to be the new world empire, who is to say Chinese will not become the new universal language?

According to a study by The Washington Post4, native speakers’ charts clearly put Chinese and Hindi-Urdu-Bengali – all dialects included – massively ahead of English, with Arabic and Spanish closely on its tail. These languages also prevail from an economic-influential vantage point. If we are looking for the most geographically-disseminated languages, we should add French to the list, and we should not neglect Russian if it is culturally influential languages we seek.

Does that mean we will eventually find ourselves specialists of a fading language? Of course not: English will certainly remain a major global language for yet a very long time. It is highly unlikely, however, that it will remain as dominant worldwide as a second language in academia and culture. If one indicator arises from this study, it is that the future will not be made of one but of several linguae francae, and none more prominent than the digital signals of the Internet. English will continue to thrive as a cultural repository, but may no longer remain the vector of universal understanding. Learners – and more so scholars – might soon have to reevaluate the pertinence of settling for a single global language, for the days of unilingual imperialism may very well be numbered.

 


1 Torres, Carlos Carrion. « English as a Universal Language ». Omniglot. [http://www.omniglot.com/language/articles/engunilang.php]

2 Ibid.

3 Pulvers, Roger. “The days may be numbered for English as a universal second language”. The Japan Times: 03/03/2013.

4 Noack, Rick. « The Future of Language ». The Washington Post: 24/09/2015.