Essay: Does the English language really need the letter X?

from The Daily Mail
How English as we know it is disappearing ... to be replaced by 'Panglish'
27th March 2008

The tongue of Shakespeare could be fragmenting, as English evolves into a global language
It is English but not as we know it.

A new global tongue called "Panglish" is expected to take over in the decades ahead, experts say.

Linguists say the language of Shakespeare and Dickens is evolving into a new, simplified form of English which will be spoken by billions of people around the world.
The changes are not being driven by Britons, Americans or Australians, but the growing number of people who speak English as a second language, New Scientist reports.
According to linguists, Panglish will be similar to the versions of English used by non-native speakers. As the new language takes over, "the" will become "ze", "friend" will be "frien" and the phrase "he talks" will become "he talk".
By 2010 around two billion people - or a third of the world's population - will speak English as a second language. In contrast, just 350 million people will speak it as a first language.
Most interactions in English now take place between non-English speakers, according to Dr Jurgen Beneke of the University of Hildesheim, Germany.
By 2020 the number of native speakers will be down to 300 million. That's the point where English, Spanish, Hindi-Urdu and Arabic will have the same number of native speakers, according to predictions.
As English becomes more common, it will increasingly fragment into regional dialects, experts believe.
Braj Kachru, of Ohio State University - one of the world's leading experts in English as a second language - said non-native English dialects were already become unintelligible to each other.
Singaporean English, for instance, combines English with Malay, Tamil and Chinese and is difficult for English-speaking Westerners to understand.
"There have always been mutually unintelligible dialects of languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Hindi and Latin," he said. "There is no reason to believe that the linguistic future of English will be any different."
At the same time as new dialects develop, global English - or Panglish - will become simpler.
Unlike French - which is jealously protected from corruption by the Academie Francaise - there is no organisation to police the English language.
Linguists say Panglish will lose some of the English sounds which non-native speakers find difficult to pronounce. That could see the "th" sounds in "this" and "thin" replaced by "z" or "s" respectively, and the short "l" sound in "hotel" replaced with the longer "l" of "lady".
Consonants will also vanish from the end of words - turning "friend" into "frien" and "send" into "sen". And group nouns like "information" and "furniture" - which don't have plural versions - could vanish, so that it may become acceptable in Panglish to talk about "informations" and "furnitures".
Non-English speakers often forget the "s" at the end of third person singular verbs like "he runs" or "she walks". In Panglish, people may say "he talk" or "she eat".
Suzette Haden Elgin, a retired linguist formerly at San Diego State University in California, said the future of global English was unclear.
"I don't see any way we can know whether the ultimate results of what's going on now will be Panglish - a single English that would have dialects but would display at least a rough consensus about its grammar - or scores of wildly varying Englishes all around the globe, many or most of them heading toward mutual unintelligibility."
Within 100 years, it should be possible to known which way English is heading, she added.
One of the most famous examples of a language that fragmented is Latin.
By AD300, a new offshoot of Latin - "vulgar Latin"- was being spoken by the masses with its own grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. Over the next 500 years it split into increasingly regional dialects. By AD800 had evolved into a series of mutually unintelligible languages, the forerunners of modern Italian, French and Spanish.
And Latin and English themselves are both offshoots of a much older language, Indo-European, which split some 4,000 years ago, giving rise to Celtic, Greek, Slavic, Indo-Iranian and other branches.
©2008 Associated Newspapers Ltd

from the February 06, 2008 edition -
Essay: Does the English language really need the letter X?
X is a quirky letter of the alphabet.
By Robert Klose
I recently had an interesting interaction with one of my biology students. He had written a laboratory report in which he repeated spelled the plural of "matrix" as "matrixes." Knowing my own mind in these things, I crossed out the first instance of this misspelling and wrote in the margin of his paper, "It's spelled 'matrices.' "
When the student saw my notation, he shook his head slowly and despondently. Then he looked up at me. "I hate the letter X," he said, and it was clear that he wasn't joking.
Well, X is a curious letter, certainly a movable feast as far as pronunciation is concerned. Sometimes it stands its ground, as when some people pronounce it like the name of the letter itself: "X-avier" for "Xavier." At others, it horns in on the perfectly serviceable "ks" or "cs" sound, as in, well, "matrix." It can also be silent, as in the imported word "faux." And it has been known to have Z-envy – "xylophone."
Confusing, yes, but certainly not a reason to dislike it. Language is, after all, a game with many twists and turns. As an example, recall the old saw about the relative positions of "i" and "e": Use "i" before "e" except after "c" or when sounded like "a" as in neighbor or weigh." Great advice, until one bumps up against a word like "protein." Suddenly, the game proceeds in a different direction.
But back to the letter X. Where did it come from, anyway? It seems to be a long story, involving Greeks, Semites, and even Etruscans. Wikipedia says that because it was placed near the end of the Greek alphabet, it was an innovation – I would guess – to clarify some sound that the other letters of the Greek alphabet weren't quite nailing. Be that as it may, the Etruscans borrowed the letter from the Greeks and, before their civilization died out, charitably conveyed it to the Romans. We got it from Latin.
But as for my woebegone student, "charitable" is not the most, er, charitable word to use. He did get over his frustration with the letter X, but little did he know that he was also making a point: The English language really doesn't need the letter X. For example, "ax." Couldn't this also be spelled "aks" (think of the plural of yak – yaks)? And xylophone, like zebra, would rest easier on people's spelling ability if the X would surrender unconditionally to Z.
But would the X-aviers of the world make a fuss? After all, it's one thing to alter the spelling of a tool or musical instrument, but quite another to monkey with something as personal as a name, especially in an age when parents are bending common monikers out of all recognition in an effort to make their kids stand out: Jhon versus John, Jaymes versus James, Toreesa versus Theresa. (I once met a student whose name was spelled "RobBurt." Even he winced when he had to spell it for someone.)
But "Ekzavier"? Well, I suppose, although I don't think most Americans would cotton to jux- (or juks-) -taposing a K and a Z. Besides, having an X at the beginning of one's name has a mildly intriguing air of mystery about it,
I don't think there is any danger of X dropping out of the alphabet. And I know of no formal recommendations in this regard.
In fact, I personally think it's a great letter, which has been repeatedly called upon for special duties. I recall old movies in which an illiterate person was asked to make his or her mark in lieu of a signature. Invariably he or she would carefully pen an X, even though there were 25 other letter choices.
When pirates unfurled their treasure maps, it was X and not Q that marked the spot. And when a phenomenon exists, or is postulated to exist, which defies the imagination or is, at first, poorly grasped, we use an X to denote the limits of our understanding: X-rays, planet X, The X-Files.
With all this in mind, I later received a call from my X-challenged student about another academic matter. I took the opportunity to share my ruminations on the letter X with him. He listened politely and finally volunteered, "Well, I guess it's not so big a deal."
I smiled into the receiver. "Exactly," I said. And then I spelled it out for him: "E-k-z-a-c-t-l-y."
I hope he didn't write that down.

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