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Language adapts to people not the contrary.

Posted by on 29 juin 2021

My English will never be ‘perfect’ – and that’s what keeps a language alive

As a child, I mixed English with Arabic. Now I know there’s no such thing as a fixed language that belongs to one special group.

A sign for English lessons in Nawalgarh, Rajasthan, India
A sign for English lessons in Nawalgarh, Rajasthan, India. Photograph: Alamy

My first day in an English-speaking school was miserable. It was full of little humiliations: the kind that with the hindsight of adulthood seem trivial but in childhood plant the seed of a feeling of inadequacy that one can never expel.

My family had just moved to Kenya, where English was the official language. I was seven and could not speak a word of it, having grown up until that point in an Arabic-speaking country, and been educated at an Arabic school.


Even standard English has undergone “nativisation” of its own through history, absorbing huge amounts of French vocabulary for example, with even a sprinkling of Arabic in there too. No version of English we speak now is “pure”, so policing pronunciation, or indeed any other arbitrary code of language, is futile – the equivalent of patrolling an ever-shifting border.

The purpose of language is to facilitate communication. The magic of language is its capacity to spontaneously evolve to facilitate that communication, incorporating and accommodating the influences, and thus the needs, of those who use it. Caring about the integrity of the English language and allowing it to breathe and change go hand in hand. One could even say they were interwined.

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