CWM: In your lecture of ‘The Language of the Internet’ (on the 10th of February 2012 in Rotterdam) you mentioned that the future of language, and more precisely of the English language had not yet been radically affected by the Internet. You also mentioned translation programs and apps that might help with conserving language, that there might even be no need for a lingua franca like English anymore because of these translating devices. Do you think that that might affect the way people view accents, especially non-native speaker’s accents?
Crystal: We’re thinking a long way ahead, when talking about efficient translating devices. Basic phrase-book-level ‘Babel fish’ will come soon, but providing sophisticated translation is going to be a very different matter. When I said there may be no need for a global lingua franca, I was really thinking of the main uses that lingua francas have had in the past, in formal international contexts. There will of course always be a place for lingua francas in everyday domestic settings and in settings where electronic devices are impracticable or useless (eg because of a lack of power).
The important thing is that you are intelligible, in whatever accent you use, while remaining proud of your regional identity.
The Internet is already reinforcing altered perceptions of accent. With five non-native speakers in the world for every one native speaker, and a huge variety of educated accents now heard around the English-speaking world, the old notion of RP (or General American) as being in some way special is really outmoded. And the anonymity present in much of the Internet means that nobody knows whether you are a native or a non-native speaker anyway. The important thing is that you are intelligible, in whatever accent you use, while remaining proud of your regional identity.