Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Other Englishes Are Available

 I mentioned that I got into trouble with some transatlantic commentators for querying whether it was "hockey" or "ice hockey" at the Sochi (Winter) Olympics. They accused me of being ignorant of North American English and of the context. In the end I had to say: "Only a joke, chaps, ok?" But there was a serious point lurking behind the cousinly (I hope) teasing - there are some Canadians and US-ans in our clan, after all. And in fairness I ought to add that I came in halfway on a conversation (as happens with Twitter) where my Canadian friend was pointing out that the Winter Olympics were not all about "hockey". I was sort of supporting this and pointing out, jokingly, that it was even true that other types of hockey were available. And indeed that perhaps the world looks different from India, or Malaysia or even the UK. (This was quite possibly partly the point he was making, but I had missed the start of the exchange.)

One more serious point was that we all tend to favour our own dialect - or favourite sport. But also that AmE is increasingly dominant and it could be argued the default dialect and therefore the most important. Speakers of other Englishes argue back and resist but know we are probably doomed. So, North Americans think "hockey" means "ice hockey" and if you want to talk about that obscure sport not played on ice you have to qualify it, adding "field". And it seems quite likely this will become true in due course. At the moment, though, guys / chaps, the IOC, and many of the official websites in the hockey-playing world disagree. Remember the millions of Indians and Pakistanis who consider it a national sport. But maybe soon they will all be trying newer, more technologically demanding sports, snowboarding and so on.

A similar thing is evident in printed and digital media: in the UK we used to think the Times was the Times. There might be others in New York (NYT) or indeed any town in the English-speaking world but the Times was "the Thunderer" and, it goes / went without saying, in London.

Now the Observer contains a European edition / supplement of the NYT every week. This (and perhaps increasingly the rest of the media) now refers to itself as "the Times". The poor old UK version will now have to be known as "the Times of London" and indeed refers to itself as such on Twitter and perhaps elsewhere. As with hockey, the minority (or is it non-North American) variety has to be qualified and explained, perhaps as something arcane or quaint, of minor interest. Inevitable perhaps, but annoying to us BrE speakers, not to mention millions on the sub-continent. NB other Englishes are still available - hurry while stocks last!

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