Ann Althouse riffs off a NYT piece on how English as a second language is surpassing English as a native language. The article seems like one of those "top 5 topics on X" approaches, where different current events are fitted together, without solid overview or connection. But it does touch on some interesting topics:
o The differing advantages of writing English for widest accessibility, or for deepest accessibility and most engagement (idioms, regionalisms, cultural references). I think we need both, but I don't know how to describe when to use one or the other, and it was almost shocking to see someone else actually discuss this topic.
o How the dynamics of international interaction will change for the person who has spoken English from birth and who has not acquired additional skills.
o Nominal material on the use of English as a world hub language... nothing new here, but rare to see it in print, much less in the New York Times.
"Mr. Nerrière said he got the idea from his travels in Asia while working for I.B.M. 'I observed that my communication with my Japanese or Korean colleagues [using limited-vocab English] was much easier, much more efficient, and much less inhibited than what I could observe between them and the American associates traveling with me,' he said."
"As the world learns to deal with the domination of English, whether through Globish or the more-intensive language training proposed by the British Council report, it is native English speakers who could be in need of extra preparation. Though English fluency can seem like the key to the kingdom today, in the future, if there are two billion people who can speak English, the English speaker without knowledge of another language will be at a disadvantage." (What's missing here is the understanding that language needs may differ: someone in Korea studying English requires very different levels of mastery than someone in Boston studying for a global future. Moving in to the hub is a different dynamic than moving out from the hub... different advantages, different requirements.)
"I think the kind of crisp short words used in web-writing are going to spread and people won't confine themselves to a tedious word list that requires them to construct clunky phrases containing boring filler like 'in which.' There will be some sort of global English, but I think it's likely to be, not Nerrière's 1,500 building blocks, but the kind of clear, straightforward English that makes for good blog writing. And you can write real literature in this language. Man, Nerrière annoys me. His vision of the future is no fun at all. It's infuriatingly desiccated! Or should I say it is so dry it makes me mad." (Part of me gags when hearing webtext held up as a model, but I'm not yet sure exactly what she was visualizing at the time.... ;-)
In this last quote we get to an important issue: How to write text for best use. Widest range is one goal; deepest engagement is another. These may not be mutually contradictory -- we may be able to write on multiple levels at once, with main ideas laid out in accessible English, and coloring added in engaging English. (I just invented those labels, by the way. :) A single conscientously-constructed message may be able to be read by multiple audiences simultaneouly, if you can insert the appropriate writing styles into the necessary places in the argument.
There is great intentionality when writing direct mail ads, or other commercial text which is measured by the response it receives. I have seen few discuss the appropriate construction of informal online messages (most bloggers can't seem to get to the point yet) (and I guess, because I'm rambling here, this would include me ;-) much less discuss this construction in the calculated method required to limn main points in accessible English, and amplifications in engaging English.
Summary: After reading those articles, and thinking a few days, here's what I end up with: I want to study the construction of messages whose main points are accessible to a wide audience, and whose deeper detail is rewarding to those who have studied the language more deeply. Of course, a summary with a semi-colon may not be the best example here, much less if I add some trailing ellipses....