Globish Friends

I must have half a dozen friends who have told me they learned English by watching the American TV sitcom, “Friends.” 

My buddy Akmal from Uzbekistan even has the accent from his favourite character, Joey. (I have to say it was a little odd to hear him say “Hey! Fuggetaboutit!” — perfectly in character, in a street market in downtown Tashkent … but I digress.)

This occurred to me while reading the reviews of what I believe will be the first book I download on my spiffy new Father’s Day present. The book is called “Globish,” by Robert McCrum. Its premise is that English has now become the world’s default language, birthed by non-native English speakers who found they could communicate through an exchange of a basic vocabulary of English words. 

“Globish” (so named by a French former IBM executive) is “overwhelmingly an economic phenomenon,” according to a recent piece in the New Yorker — “(It’s) the language of Singaporean businessmen closing deals with the help of a small arsenal of English words, and of European officials calming financial markets by uttering stock phrases on television.” A review in the International Herald Tribune called Globish ‘”the worldwide dialect of the third millennium” sustained by, McCrum asserts, “the Internet, global marketing, mass consumerism, instant communications, international soccer, and texting and (Mr. McCrum is English) cricket and the legacy of Winston Churchill.”

At dinner in Dubai last week, the new client prospect I was meeting stopped herself in mid-sentence, laughing, no doubt, at the giant question mark hanging over my head. She paused to explain two Arabic words she had been sprinkling liberally into our conversation. She’s an Egyptian and has lived in seven different cities, picking up phrases and languages at every stop. 

I would argue she is also fluent in Globish. “Yanni” means “it means” and “massalan” means “for example,” she explained. 

My friend Hania (MD of Ketchum Raad Middle East) then added, “When you text “yanni” one does so by typing ya3ni. Using certain numbers such as 3 is the new Arabic way to express letters that not do not have an equivalent in English … such as 7 for the heavy Arabic ‘h’ in words like 7abibi [my love] — a very common word in Levant that we use for all! Also 2 for the ‘a’ in the middle of words sounding like ‘a’ in ‘at’.  For example, “Ya 2allah” = “Oh God”, another common phrase used when frustrated or sad. A third word commonly used among Arabs while speaking in English:  “Yalla” for “Come on” or “Let’s go.” This applies mostly to the new generation – it’s like the SMS lingo of LOL, cul8r.

“So — Ya 2allah! 2 hot for pool 2day.  Yalla … I have 2 go 3abibi!”

Confused? Well, take heart. There’s still plenty of room for retro language with the next generation, apparently.  

Yesterday, while watching the World Cup with my England-born daughter, we were whooping it up after a cracker of a goal by Brazil. She turned to me and asked “Hey Dada, what’s the word that Americans use when they’re excited about something?”

“Awesome?” I ventured.

“Yes – that’s it! Awesome!”