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prodigal tongue

How words get into the Oxford English Dictionary

I have seen the word "linguaphile" (meaning word lover or language lover) on Dictionary.com and the Free Dictionary, but it's not there in the Oxford English Dictionary. It no longer tries to be comprehensive. "The language is expanding so fast this may be an impossible mission," said Edmund Weiner, deputy chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Mark Abley recalls their conversation in his book, The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English, where he also writes about Singlish and other variants of the English language, as I mentioned here.

"The Internet poses problems," said Weiner. "We tend to avoid citing the Web unless we feel we really have to. What we've tended to cite are newsgroups and discussion groups – they guarantee to archive them for a long time. We've occasionally taken quotations from websites. But we don't like doing that."

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Singlish and English in Singapore

Mark Abley, journalist and author of The Prodigal TongueCanadian journalist Mark Abley, like the Observer's associate editor Robert McCrum, is fascinated by the sheer variety of English spoken and used across the globe. He notes with amusement what's happening in Singapore: the government's attempts to promote standard English failing to dislodge the Singlish spoken on the streets.

He devotes several pages to Singapore and Singlish in The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English. You could call it a traveller's notebook, exploring the differences in English from country to country. Anyone who loved The Story of English – where McCrum, Robert MacNeil and William Cran described how the language has evolved across the world – will enjoy reading this book.

Abley  (photo from his website) met Singaporean academics like Kirpal Singh and Lubna Alsagoff and Colin Goh of Talking Cock. They all say Singlish is here to stay.

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