With over one billion speakers, Mandarin Chinese is the biggest language on earth in numbers, followed by Spanish. But it is the English language that has the highest proficiency among people who do not speak it as their mother tongue. As the dominant language of global capitalism and international politics, it is becoming the world’s primary lingua franca at a pace that Putonghua and Espagnol will not match in the foreseeable future. As a result, English is changing into a language of non-standards, where non-native speakers outnumber native speakers 4 against 1. The United States have as many English speakers as India or as China; Great Britain has as many as the Philippines.
The scale and speed of this process has not been recorded in the history of any other language. There are numerous causes and effects for this, many of which can be judged undesirable. But when English speakers world-wide would rid themselves from a single native-speaking standard and from proficiency qualification; when they would co-opt the language that they may or may not feel has been imposed on them, the possibilities for emancipatory and creative use are abundant. Utopian, often unversalist, language projects of the past may be renewed. In cultural fields, an actual ‘international practice’ may emerge. The aesthetic problems of using English as a simplified relay language between different tongues, may dissolve. The suffocating influence of professional jargon may disappear.
With her project “In Englishes”, Nicoline van Harskamp wants to imagine and represent a situation where English has developed just so. She will write a script for a fiction piece in film and possibly also or for stage, in a type of English that might be close to the desired English of the future. In preparation of this, she will spend one year conducting and recording language experiments, collecting language samples, and learning about language in general and English in particular.
As in earlier projects, this elaborate research strategy is part of the work itself, and can take the form of both documentary and fiction, mixed in ways that best express the – anything but objective – points of conclusion. All the activities, whether prepared in detail or improvised in a live situation, will be recorded with the possibility of inclusion in the final piece.