The Prince's English

April 29, 1995

Don't knock Prince Charles for championing "proper English" at the expense of the American corruption. That's his job.

He's the Prince of Wales, not Brooklyn or South Georgia. They pay the guy to personify the United Kingdom and advance British interests. Linguistic imperialism is the last viable relic of empire in the modern world. He is right to run with it.

"We must act now to ensure that English -- and that to my way of thinking means English English -- maintains its position as the world language well into the next century," he told the British Council in London. The British Council uses British tax funds to maintain the standards of British culture as the country's gift to the world.

The United States has no such cultural foreign policy establishment, which leaves the advancement of English to the English. Don't look for the new majority in Congress to get the U.S. into competition any time soon. We Americans leave this to the private sector. The worldwide influence of American culture is astounding.

The Prince's English, however, is on the defensive. It used to be the BBC would broadcast nothing but that, save for quaint regional accents in soap operas. Announcers had to wear

tuxedoes to read the news so the proper attitude would permeate their tones. No more. Classless regional inflections are the rage in British broadcasting now. Fewer Englishmen sound like Prince Charles than ever.

But he has a point. English is taking over the world. And breaking down at the same time, producing dialects that will in the end be separate tongues. A resident of the best English public school, and of a Sea Island of Georgia, and of a village in India, and the Australian outback, and a Nigerian port city, would have great difficulty understanding each other. Yet what each has in common is English as a native tongue.

English is the language of the world's airlines and Internet and the first or second language of 700 million people. "It is impossible to over-estimate the advantages the English language gives us in the world," Prince Charles told the British Council. "The figures are staggering." So they are.

There's the rub. All those advantages adhere to Americans as well. And we had no empire. In propagating English, Prince Charles is helping us, too. No need to tell him that. Just say, keep up the good work, there's a good chap.

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