Review by Mike Unwalla.
Robert McCrum, 2010. Globish: How the English Language Became the World's Language. Penguin Group. 310 pages. ISBN 978-0-670-91887-4.
The Roman invasion of Britain is the start of McCrum's story of English. McCrum then continues to tell interesting stories about the history of English. At the end of the book, McCrum writes that "In the twenty-first century Globish will continue to develop the supranational momentum it exhibits today… In this new world, some people may even begin to ask themselves, Is this the fulfilment of an age-old dream, the end of Babel?"
Although I learnt new things, the book disappoints me. My primary criticisms are as follows:
- McCrum does not clearly explain what Globish is or how Globish is different from English.
- Some text is not sufficiently clear for me to understand.
Although I enjoyed McCrum's history of English, I do not understand McCrum's message about 'Globish'.
When McCrum initially uses the word Globish, he means the things that follow:
- Globish is a language [English] that is shared by people who speak different languages. In 2007, McCrum interviewed Nerrière. McCrum writes, "I reflected that [Nerrière's] 'Globish' was more than just a new word for a dialect or an international communications tool. It was a description of a lingua franca, but with a difference."
- Globish is "… a metaphor for the novelty of global English culture today." (I do not understand the meaning of this phrase.)
- Globish is Europeanized English. "… we find that the Goethe Institute now advocates promoting German culture through the medium of a Europeanized English, for which Globish, 'the worldwide dialect of the third millennium', is an apt description." McCrum does not explain the difference between Europeanized English and other types of English, such as British English or American English.
Near the end of Globish, McCrum writes, "Every time protestors parade English-language placards in front of television cameras they are advancing the cause of Globish."
McCrum does not explain the difference between Globish and English. Usually, when McCrum writes the word 'Globish', the word 'English' is apparently an equivalent alternative.
Sometimes, I struggle to understand what McCrum wants to say. For example, McCrum writes, "Language, it cannot be stressed too strongly, is intrinsically neutral, but it is no contradiction to claim that English – by virtue of its origins and history – is unique."
McCrum does not explain what he means by the term 'neutral' in the context of language. Near the end of the book, McCrum apparently contradicts the statement that language is neutral. McCrum writes, "Those who want to characterize Globish as a kind of benign virus that has worked its way into every corner of daily life must also acknowledge its imperial and colonial past." If language is neutral, why must I "acknowledge its imperial and colonial past"?
Change 'English' to 'French' or to 'Arabic' or to 'Cantonese'. Without knowledge of the criteria that are used to evaluate uniqueness, the languages are interchangeable. For example, "Language, it cannot be stressed too strongly, is intrinsically neutral, but it is no contradiction to claim that Arabic – by virtue of its origins and history – is unique."
The following combinations of neutrality and uniqueness are possible:
- Neutral and unique
- Neutral and not unique
- Not neutral and unique
- Not neutral and not unique.
To emphasize that neutrality and uniqueness are not contradictory is not necessary, because neutrality and uniqueness are not related. But, too much of the text in Globish is similar to the example sentence. The words flow, but the text does not give much useful information. (I can write, "Language is neutral. English is unique.")
Sometimes, I do not understand what McCrum wants to say. In the examples that follow, I understand each word, but I do not understand the sentences:
- "At the interface of technology and global capitalism, the world's English responds to specific, local imperatives, as Jean-Paul Nerrière understood when he coined 'Globish' in 1995."
- "So viral is its [Globish's] ceaseless expression round the world that to separate cause and effect is virtually impossible. With a supranational momentum, above and beyond American and British influences, Globish sustains itself as both chicken and egg."
Reviews of books that are about English for international readers