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How the English Language Become the World’s Language

A-Globish.epsRobert McCrum is an editor at the Observer (UK) and the author of P. G. Wodehouse: A Life (2004). He served as coauthor of The Story of English (1986), currently in its third edition.

The Topic: English at first seems an unlikely candidate as the basis for a global lingua franca. As McCrum relates, it is the product of the native tongue of the southern part of an out-of-the-way island consecutively paved over by conquering speakers of Latin, German, and French. But in modern times, it was English speakers (mainly British and American) who were conquering and projecting military and economic power throughout the world. After an entertaining tour of this history, McCrum argues that this linguistic Risk game is, in fact, just the setup for English’s global dominance. He claims the language is quickly evolving into "Globish," a simplified variant of the language that no one speaks natively but that much of the world will understand.
Norton. 331 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 978-0393062557

Globe and Mail (Canada) 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Globish is one of the richest, fullest and most beautiful books on the history of our common and different language--and the people, journeys, wars and alliances that created and continue to create it--that I’ve ever read. ... I simply urge you to reward yourself with one of the best, yet most accessible language and history books I’ve encountered." Gale Zoë Garnett

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Language expert Robert McCrum ... entertainingly blends pop culture and academic research to explore the global expansion of English. ... McCrum convincingly concludes that English, more global now than ever, has never been richer." Chuck Leddy

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"McCrum provides a lively history of English from its Anglo-Saxon origins ... to its elucidation on T-shirts and in Hollywood movies. ... [He] makes a compelling case that ‘a global information network and a global market require a global language.’" Glenn C. Altschuler

Guardian (UK) 3 of 5 Stars
"[M]ost of the book is devoted to tracing the development of English from the fifth to the 20th century. This is a much-told tale, and McCrum presents the usual facts in the usual way, a combination of Boy’s Own adventure story ... and breathless hagiography." Deborah Cameron

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Mr. McCrum adroitly touches all the bases, from Old English to Middle English, from Gutenberg to Noah Webster, from Thomas Jefferson to V. S. Naipaul. ... This material is not dull, and it will be a smart kind of freshman survey course to many. But Mr. McCrum’s heart is in the newer material, his assessment of our contagious, adaptable, populist, subversive language around 2010." Dwight Garner

New Yorker 3 of 5 Stars
"McCrum follows his history with a worldwide survey of Globish. ... These stories are appealing, but they tend to conflate rudimentary, utilitarian Globish with English." Isaac Chotiner

New York Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"It’s easy to see how Globish benefits emerging go-getters abroad and international corporations. ... ‘Microsoft + Dow Jones = Globish,’ McCrum writes. If that sounds promising to him, we are speaking only roughly the same language." Roy Blount Jr.

Boston Globe 2 of 5 Stars
"McCrum recuses himself from nearly all important questions about the English lingua franca. Access to the language is associated with prosperity and global connection--so what should we do about the trade-off with linguistic diversity? If most English speakers are nonnatives, who controls ‘proper’ English?" Amanda Katz

Critical Summary

Reviewers were charmed by Globish in much the same manner as McCrum is charmed by English. They found his book expansive yet incisive, erudite yet accessible, powerful yet disarmingly cheerful, if somewhat uneven when charting the history of English through the centuries. But few critics actually accepted the book’s putative argument: that English is becoming Globish and that Globish will be the language of the world. Many reviewers noted that McCrum’s definition of "Globish" is flexible at best, and a few seemed exasperated by McCrum’s failure to examine critically the consequences of a dominant global tongue. Read Globish for its ruminations, facts, and anecdotes--but not for its conclusions.