Reviewed by C J Singh
Historically, in 1600 A.D., at the time of the founding of the East India Company, in London, languages of the Indo-European family were already native to most of the lands extending from Ireland to the border of Burma six thousand miles east, and had been so for thousands of years. At present, the Indo-European language family has more than twice the number of native speakers (46 percent) than the next largest family, the Sino-Tibetan (21 percent), which has always been confined to East Asia. These numbers suggest that one of the Indo-European languages was likely to become the common language of the globe. English won. (Historical ifs: Spanish, if Philip's Armada had succeeded; French, if Napolean; German, if Hitler; Russian, if Stalin.)
So, what is this "Globish"? The term was initially coined by Madhukar Gogate, an Indian linguist, to describe an artificial dialect he created and presented to the Simplified Spelling Society of U.K. in 1998. (Example: "She is fine" in "Globish" becomes "She iz faain.") Like many earlier spelling-reform attempts, his " Globish" didn't take root. In 2004, Jean-Paul Nerriere, a retired French marketer, trademarked the term "Globish" and later published a book, provocatively titling it as "DON'T SPEAK ENGLISH!: PARLEZ GLOBISH." Nerriere's "Globish" is a subset of 1500 words and limited syntactical patterns derived from Standard English. "Globish" has precedents in "Basic English," a subset of 850 words proposed by linguist and philosopher Charles Ogden in his book, "Basic English: A General Introduction with Rules and Grammar" published in 1930. And, since 1959, "Special English," a subset of about 1500 words and simplified grammar, has been used in broadcasting "Voice of America" news to lands where English is a second language.
The projected marketing of Nerriere's "Globish" textbooks, which if adopted by instructors of English, will dumb down the teaching of English globally. Building on the initialism ESL for English as a Second Language, I propose the acronyms BESL for "Beginners' English as a Second Language" and SESL for "Standard English as a Second Language" instead of "Globish." The current Beginners' ESL books (levels one, two,...) get the learner started and present an incentive to upgrade from the beginners' levels to the Standard ESL books. Effective ESL books need to be specific to the learner 's first language as established by expert ESL scholars in books like Learner English: A Teacher's Guide to Interference and other Problems , edited by Michael Swan & Bernard Smith, and published by Cambridge University Press in 2001. This guide, a favorite of many ESL instructors, succinctly documents the interference patterns specific to twenty languages, ranging from Japanese to Spanish. (I routinely recommend the relevant chapter of this book to ESL authors for self-editing before I accept their manuscripts for editing.) Another excellent resource for ESL teachers is Understanding ESL Writers: A Guide for Teachers by Ilona Leki. When SESL writers start outnumbering native English writers, they will contribute more to the ever-evolving "Standard" English, making it the truly global language. No doubt, entrenched Anglophobes will resist the acronyms BESL and SESL because both include E for English. Quel dommage! Let them pretend that they have silenced the odious E simply by proclaiming the term "Globish."
Robert McCrum, in the prologue to his book, states his thesis: "Anglo-American culture and its language have become as much a part of global consciousness as MS-DOS or the combustion engine" (page 14). The book is aptly subtitled "How the English Language Became the World's Language."
"In 2006-7, about 80 percent of the world's home pages on World Wide Web were in some kind of English compared with German (4.5 percent) and Japanese (3.1 percent), while Microsoft publishes no fewer than eighteen versions of its `English language' spellcheckers.... A film such as Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding is typical of the world's new English culture. The Indian bridegroom has a job in Houston. The wedding guests jet in from Melbourne and Dubai and speak in a mishmash of English and Hindi.... Take for instance, the 2006 Man Booker Prize. The winner was The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai, an Indian-born writer. ...The British critic John Sutherland was moved to describe Desai's work as `a globalized novel for a globalized world'" (pp 9-10).
McCrum's "Chapters 1 through 12, a biography of the English language, will sound very familiar to readers who've watched the popular documentary series on PBS, based on the book The Story of English , coauthored by McCrum. (Since its inception in 1986, the documentary has been shown many times on the San Francisco affiliate of PBS and many other affiliates.) "Globish" can be read as if it were the fourth edition of "The Story of English, third revised edition," published in 2002.
The twelve chapters are grouped under four parts: Founders; Pioneers; Populisers; and Modernisers. McCrum's retelling of the biography of English is engrossing. A few of his examples follow.
On Shakespeare: "Recent scholarship has shown that Shakespeare was actually an inveterate reviser," discrediting the assertion of the two actors who published the First Folio, "His mind and hand went together . . .Wee have scarse received from him a blot in his paper" (page 84). Shakespeare "to his bitterly envious contemporary Robert Greene, on his deathbed, was an `upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers . . . in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in the country'" (page 85). "It's nice to note that the motto of Shakespeare's theatre, the Globe, was `Totus mundus agit histrionem,' the whole world is a playhouse" (p 87).
On American-English: "From as early as 1735 there had been attacks on the `barbarous English' of the colonists and jokes about `Americanisms' such as antagonize, belittle, and placate. Dr Johnson had written trenchantly about `the American dialect, a tract of corruption to which every language, widely diffused, must always be exposed'" (p 112).
On American literature: "Hemingway put it succinctly. `All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called `Huckleberry Finn.'It's the best book we've had. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since'" (p 124). Good choice of quote; no English person could have written "Huckleberry Finn."
McCrum cites Oscar Wilde's comment on American English : "The Irishman drank the silver miners of Leadville under the table before formulating a Wildean paradox: `We really have everything in common with America nowadays,' he declared, `except, of course language' " (p 110).
[Yeah, right. Here's my fictive dialogue between two cousins, Stanford Singh visiting Oxford Singh:
Stanford Singh: Merriam-Webster says...
Oxford Singh: Nonsense. There's just one dictionary of the English language: `The Oxford English Dictionary.' Forget Mary-Ann Webster -- the American woman you keep quoting. Get over your infatuation with her!
Stanford Singh: Come on, Merriam-Webster Dictionary is used by many more people globally.
Oxford Singh: Don't think, we haven't noticed you Americans pinched our language. You owe us back royalties -- trillions and trillions of dollars!
Stanford Singh: The last British-English speaker on the planet will be an Oxford graduate from India.]
On World English: "How can one be original in a foreign tongue? As V.S. Naipaul puts it in his essay `Reading and Writing,' `I had begun to put together an English literary anthology of my own. . . . I wished to be a writer. But together with the wish had come the knowledge that the literature that had given me the wish came from another world, far away from our own.' Out of this limbo, the world's English begins to emerge" (p 209). Chapters 13 through 15 resume McCrum's argument stated in the prologue.
"In the twenty-first century the fusion of the English and the Hindi traditions...is creating a society uniquely equipped to contribute to, and benefit from, the development of English" (p 265). "The Times of India" has been certified as the world's largest selling English-language daily, and, according to ComScore, TOI online is the world's most visited newspaper website, ahead of "The New York Times," "The Sun," and "USA Today." Three of the examples McCrum cites are as follows.
A publishing firm in India, Pre-Media Global, founded by the brother-and-sister team of Kapil Viswanathan and Kami Narayan, both Indian graduates of the Harvard MBA program, offers outsource services for editing, designing, and producing for clients such as Wiley, Pearson, Houghton Mifflin, and McGraw-Hill. Second, the 2008 Man-Booker Prize was awarded in London's Guildhall to Aravind Adiga, for his novel The White Tiger , the fourth Indian novel to win. And third, the film Slumdog Millionaire , which won eight Oscars and four Golden Globes. Based on a debut novel, "Q & A," by an Indian diplomat, Vikas Swarup, its screenplay was successfully adapted by Simon Beaufoy, who simplified the dialogues, while maintaining the storyline.
I highly recommend McCrum's new book written for the general reader in excellent Standard English, not "Globish," despite his acquiescence -- temporary acquiescence, I hope -- for the latter term.
-- C.J. Singh