Book Review- Globish by Robert McCrum

Roy Blount Jr. in the NYT Sunday Book Review:

McCrum is bullish on Globish: the reign of English as the world’s lingua franca or default tongue, “the worldwide dialect of the third millennium,” the language in which China trades with Zambia, the language in which a Greek watching CNN phones a friend from the Middle East to get him off the London bus he’s riding before it explodes. English, the author argues convincingly in “Globish,” will not break up into new languages and die, as Latin did, because it is sustained by the Internet, global marketing, mass consumerism, instant communications, international soccer, texting, and (McCrum is English) cricket and the legacy of Winston Churchill.

The language has also been sustained by many “a nice irony”:

¶ When the British Empire was drastically reduced by the American Revolution, the potential of the English language was enormously expanded.

¶ As India was suffering under the Raj, it was also absorbing enough linguistic and cultural Anglophilia to give it a big competitive advantage over China today.

¶ When “the British Empire went to war against the kaiser and then against Nazi Germany, dispatched its armies and navy . . . and also evacuated its young ones from the cities,” the mother tongue’s hegemony was bolstered because “the children of empire were prepared. Years of colonial service from Calcutta to Hong Kong had schooled successive generations in ‘maternal deprivation trauma.’ ”

¶ Cold-war propaganda “sowed the seeds of the world’s English in parts of the world previously unreceptive to British or American cultural colonialism.”

¶ And, as McCrum sees it, the “disdain for international agreements” on the part of George W. Bush’s administration “had the vital effect of decoupling the English language from what cultural conservatives would always see as American imperialism.” Bushian detachment had a positive effect because “a global information network, and a global market, require a global language, but one that is not, overtly, the instrument of empire.”

That last irony’s niceness rests upon considerable spin. “In the absence of an American mission, apart from the almost meaningless ‘war on terror,’ the world was left to get on with its own multi­farious business,” McCrum writes. But if the English phrase in question is almost meaningless, then surely the business of putting vast resources behind it, counter­productively, is no contribution to English’s credibility.

Read on

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