Globish: How the English Language Became the World's Language
How the English Language Became the World's Language
by Robert McCrum
W. W. Norton & Company
$26.95 List Price
What did the Russian say to the German at the marketing conference? Something in English, most likely. As the working language of international business, science, diplomacy, and culture, English is spoken daily by millions of people whose native tongue is something else. Can the UK and the US, their linguistic influence diluted by masses of foreign speakers, keep a controlling stake in the language they popularized? Not for long, argues Robert McCrum in Globish, an engaging but uneven history of how this language became the world's common currency.
McCrum, an editor at the London Observer and the author of an excellent biography of P. G. Wodehouse (another popular British export), claims that English has achieved a self-sustaining "supra-national momentum" that is carrying it beyond the reach of the cultures from which it sprang. As the property of all who use it, the language will soon, he predicts, "make its own declaration of independence." McCrum intends to demonstrate that English bears traces of Anglo-American ideas about individual freedom. Subjugated after 1066 by an invading aristocracy that spoke Norman French, English became the "mother tongue of an oppressed people" and improbably survived. Later success at trade and empire enriched Britain's language via contact with others, which supplied words, like shampoo (from Hindi) and kangaroo (from the Australian Aboriginal language Guugu Yimidhirr), that make our vocabulary uniquely diverse. McCrum supplements historical vignettes with present-day color from trips to China and India, but his reporting is sometimes