That “English” has become the predominant language around the world might seem to us, lazing around on the west coast of North America, as a truism.  But Robert McCrum and other watchers of the cultural milieu have noticed something far more subtle.  The language they see as taking over is called “Globish”, a de-politicized non-Anglo Saxon version of English with a basic vocabulary of about 1,500 words.  McCrum quotes Times journalist Ben McIntyre who

waiting for a flight from Delhi, had overheard a conversation between a Spanish UN peacekeeper and an Indian soldier. “The Indian spoke no Spanish; the Spaniard spoke no Punjabi. Yet they understood one another easily. The language they spoke was a highly simplified form of English, without grammar or structure, but perfectly comprehensible, to them and to me.  Only now,” he concluded, “do I realise that they were speaking ‘Globish’, the newest and most widely spoken language in the world.”

McCrum traces the history:

British English had enjoyed global supremacy throughout the 19th century in the days of empire. Then, broadly speaking, its power and influence had passed to the Americans in the 20th century (through the agency of two world wars). After that, during the cold war, Anglo-American culture and values became as much part of global consciousness as the combustion engine. From 1945 to 1989, hardly a transaction in the modern world was innocent of English in some form – but its scope was always limited by its troubled association with British imperialism and the pax Americana. Now that seemed to be all in the past … Things had changed … English language and culture were becoming decoupled from their contentious heritage, disassociated from post-colonial trauma.

McCrum concludes that “the emergence of English as a global communications phenomenon which can celebrate a real independence from its Anglo-American roots is potentially decisive”, especially on the Internet.  Interesting stuff.


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