Robert McCrum goes Globish

Offering a highly interesting and somewhat controversial look at the evolution of the English language, Robert was inspired to write his latest book, Globish, in response to the idea that there is a new form of English, outside of Queens English and Standard American, which is spreading across the globe.

Robert McCrum
Robert McCrum

He explains that the capacity to convey English in a highly unintelligible form is one of it’s enduring strengths. In 1985, we thought we were taking a snapshot of English at its peak. Should be described as English languages – “place several English speaking communities of different ethnic and social backgrounds together and this argument can have some form”.

With capitalism and the internet, language now has a global reach; it’s possible for one language to be transmitted and received across the world. This global hunger for English has brought a point of no return. Consider the power of popular culture and recent awards; The White Tiger winning the Booker Prize and Slumdog Millionaire winning 8 Oscars in Hollywood including best picture – both of these which could be considered Globish.

But rather than seeing Globish as an accident of history, he argues that it has an identity past, present and future which should be taken as seriously as the Queen’s English received pronunciation.

“Language evolution is very slow – it spread over at least 500 years and it’s the story of three invasions and a cultural revolution (Christianity).”

Discussing the vernacular of Churchill, Obama, Daniel Defoe, Henry V, Shakespeare, Robert argues that English has “always been the language of everyman; an oral culture, informal and profane, which grew to be the pride of country, not because it was an elevated language (this was French and Latin) but because it was “direct, earthy and simple – a way to speak and arouse the common people” Hence why strong political figures have always used the English language to mobilise the country when needed.

Robert argues that the English language is “adaptable and pragmatic” and that “perfect English does not exist – English has always been normative, imperfect, work in progress and in a continuous state of flux”.

Robert also looked at the language policies and adoption of localised English across the world to give the overall message that this new movement, the adoption of Globish, is not something to fear; on the contrary, it has a valid place in modern and future society.

“This is not the end but the beginning…one thing is certain. Now at the beginning of this century, Globish is more an educational commercial tool. We’ve always tried the short way to get the message across…Language will be taken by speakers and embellished, but in everyday life and volatile situations, its function is to express something dynamically and directly…This is the age of new media and Globish will be the language adopted by this media.”

To get the full story and decide where you stand on the matter, you’ll have to read his book.

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