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Have you heard about the international bestseller How English Became Globish“>Globish by Robert McCrum? Suddenly the term Globish seems everywhere.
McCrum, who wrote the influential book “The Story of English”, argues that English has become Globish because it is the world’s international language. Partly descriptive and partly prescriptive, the author reviews the astonishing spread of English, its many changes over time and space, and points out the many advantages of English as a global tongue. McCrum also suggests that English, as a language, carries cultural values such as individualism, greater sexual equality, a democratic sensibility, and empiricism.
Other linguists, including many working for international software firms, have recently adopted the word Globish too. The term, it seems, has escaped the narrow confines of linguistic jargon to become a mainstream term. Yet linguists and other folks strongly disagree about the meaning of Globish. Few doubt, however, that a majority of English speakers are actually speaking English as an additional language.
Here is a group of video clips supporting the idea that communication matters most as a majority of English speakers use the language as a second tongue. Precise grammar and pronunciation rules become less important in a global context. If all the English speakers in the room are really English language learners, unconventional English grammar and heavy accents become more acceptable. Globish, so the argument goes, provides more freedom for more varieties of English.
Provocative, if not completely persuasive, some of these linguists favor reducing the cultural roots of English and emphasizing a simpler, smaller, and more universal form of essential Globish. (This movement, also known as English as a Global Language, focuses on the business advantages of a shared language.) Other linguists both predict and favor a flourishing of local languages linked to British English, American English, or Australian English. These linguists, such as Andy Kirkpatrick, see the emergence of “World Englishes“.
All these competing arguments emphasize, for me, the importance of context. As American writer teaching international graduate students at an elite American university in the American Language Institute, I emphasize the importance of professional and academic success. Accuracy, clarity, and detail still matter so we maintain high standards, traditional grammar, and mainstream spelling matter.
A hotel clerk working with European tourists vacationing in Mexico, however, might find a more casual Globish works just fine. Academic English and workplace English often have quite different definitions of success. Context, as ever, matters. Why do our students want to learn English? How will they use English? Can we both teach specific language skills and humanistic values in our English classrooms? As English teachers, it also behooves us teach the English that our students need and want.
Anyway, here are some informative and some funny video clips mocking the notion that a small island nation should be the standard for how people speak across the globe. I’m including links to the NPR feature on Globish, the video collection, and Amazon.
As ever, use or lose.