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Globish by Robert McCrum

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GLOBISH

By: Robert McCrum.

Publisher: Norton, 331 pages, $26.95.

Review: McCrum explores the hows and whys behind the global expansion of the English language.

And the English language slowly takes over

  • Article by: CHUCK LEDDY
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • June 5, 2010 - 2:24 PM

Language expert Robert McCrum ("The Story of English") entertainingly blends pop culture and academic research to explore the global expansion of English. "Globish," the term he uses for the worldwide adaptation of English, is "a global phenomenon with a fierce, inner multinational dynamic." McCrum describes how speakers in China, India and elsewhere are changing English: "Like a Jackson Pollock of language," writes McCrum, "countless new variants [of English] are adding to the amazing technicolor texture of the overall picture."

McCrum also explores English's historical foundations. English has always adapted to local conditions, he finds. "American" English is simply the most popular of many such localizations. As Winston Churchill famously joked about Great Britain and the United States: "We are two nations divided by a common language." English is expanding today, McCrum explains, not because of the "hard" power of military conquest but due to the "soft" power of popular culture and business success.

The strength of global English, McCrum concludes, comes from its adaptability, its ability to be embraced by the rich and poor, insiders and outsiders, around the globe. McCrum approvingly quotes Walt Whitman: "The English language is not an abstract construction of dictionary makers. It is the powerful language of resistance; it is the dialect of common sense ... it has its basis broad and low, close to the ground." McCrum convincingly concludes that English, more global now than ever, has never been richer.

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