Globish – or Global English – Becomes Mainstream

Have you heard about the international bestseller “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.

http://article.wn.com/view/2010/06/04/Lingua_Globa_How_English_Became_Globish/

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11 comments

  1. Quote: Yet linguists and other folks strongly disagree about the meaning of Globish.

    Nerrière developed Globish (www.globish.com) after he noticed how non-native speakers of English communicate. Globish Solutions Inc is a commercial organisation that sells products and services. Instead of hijacking a term that is used commercially, linguists need to use a non-commercial term.

    Aside: Nerrière’s Globish is not M N Gogate’s Globish (www.mngogate.com/e01.htm).

    Quote: Globish – or Global English

    Globish and Global English are not necessarily the same. In ‘Global English for Global Business’, McAlpine uses the term ‘Global English’ to mean something similar to Nerriere’s ‘Globish’, although McAlpine does not supply a list of basic words. For my review of ‘Global English for Global Business’, see http://www.techscribe.co.uk/ta/global-english-for-global-business.htm. However, Kohl’s ‘Global English’ is very different from Nerriere’s ‘Globish’. Kohl gives detailed grammatical guidelines about how to optimise English for people who use English as a second language. For my review of Kohl’s ‘The Global English style guide’, see http://www.techscribe.co.uk/ta/global-english-style-guide.htm.

  2. Mike – Thank you for sharing your extensive knowledge on the history, development, and controversy surrounding the term “Globish”. I will certainly read your articles and appreciate the additional links.

    While I understand why you suggest that linguists should find another term to popularize, it seems that the term has entered the mainstream. Globish, whatever the term mean, has become a common point of reference. Perhaps Nerriere should blame McCrum, but I’m not sure the blame game will provide clarity here. I should also confess a bias against copyrighting words and terms since discourse depends on the free exchange of ideas.

    I also appreciate your clarification of the terms Globish and Global English, and why you seem them as distinct and different. From your comments, it seems that you use the term Global English for what I would call English as an International Language with a prescribed list of words and taboos.

    Again, thank you for sharing your insights and I look forward to reading the articles.

  3. @Eric: I also appreciate your clarification of the terms Globish and Global English, and why you seem them as distinct and different.

    To me, saying that the term ‘Globish’ is equivalent to ‘global English’ is like saying that the term ‘Hoover’ is equivalent to ‘vacuum cleaner’. The careless use of terms is not good.

    @Eric: From your comments, it seems that you use the term Global English for what I would call English as an International Language…

    Yes. Different people use different terms, for example, ‘global English’, ‘international English’, ‘internationalised English’, ‘simple English’, ‘simplified English’, and ‘worldwide English’. Usually, I use the term ‘international English’. Probably, the best term is ‘internationalised English’, because that term makes the idea clear: English that is optimised for an international audience.

  4. Bill Chapman

    The term Globish is, at best, ambiguous. Instead of “reducing the cultural roots of English” why not make wider use of a planned international language – Esperanto?

  5. Mike – Both of your article contain practical tips, especially for business professionals focused on increasing sales. Thanks for sharing those!

    While you and I share many interests and perceptions, our styles – and perhaps emphasis seem to diverge a bit. Perceptions of precision differ.

    Anyway, thank you for visiting and sharing your belief that “the best term is “internationalized English”. I’m sticking with English as an International Language.

  6. Brian Barker

    Globish reminds me of another failed project called “Basic English” which failed, because native English speakers could not remember which words not to use 🙂

    So it’s time to move forward and adopt a neutral non-national language, taught universally in schools worldwide,in all nations. As a native English speaker, I would prefer Esperanto

    Your readers may be interested in the following video at http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU Professor Piron was a translator with the United Nations in Geneva.

    A glimpse of Esperanto can be seen at http://www.lernu.net

  7. Bill – Thank you for reminding us that Esperanto remains an option.

    For worse or for better, English remains a more compelling language due to its practical applications. Espanto, a noble experiment, still has too few speakers in too few places to cajole the non-idealist into learning it. Perhaps if the UN and other international organizations pushed the concept more vigorously and used it in their meetings, the language would gain the following that its founders desired.

    I do, however, agree that English should not lose its cultural roots or become so simplified that our greatest writers and cultural masterpiece become inaccessible. As so often, I want to raise the standards not place a ceiling on learning.

  8. Nyima Galestian

    Great article!Definitely this information will help people to know importance of learning English. I know one another organization http://www.englishffl.org/ that also works for “English language as first foreign language initiative” to African countries.

  9. “Globish” it is the first time i heard of such word and i’m happy to learn about it. thanks a lot! there are so many english varieties from the “original??” — english, american, australian — to the newer versions like singaporean, filipino and other countries’ english. so to be precise, they are all called globish now. fascinating! i hope 2nd language speakers would be more comfortable speaking. i believe the accent never matters as long as the other person understand what you are saying.

  10. Nyima – Thank you for dropping by, sharing your thoughts, and sharing that informative link from Africa. Sorry for the delayed response!

    Savannah – Your acceptance of accents and varieties from around the world shows an admirable openness to other cultures. You are absolutely correct that “accent never matters as long as the other person understands what you are saying.” After all, Southern, New Yorker, and Californian accents are all equally American!

    Thank you for visiting my little blog, and sharing your insights. The idealist in me still hopes that sharing a common language will lead to more understanding and less conflict in the 21st century.

  11. The curious thing about “Globish” becoming a mainstream word is that supposed professionals still know very little about its progress since 2004. Nerriere’s first book was published then in French and was a best-seller in Europe. In 2009, Nerriere and I published the first book totally written in Globish, perhaps not a masterpiece but certainly a demonstration. In 2011 that book, Globish The World Over was a year-long best seller in Japan and has been translated into 10 languages now. The Globish Foundation in Australia is a non-profit now formed to set standards for Globish, and will be offering online test for Globish-level speakers.

    It’s OK to criticize…We need a lot of input. But if the Globish has become broadly acceptable word – and concept – to the non-English speaker, then it would seem that ESL pros would look a bit further into its actual progress. They would see it has “caught on” for a number of reasons, and would not discuss it with such superficial distance, and not see it as such a threat to their English hedgemony.

    The word “Globish” itself has a lot to do with this ESL resistance, and so you might want to think of the colonial implications of the word “English.” Most people who are using Globish between each other know there is a steadily decreasing dominance of English-speaking nations economically and geopolitically. Eventually that will become a lot of people, with perhaps a newly found sense of freedom.

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