Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Globish: How The English Language Became The World's Language / by Robert McCrumb

The onset of the new millenium has seen English unquestionably become 'the world's language'. Despite there being more overall speakers of traditional Chinese-Cantonese and roughly the same amount of first-tongue Spanish speakers, English is the most all-encompassing, most proliferated, most diversified and decentralized language spoken throughout the world. It is the universal communications platform for all international business networks, the defacto lexicon in the integration of technology and the choice medium among most non-English speaking parties. And while much of author McCrum's analysis focuses on the etymology and evolution of English over the centuries, a good chunk of his central thesis is devoted to the impact the language has had on actual lives, how its shaped the world as we know it and what it's role will be in the future.
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McCrum's description of how things got where they are today is easy enough to follow. As casual history buffs may be aware of, the English speech, vocabulary and syntax is something of an amalgamation of other shared tongues. The English-speaking peoples as far back as King Alfred the Great circa 850 B.C. basically honed their language by splicing the Saxon Germanic-tongue with Latin-based imports, most notably French after the Norman Conquest in 1066. As Britain grew into a sovereign territory, a kingdom and finally a commonwealth, the language traveled across the globe spanning countries, generations and migrations of peoples from all different backgrounds. The final two centuries of the second millenium saw the full-fledged impact of the British Empire and Americanization which imprinted the language around the world, permanently overtaking French and Spanish as the official lingua franca and choice mode of communication among global entities.
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McCrum points out that English, more so than any other language, represents the fundamentals of individual freedom, democracy, and capitalism, something the author colorfully details in his chapter "The Audacity of Hope" among others. The diction itself offers as many different dialects, derivatives, ethnic variants, colloquial cach├ęs and vernacular offshoots as there are places which speak it. With the flattening of the world, English has become its own vehicle so to speak, one which knows no bounds, carries few restrictions and offers a diversified way of self-expression. Further reading about English as the 'lingua globa' and McCrum's book can be found here in this recent NPR piece. (420.9 MCCRUM)

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