Globish: How the English Language Became the World's Language

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How English conquered the world: a Guns, Germs, and Steel argument based on the power of the word.
It seems impossible: a small island in the North Atlantic, colonized by Rome, then pillaged for hundreds of years by marauding neighbors, becomes the dominant world power in the nineteenth century. Equally unlikely, a colony of that island nation, across the Atlantic, grows into the military and cultural colossus of the twentieth century. How? By the sword, of course; by trade and ...

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Overview

How English conquered the world: a Guns, Germs, and Steel argument based on the power of the word.
It seems impossible: a small island in the North Atlantic, colonized by Rome, then pillaged for hundreds of years by marauding neighbors, becomes the dominant world power in the nineteenth century. Equally unlikely, a colony of that island nation, across the Atlantic, grows into the military and cultural colossus of the twentieth century. How? By the sword, of course; by trade and industrial ingenuity; but principally, and most surprisingly, by the power of their common language.
In this provocative and compelling new look at the course of empire, Robert McCrum, coauthor of the best-selling book and television series The Story of English, shows how the language of the Anglo-American imperium has become the world’s lingua franca. In fascinating detail he describes the ever-accelerating changes wrought on the language by the far-flung cultures claiming citizenship in the new hegemony. In the twenty-first century, writes the author, English + Microsoft = Globish.

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Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Yardley
The history of English is inherently fascinating, and McCrum tells the story well.
—The Washington Post
Dwight Garner
…smart but casual, more gastropub than white-linen dining; the author seems to have written it with his left hand. It revisits material from The Story of English (1986), which Mr. McCrum wrote with William Cran and Robert MacNeil. Some of this new book is likely to seem dated before too long, but part of the point of Globish is that English mutates and spreads as quickly as those zombies in the movie "28 Days Later" sprint down a freeway.
—The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
The Observer associate editor McCrum (My Year Off: Rediscovering Life After a Stroke, 2008, etc.) rehearses the history of the English language, from Britannia to Bollywood, focusing on how it has transformed from one island's language to "Globish," a version of the language used by billions worldwide. The author, who co-wrote the book and subsequent TV series The Story of English (both in 1986), begins with a definition of Globish, then moves through English, American and world history at a breathtaking pace, pausing only occasionally to elaborate on publications and people he identifies as key to the eventual hegemony of English. Among the former are the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, both of which influenced centuries of speakers and writers. The author looks at Gutenberg and Caxton, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and of course Shakespeare, "a master of artistic synthesis." McCrum then focuses on the New World, providing accolades for Thomas Paine, Noah Webster, Abraham Lincoln-whose Gettysburg Address the author greatly admires-and Mark Twain, whom the author characterizes as a "founding father of the world's English" because of his recognition of the power of common speech. The author also examines English and the slave trade, noting that captains on the Middle Passage separated slaves who spoke the same language, making English a pressing necessity for them to learn. McCrum covers Dr. Johnson, Dickens, the rise of the British Empire and the spread of English into India, Australia, Africa and elsewhere, spending more time on Winston Churchill and his rhetoric than on any other individual. After the Cold War, it's Americanization, the Internet, EuroDisney, ThomasFriedman's flat world and the astonishing datum that there are 175,000 new blogs per day. McCrum ends with extensive looks at modern China and India, where billions are learning English/Globish as a way to improve their economic potential. Still, he cautions, the world has 5,000 individual languages. Heavy on historical summary yet gripping and profoundly informative.
Publishers Weekly
Britannia may not rule, but it still presides over the world's discourse, according to this sketchy, triumphalist chronicle of the English language. McCrum (The Story of English), associate editor of Britain's Observer, surveys the latter-day apotheosis of English as the international language, observing Chinese English-language boot camps, Bangalore call centers, and the takeover of Britain's Man Booker prize by non-British novelists. But most of the book is a historical pageant of the English-speaking peoples as they assimilated, conquered, or enslaved foreigners and expropriated words and dialects under the leadership of statesmen/wordsmiths from King Alfred to Churchill and literary geniuses like Shakespeare and Twain. McCrum makes a pragmatic, happenstance case for the international popularity of English: the British Empire and American hegemony spread it around the planet, making it the obvious choice for a globalizing world's lingua franca. But he also advances a grander and less coherent brief for English as the language of individual freedom, democracy, and capitalism, contrasting its “contagious, adaptable, populist and subversive” spirit with the snobby elitism of French. That's a bit of language chauvinism that no linguistic analysis, especially one as cursory as McCrum's, can sustain. (May)
From the Publisher
"An overall effective work.... This book successfully appeals to language lovers and history buffs alike." —-Library Journal
Library Journal
When McCrum contributed to the book and television series Story of English in the 1980s, most scholars felt the language was degenerating into numerous dialects. Why was that view inaccurate? McCrum identifies factors that made the British pen triumphant in a vast linguistic empire—e.g., a multicultural and multilanguage legacy from early invasions, language seeds sown through an eventual empire, being among victors of 20th-century world war, and a heritage of valuing literacy. These values spurred economies and global media such as CNN and the BBC, even before the Internet, all through which English currently offers a unified communications platform. McCrum supports his narrative with quotations and biographical sketches that powerfully connect older English to today, such as biblical language echoed by Barack Obama. VERDICT Readers unfamiliar with British history may find some sections difficult, but the absence of linguistic jargon combines with supporting documentation to create an overall effective work. Distinguished by its historical focus and accessibility to a general audience, this book successfully appeals to language lovers and history buffs alike.—Marianne Orme, Des Plaines P.L., IL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780141027104
  • Publisher: Viking
  • Publication date: 5/28/2011

Meet the Author

Robert McCrum

Robert McCrum is the associate editor of The Observer and lives in London with his wife, Sarah Lyall. His books include the bestselling The Story of English, My Year Off, Wodehouse: A Life, and Globish.

Biography

Although not a household name in America, editor and writer Robert McCrum has had an enormous impact on the current state of literature. In his 20 years as Editor-in-Chief at famed British publishing house Faber & Faber, McCrum transformed a largely mediocre fiction list into a roster that included such successful and influential novelists as Peter Carey, Paul Auster, and Vikram Seth. In 1996, McCrum turned a semi-regular stint writing for the British newspaper The Observer into a fulltime position as literary editor, where he remains today. Somewhere along the line, he found the time to publish six of his own novels, co-author a best-selling history of the English language, and research and write a critically lauded biography of English humorist P.G. Wodehouse.

After graduating from Cambridge's Corpus Christi College on a history scholarship, McCrum set off across the pond with a post-graduate scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. He earned his MA, and then left the world of academia forever, opting instead to take a one-year extended tour of America in his Buick Skylark.

Back in England, McCrum took a job as a publicity assistant at Chatto & Windus. McCrum's intelligence, charm, and competitive streak quickly put him on the map as a rising star in British publishing. In 1979, a mere two years after starting at Chatto & Windus, McCrum began his successful run at Faber and Faber.

Never one to settle for complacency, McCrum published his first novel the following year, a thriller about the inner workings of British national intelligence called In the Secret State. His second novel, A Loss of Heart, was released in 1982. Two years after that, yet another novel, The Fabulous Englishman, was released to solid reviews and sales.

McCrum's biggest success came as co-author 1986 publication of The Story of English, which was released in tandem with a 10-part PBS documentary of the same name. McCrum's work on the series earned him an Emmy and a Peabody award, and the book became an international bestseller that still sells briskly in its 3rd revised edition.

And so McCrum's seemingly charmed life continued into the 90s. A fourth novel, Mainland, came out in 1992, and McCrum was putting the finishing touches on his next novel, Suspicion, when tragedy struck. In the summer of 1995, he awoke to find his entire left side paralyzed by a devastating stroke. Only 42 years old, McCrum's world shifted overnight. The writer's natural curiosity and need to communicate persevered, however, and in 1998 he released a critically-acclaimed memoir of his year spent in recovery entitled My Year Off.

Shortly after the publication of My Year Off, McCrum launched full-force into work on Wodehouse: A Life. Research for the biography of the famed English humorist would take him all over the world, from Wodehouse's homes in California to the German camp where he was interned during World War II to New York City. "It seems to me that you can't begin to understand someone until you see where they lived, what they saw out of the window when they woke up, and the kind of people they were living near," McCrum has said.

Four years spent traveling and reading Wodehouse's vast amounts of published and unpublished works paid off with a biography that critics have hailed as the definitive chronicle of the life of P.G. Wodehouse.

Good To Know

Some outtakes from our interview with McCrum:

"I'm a) tall b) speak English c) like a drink."

"My first job was looking after a parrot in a zoo."

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    1. Hometown:
      London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 7, 1953
    2. Place of Birth:
      Cambridge, England
    1. Education:
      Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, England, 1972-75; University of Pennsylvania, 1975-76

Table of Contents

Prologue: áCrazy English' 3

PART ONE FOUNDERS

1 In the Beginning: Four Invasions and a Cultural Revolution 23

2 Defeat into Victory: The DNA of Self-Expression 41

3 áLighte Englisshe': Medieval Mass Communications 61

4 Eating Paper, Drinking Ink: Shakespeare & Co. 74

PART TWO PIONEERS

5 áA Whole Country of English': Re-inventing Freedom and Originality 93

6 áCommon Hopes and Common Dreams': Lighting Out for the Territory 111

7 áThe Audacity of Hope': From Slavery to Redemption 125

PART THREE POPULARISERS

8 Rule, Britannial: How England Became Britrish 147

9 East, in a Western Voice: The People's Empire 171

10 áAt the Top of the World': The Imperial Swan Song 188

PART FOUR MODERNISERS

11 áA Willingness of the Heart': The American Century I 201

12 áThe Unity of the English-Speaking Peoples': The American Century II 211

13 áThe World At Your Fingertips': From Google to Globish, 1989-2009 226

PART FIVE GLOBALISERS

14 One World, One Dream: áConquer English to Make China Strong' 249

15 áVirtually Running America': India, the Far East and Beyond 260

Epilogue: áA Thoroughfare for All Thoughts' 275

Notes 289

Select Bibliography 309

Acknowledgements 313

Index 315

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  • Posted November 22, 2013

    McCrum Traces Language Journey

    McCrum presents a fascinating, well-written history of how the English language developed and leads the reader to an understanding of how our language is widely spoken throughout the world today - with modifications. I haven't finished the book yet, but intend to soon. It is a work that requires concentration as McCrum knits together thousands of language-related facts into a cohesive story of the evolution of the English that people speak now. Anyone interested in language for its own sake should enjoy Globish.

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