Saturday, May 29, 2010

On Globish

From Wikipedia:

Globish is a subset of the English language formalized by Jean-Paul Nerriere.[1] It uses a subset of standard English grammar, and a list of 1500 English words. According to Nerriere it is "not a language" in and of itself,[2] but rather it is the common ground that non-native English speakers adopt in the context of international business.

[For more, see HERE]

Now, Globish has its own book : Jean-Paul Nerriere and David Hon has written a book in Globish, on Globish. [This book is not available through Amazon in the UK, my first port of call for such projects, which lists instead Jean-Paul Nerriere's Parlez Globish, in French]. Robert McCrum, of London Observer, has now written a book on Globish, though he chose to write in English, and The Economist has recently reviewed it. So, as they say, Globish has the momentum!

The idea is, as stated above, a platform for non-native speakers of English language to adopt and use the language, without any of the socio-political hangovers and cultural bias. This is very different, as McCrum claims, from the nuanced idiomatic English of England, America and other English speaking countries.

The idea, though not an obvious one, has some merits. Globally, English language is on a forward leap. As Economist puts it, it has replaced French in diplomacy, and German in Science. It is increasingly popular in Eastern Europe; strangely, it is easier to find English speakers in Warsaw these days than people speaking Russian. It is also making a comeback in South East Asia and India, where nationalist sentiments forced a roll-back of English in 1960s and 1970s. With such nationalism receding, or at least getting comfortable with Globalization, English is making a comeback in school curriculum and political etiquette.

I have been involved in the business of English language training and know why Globish is a good idea. English language training, so far, has largely been an affair for the business elite, particularly in Europe and East Asia. Consequently, the focus is on teaching of nuanced, 'American' like English, mostly in the context of business or affluent middle class life. However, unbeknown to the Language training providers, the nature of English language training has changed. This has changed since China and India, and then most of rural Asia, have joined the party. English is making inroads there, English is important, but this is not the culturally nuanced Queen's Language or American or Australian for that matter.

So far, English is a language of privilege, which gives access to a different social tier, jobs etc. But, in the next stage of Globalization, English will turn into a language of opportunity. This is what Globish may do, or already doing. I say this is already doing because the world seems to be finding a common language platform on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. Just that this language has not entered the world of business or classrooms. There may be people who believe that the language of classroom will reign Twitter, and the language of the street will get moulded by the language of business, but it is likely to be the other way of round.

So, a common minimum English, mixed with local words, adapted grammar and set in local culture is what we are heading for. To be honest, that language may challenge the hegemony of English as it is spoken today. If you are feeling threatened by that, don't: That will be the highest stage of globalization and somewhat the remedy that our recession-threatened, skewed, corrupted world needs.

4 comments:

Brian Barker said...

If you think that English has become the universal language you are certainly in cloud-cukoo land. English as the international language - that's an urban legend!

I live in London and if anyone says to me “everyone speaks English” my answer is “Listen and look around you”. If people in London do not speak English then the whole question of a global language is completely open.

The promulgation of English as the world’s “lingua franca” is impractical and linguistically undemocratic. I say this as a native English speaker!

Impractical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. That is how English is used internationally at the moment.

Undemocratic because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well. The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which places all ethnic languages on an equal footing is essential. As a native English speaker, my vote is for Esperanto :)

Your readers may be interested in seeing http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8837438938991452670 A glimpse of the language can be seen at http://www.lernu.net

A glimpse of the global language,Esperanto, can be seen at http://www.lernu.net

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

Hi Brian

Thanks for the comment.

I am a non-native speaker of English, and I had to learn English later in life to get work etc. So, I know the 'undemocratic' aspect that you mention here.

A non-national language is a possible suggestion, but we are still not in the post-national age, particularly in the countries where such language barrier is the biggest of the problems. The other thing is Language is not just for communicating, but it is also the base for culture. It is always difficult, therefore, to migrate from one language to another, be it English, Mandarin or Esperanto :)

Coming from India, where language is an issue not just outside but inside the country, I am of the opinion of accepting the historical fact that English is omnipresent and develop a culturally adapted, stripped version coopting local nuances, a sort of Inglish, may be. I know this is the opposite end of what you are suggesting, but this may help speed up development in India by bringing the country on a common language platform and yet reducing the learning time and costs because of the local language linkage. This effort is somewhat similar to the development of Bahasa Malaysia in Independent Malaysia, though implementation of such an idea in India will have its own challenges.

Supriyo

david said...

Hi Supriyo,
I very much enjoyed your perceptions. McCrum's Globish is an excellent book, but with all due respect I must correct two things: (1) Robert McCrum is not writing in Globish, and he would be the first to say so, (2) the first book written in Globish, called Globish The World Over, was published just last year by Jean-Paul Nerriere and me. We wrote it especially to describe Globish IN Globish. (Some even think we did a pretty good job.) You can find it in e-Book or paperback at www.globish.com or on Amazon.com Again, your perceptions were excellent except for these two errors, which are perhaps much less important than the points you made so well.
David Hon

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

David

Thanks for dropping by. My apologies for the factual errors, which I acknowledge and shall correct now on the post.

I learnt about Globish yesterday. As I wrote, I endeavoured to get an English language training business going in India [and Bangladesh, Philippines and Sri Lanka as well] and encountered the changing nature of English language from close quarters. Some of the questions that I did not know the answer to are answered by the Globish project.

Thanks once again.

Regards,

Supriyo

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