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English as a Global Language (1997)

de David Crystal

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237385,613 (3.31)3
David Crystal, world authority on the English language, presents a lively and factual account of the rise of English as a global language and explores the whys and wherefores of the history, current status and future potential of English as the international language of communication. English has been lauded as the most 'successful' language ever, with 1,500 million speakers worldwide; but Crystal avoids taking sides and tells the story in a measured but engaging way, backed by facts and figures. This new edition of his classic book includes new material (on the vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation of New Englishes), footnotes, new tables, and a full bibliography. There are updates throughout. This is a book for anyone of any nationality concerned with English: teachers, students, language professionals, politicians, general readers and anyone with a love of the language.… (més)
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Considering that I had to read this for university, I feel more than satisfied.

The book contains so many interesting information about many of us call simply "English", without even knowing that there's a whole world behind it.
It explains the possible reasons why English has become "the" global language, using geographical, historical and social data, and tries to foresee what could happen in the future.
Despite everything the style was pretty smooth and involving (except for the parts analising a bit too in detail the charts), but more than anything it was really clear and understandable. ( )
  Shay17 | Mar 30, 2018 |
This is a good overview about the spread of English as a lingua franca, but at times it seems like Crystal, not wanting to seem like he is taking a political stance, cuts short a discussion. I would be interested to read a more in-depth version of this. I did get lost in the latter half of the last chapter, but that's because the linguistic speak got too technical. ( )
  Sareene | Oct 22, 2016 |
David Crystal is basically the thinking person's Bill Bryson (we will leave aside the question of why the thinking person would need a Bill Bryson): he began as a researcher on Randolph Quirk's monumental Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, and has spun that out into research of his own on, per Wikipedia, "English language learning and teaching, clinical linguistics, forensic linguistics, language death, 'ludic linguistics' (Crystal's neologism for the study of language play), style, English genre, Shakespeare, indexing, and lexicography." He is a major scholar, though one who suffers from a bit of the same loss of seriousness that a Harold Bloom or a Terry Eagleton suffers when they try to balance between the roles of proper public intellectual, popularizer and gadfly.

This particular book, weirdly, was initiated at the request of a society in the US advocating for English to be made the sole official national language (there is not one at present). It is not written to order--it is objective and academic, though I think it is a bit in Crystal's nature to celebrate grand narratives, and his treatment of English occasionally seems a bit too enamoured with the epic sweep of its growth from a set of dialects spoken by a bunch of obscure North Sea–huggers, to a somewhat less obscure insular creole, to a major literary and scientific language with its Romance, Latin, and Greek infusions, to an imperial language on which the sun never sets, to a worldwide lingua franca underpinned by international civil society, economic globalization, and American hegemony, to whatever it is becoming now--a fractured new language family? a truly universal auxiliary language? a flash-in-the-pan to be supplanted by Chinese?

That celebratory feeling is a bit repugnant at times, but it's a minor thing. No, I gave this book its middling-to-low rating because it's largely boring and obvious. We get a recap of the history of English alongside one of previous international languages (mostly European--French and Latin--as if there wasn't a tonne also to say about, oh, Arabic, Chinese, Sanskrit); it is Wikipedia-level, leavened with frequent portentous reminders of the unprecendented significance of what English is becoming. We get some chapters of human arithmetic, giving us a figure of somewhat less than a billion English speakers of any kind (as of 1997, and of course very roughly) and classifying them by nation in terms of their historical relationship with English following Kachru's three concentric circles model (inner--UK, US, Canada, Australia, etc.; outer--India, Nigeria, Uganda, Trinidad, etc.; expanding--Germany, Malta, Japan, basically the whole world). For anyone who works in related fields, this is old news, and the Kachruvian model is so obviously correct that it's a bit uninspiring--a simple, atheoretical description of the state of English use, it makes much of little.

We get the drilldown into how it became "the indispensable language," roughly 1) the Industrial Revolution, 2) the British Empire, 3) America; from realm to realm to realm, we are unsurprised to learn that the specific advantages of English--the huge number of newspapers published in it in the 19th century in relation to all other languages, its dominance of the scientific and technical literature, its dominance of movies ("Hollywood" is starting to sound like an anachronistic term for "movies" as a whole, isn't it?) and pop music, its use in international institutions and business, all proceed in a straightforward way from these underlying material conditions. If we really want to answer the question "Why English?" our topic of investigation isn't really linguistic at all, it's "Why did the Industrial Revolution start in England?" (See Eric Hobsbawm for that one; it is also, of course, the way to answer the larger question "Why is the world the way it is?") Instead we get factoids and the same process traced over and over again in a wide wide wide lens treatment about an inch deep.

There is a chapter on language policy in the US, fulfilling Crystal's original mandate--it suffers because Crystal tries to play policymaker but his suggestions are vague to the point of vapidity, and also because he seems to hop back and forth at will or in confusion between the case where our alternatives are official English or no preferential treatment of any language, and that where alternatives are no preferential treatment and extensive federal support for the use of some number of other languages in American public life. And also because all the arguments for official English are stupid, and he tries to give them a fair hearing.

Then there is speculation on the future advent and diversification of English, which has some good material on, for example, features of and attitudes toward some non-native Englishes currently undergoing standardization (and in some places, nativization). That is interesting stuff but treated unsystematically here. And throughout, we get little creative snippets or bagatelles: the idea that if English adopts a syllable-timed rhythm (plausible because the large bulk of EFL speakers, who now account for more than half of English speakers, have first languages that are syllable timed), it will sound a bit like we're all rapping all the time--I never made that connection. But on the whole this book seems a bit thin and obvious, though I should be clear I don't blame Crystal--he was the guy to write on this topic if it were to be written about--but at this kind of global survey level, as opposed to one that zeroes in on specific phenomena, the topic itself is a bit thin and obvious. ( )
9 vota MeditationesMartini | Jul 11, 2015 |
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David Crystal, world authority on the English language, presents a lively and factual account of the rise of English as a global language and explores the whys and wherefores of the history, current status and future potential of English as the international language of communication. English has been lauded as the most 'successful' language ever, with 1,500 million speakers worldwide; but Crystal avoids taking sides and tells the story in a measured but engaging way, backed by facts and figures. This new edition of his classic book includes new material (on the vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation of New Englishes), footnotes, new tables, and a full bibliography. There are updates throughout. This is a book for anyone of any nationality concerned with English: teachers, students, language professionals, politicians, general readers and anyone with a love of the language.

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