The story of English in India epitomizes its strange history. English has been a language of occupiers and imperialists, but also one of insurgents and democrats. It has often been shaped by populations upon whom it was imposed; a large number of common English words (“jungle,” “nirvana,” “bungalow”) were, for instance, taken from Indian languages. English has also become, as Robert McCrum asserts in “Globish” (Norton; $26.95), the “world’s language,” and it is a merit of his book that he is alert to the many dichotomies of English’s rise. “Is this revolution a creature of globalization,” he asks, “or does global capitalism owe some of its energy and resilience to global English in all its manifestations, cultural as well as linguistic?” “Globish” is not quite the same as global English. The term was coined by Jean-Paul Nerrière, a French former I.B.M. executive, who noted that non-native English speakers were able to communicate with a minimal, “utilitarian” vocabulary of English words. McCrum, a British author and editor who has co-written several editions of “The Story of English,” explains that Globish is an overwhelmingly economic phenomenon—the language of Singaporean businessmen closing deals with the help of a small arsenal of English words, and of European officials calming financial markets by uttering stock phrases on television. He offers a journalistic account of its worldwide use in tandem with a historical one of the development of English as it made its way around the world. This history shows the depth and complexity of the role of English in the political and cultural evolution of the societies to which it spread. Globish’s influence is unlikely to be as revolutionary or as lasting.
more from Isaac Chotiner at The New Yorker here.