Monday, April 5, 2010

Better Globish than Gibberish, I Guess

Robert McCrum, writing for the Guardian, has an interesting column on the rise (though I have a hard time calling it a rise since it's most likely one of those media-manufactured phenomena) of something called Globish, which, simply put, is a pidgin English spoken by non-native English speakers. Apparently, it's all the rage with the international journalists and others who like to manufacture bogus trends and write about them (McCrum is going as far as to (surprise) write a book about Globish).

I have to wonder how seriously to take him, though, when he describes his book premise thusly:
For the past four years, I've been working on a Book, Globish: How the English Language Became the World's Language, which argues that a seismic shift in the foundations of our lingua franca has transformed it from an expression of Anglo-American cultural sovereignty into a supra-national phenomenon, with its own powerful inner dynamic.
Globish I can handle, standard Anglo-American gibberish, I'm not sure I've got the patience for.

At least he doesn't accept the blame for the "Globish" phraseology, though he ought to accept the blame for all the cliches that riddle his book description. The blame for Globish is assigned to a former IBM executive in Japan who noticed non-native English speakers communicating in a simpler form of Englihs, less gramatically structured. In other words, improper English.

I applaud people who work to learn another language. I know firsthand, after spending several years studying and trying to speak French, that learning a new language is difficult. I'm not sure, however, that such learning attempts need to devolve into pidginizing a language for the sake of easier comprehension. One of my favorite examples of what I could possibly call Globish French came several years ago when some friends and I encountered another individual new to the Francophone world. We disc ussed our struggles in learning the language and he said he took some linguistic shortcuts, similar to what Globish is doing with English. He memorized the pidgin phrase "Je voudrais ca," meaning, "I'd like that." "And if I want two of them," he said, "I say 'Je voudrais ca ca.'" It gets the point across, but it's hardly proper French.

Globish is a logical stepping stone for those learning English, but I hardly regard it as a final destination. And I say this not to be snobby, nor to insist that proper English is the only way to communicate in English. I just think that we, as learners of language ought not to sell our educations short.


Bill Chapman said...

Better than Globish would be Esperanto, I feel.

Globish, if it exists (and I'm not convinced)is a sort of substandard English. For international communication we need a planned international language, and the only serious candidate is Esperanto.

Mister Fweem said...

Yeah, I'm not sure why we'd want to settle for a "sub-standard" form of any language for international communication. From what I've seen of Esperanto, its simplicity while at the same time remaining a whole language is appealing. What bothers me about "Globish" is that it is going to vary from person to person. They may find that their version of Globish taht works in one situation doesn't in another.

Mike Unwalla, TechScribe said...

@Bill Chapman: Globish, if it exists (and I'm not convinced) is a sort of substandard English.

Globish is not substandard English. Globish is a specified subset of English that is sufficient for most communication.

Mister Fweem said...

It's certainly an interesting concept, a stepping-stone, perhaps, into learning English. English isn't the friendliest language in the world to learn, as there are rules and then rules that are constantly broken. Not that other languages aren't hard to learn, either -- I've studied French for years and am still flummoxed by its intricacies, but at least i speak passably well -- or well enough to ensure comprehension, even if I'm not completely correct. But I want to do more than "get by" in a language.

Mister Fweem said...

The topic certainly does make for some interesting reading.

Brian Barker said...

Globish reminds me of another project called "Basic English" Unfortunately this failed, because native English speakers could not remember which words not to use :)

So it's time to move forward and adopt a neutral non-national language, taught universally in schools worldwide,in all nations.

As a native English speaker, I would prefer Esperanto

Your readers may be interested in the following video at Professor Piron was a translator with the United Nations in Geneva.

A glimpse of Esperanto can be seen at and at