Thursday, 29 September 2016

What is Globish?

Globish is a term invented by a French business man, Jean-Paul Nerriere. It has gained academic respectability, with leading linguist Robert McCrum devoting a book to it.

What does it mean?
Globish is the form English used as a lingua franca or common language between those using English as second or other language - known to linguists and language teachers as L2s.  An Italian designer might communicate with his Japanese client in Globish.

So that's English with an accent, then? And lots of mistakes?
Not necessarily. Many speakers of other languages use a more grammatically 'correct' form of English than those who speak native speakers (L1s).

Do L2s sometimes speak better English then L1s?
It depends what you mean by 'better'. One big advantage L1s generally have is a wider range of vocabulary. Steven Pinker has estimated that the average high school student has learned 60,000 words - far more than a second language learner (L2s) can usually acquire. Communication between L2s typically has a narrower, more formal vocabulary.

But surely native speakers have an advantage over those who have learned a language through study?
The key one is shared cultural references: to television shows, consumer products, school experience etc. L1s often have more common points of reference - though those educated outside the English speaking world may also miss out in this respect.

Why is Globish useful in business?
Globish puts greater emphasis on clarity of expression, especially when conducting business or discussing technical or legal matters. But it could be argued that it allows less flexibility.

Globish is not a very pretty word though, is it? 

Monsieur Nerriere is unconcerned if a word is 'ugly' and prioritises function and meaning. He is aiming for the linguistic equivalent of a budget airline: something that communicates a message in the simplest form.  

But isn't most English still spoken between L1s?
Not according to David Graddol. In his survey for the British Council English Next, the majority of conversations in English across the world no longer involve someone speaking their first language.
International tourism is growing {around 763 million international travellers in 2004} but the proportion of encounters involving a native English speaker is declining. Nearly 75% of international travel involved visitors from a non-English-speaking country travelling to a non-English-speaking destination. This demonstrates the ... growing role for global English.
Interview with Robert McCrum on Globish here
Video of Jean-Paul Nerriere explaining Globish here:

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  1. Interesting post.

    I'm curious--- what's your two cents on Globish being an English teacher ? Something about Globish seems condescending to me. I tend to use "international english".

    Cheers, Brad

  2. An interesting question. If English is now the international language why does the British Government now employ Esperanto translators ?


    Also check out


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