A Summary and Critique of David Crystal’s English as a Global Language

In English as a Global Language, David Crystal gives a history of English as a developing, and far-reaching, language in our world. He explains the growing dominance of the English language gracefully, without straying too far from the realm of facts into the no-man’s-land of opinions. English as a Global Language is a practical and revealing look at, appropriately enough, English as a global language.

I like that Crystal is consistently objective (or at least as objective as any human can be) throughout English as a Global Language. Too often self-appointed experts waste time and energy either in praising English for its, they would say, obvious superiority and resulting rank as an emerging global language, or in bashing the English language – and, by implication, those who speak and therefore promote it – for its imperialistic overtaking of other languages. Crystal does neither of these things. In this book, he is straightforwardly offering his educated opinions, which are backed up by concrete facts, about English as a language that is spreading and evolving as a global language.

In the first chapter, entitled “Why a Global Language?” Crystal observes that when native speakers of English think of their language’s relative significance in the world, they “may feel pride […] but [their] pride may be tinged with concern, when [they] realize that people in other countries may not want to use the language in the same way that [the native speakers] do, and are changing it themselves” (2). This statement interests me because, true as it is, to see the fact laid out so baldly in text reminds me of how silly it sometimes seems to be proud and defensive of something that arbitrarily occurred (a native English speaker happened to have been raised in an area where English was the main language) and that a person, as is most often the case, has not made any major contributions to personally (such as by the invention of a new and widely-used word, or even the inspiration for the change in usage of an old word). From the beginning, then, Crystal highlights that human nature affects the socio-political environment in which language spread takes place.

Crystal is thorough in his explanation of how English has spread in its relatively short history. I had not previously considered or realized that it has been just since the 1950’s that the use and influence of English around the world has begun to increase significantly. Yet Crystal explains in interesting detail that it is technology – particularly of modern communication and of accessible air transportation – that has enabled and advanced the spread of English across the world.

I was particularly interested in his story of the transmission of the first radio telecommunication signals, which were in English. Because the technology an innovation of English-speaking Britons and Americans, this seems only logical. However, as Crystal highlights, the implications and eventual outcome of this – that within a quarter of a century public radio broadcasting would be made for the first time, in English, and would eventually lead to the establishment (though unofficial) of English as a lingua franca in international politics, could not possibly have been foreseen. Yet in hindsight, it seems the most natural, and influential result in the world.

In addition to making clear the means by which the English language has been learned and spoken by an unprecedented number of people, Crystal is thorough in his explanations of when, why, and by and to whom English has spread. I like that throughout English as a Global Language, he provides clarification on historical events that are crucial to his points. In addition, Crystal seems to have gone to exhaustive lengths to provide tables to confirm his statements. That such apparently well-researched facts back up his arguments make Crystal seem like a truly dedicated scholar, who is both fascinated in his field of study, and enthusiastic about conducting thorough research to heighten the credibility of his book.

Crystal is a skilled writer whose style saves English as a Global Language from being boring and textbook-ish, and make it an entertaining for anyone interested in the history, present, and potential future of English in the world. By using a straightforward and a matter-of-fact tone and reinforcing his assertions with research, Crystal has crafted a book that is as interesting as it is educational.

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About Christine Ghattas

Christine Ghattas (Christine Bonnie Ghattas) is an artist from the United States. She has enjoyed creating art since she was a child, and finds inspiration everywhere, all the time — in everyday moments as well as grand experiences and faraway places. View all posts by Christine Ghattas

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