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LINGUIST List 23.5146

Mon Dec 10 2012

Review: History of Linguistics; Sociolinguistics: Crystal (2012)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <monicalinguistlist.org>

Date: 10-Dec-2012
From: Christie DeBlasio <christie.deblasiogmail.com>
Subject: English as a Global Language, Second Edition
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-1812.html

AUTHOR: David Crystal
TITLE: English as a Global Language, Second Edition
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2012

Christie M. DeBlasio, Alumni Graduate School of English, Assumption
University, Bangkok Thailand


Crystals’ second edition of “English as a Global Language” mainly came about
through his realization that far more studies are now available that should be
incorporated into his book. In regards to this he first chose to change the
format of the book. He sates “things have changed, with very much more
literature available to refer to, and more points of view to take into
account, so for this new edition I have adopted a more conventional academic
style of presentation.” (p. xi). Second, more descriptive studies on new
English varieties are available which allow him to expand chapter 5 in this

The book itself was written to ask three questions: “What makes a world
language? Why is English the leading candidate? And will it continue to hold
this position?”. Chapter 1: “Why a global language?”, attempts to explain the
what, why and how of a global language as well as the dangers of its
existence. He lists several criteria for a language to be global. Mainly, the
language must “develop a special role that is recognized in every country.”
(p. 3) He considers this to be qualified when the language has a special place
in the community such as a native language, an official language by
governmental terms or being made a priority in foreign language teaching.

Chapter 2: “Why English? The historical context,” discusses the origins of
English and its path through history around the world. Crystal mainly covers
the regions of North America, the Caribbean, Australia and New Zealand, South
Africa, Asia and the South Pacific and colonial Africa. After individually
discussing these historic progressions he then produces a brief world view of
the final historical result.

Continuing on in Chapter 3: “Why English? The cultural foundation,” Crystal
digs through political history, the availability of knowledge during the time
of the world’s rapid economic expansion and the lack of need in the developed
world to discuss the role of English. The lack of need has contributed to the
use of English being the automatic choice for communication as no other
language came close in reach of use.

Chapter 4: “Why English? The cultural legacy,” discusses English in a world
view in respect to its effects on culture through exposure and lingua franca
use. This chapter covers different forms of international relations such as
organizational bodies like the UN, and various forms of media. It also covers
the effects of international travel, safety procedures and education. Crystal
sums up the chapter by tying together the history of English’s spread through
the world and its solid place in the daily functioning of the globalized

Chapter 5: “The future of global English,” discusses the impact the current
situations in the world have on the global use of English. Specifically,
Crystal asks “What kind of development could impede the future growth of
English?” (p. 123) Several possible scenarios are discussed covering a range
of areas such as politics, economic changes, technological advances and
cultural shifts. Crystal touches on concepts such as the rejection of English
altogether as a way to preserve national identity, and political turmoil as to
whether English should be governmentally pushed as an official language in
countries such as the US or handled as a common language creating unity in a
country while supporting minority languages as well. This chapter touches on
everything from racism, multilingualism and education to stress-based speech
and domains of use. Further on in the chapter the phenomenon of “new
Englishes” is thoroughly explored. The realization that the number of L2
English users is increasing at a much higher rate than L1 users has lead to
the creation of different regional types of English. These types reflect
different use of grammar, word formation and word definition. The areas to
which these variations spread can be country-wide such as American English and
British English or regional such as West African English. The act of
code-switching also adds to the dynamic of new Englishes not only in terms of
loan words but also entire utterances combining two or even three distinct
languages at once.

In closing chapter 5, Crystal poses many questions as to factors that could
continue to change English as well as possible outcomes of those changes
around the world. He maintains that, as history has shown, no one can really
guess what will happen to the language.


Crystal does an excellent job in achieving the goals he laid out for this
book. One goal, as mentioned above, is to answer the following three
questions: “What makes a world language? Why is English the leading candidate?
And will it continue to hold this position?”. As the summary above shows, he
thoroughly discusses each of these questions in detail and provides, in excess
even, historical and factual information to support his opinions. Most notable
is the extent to which the future of new Englishes is discussed in chapter 5.
Here, he not only explains the circumstances at play that could affect English
in multiple ways now but also possible future circumstances that have yet to
be seen.

Another one of his goals/reasons for creating this second edition, to update
it with current studies and new ideas, is also achieved. Crystal takes great
care to present multiple viewpoints on issues of language ideologies.
Specifically, his overview of American “English only” policies paints a very
clear picture of the many conflicting opinions on the subject without any bias
towards one opinion over another. Similarly, the new research he presents
which outlines many of the current developments in the study of new Englishes
is used as examples for his own opinion. However, he makes it clear that these
studies are still not sufficient to fully understand the nature of new

This book is perfect for those just starting to learn about the world of
global language. It introduces the basics of globalization from a linguistic
perspective as well as the significant events taking place through history
that have brought us to the current situation. The book’s chapter organization
and use of a clear, simple writing style make the development of the English
language easy to follow. The progression of the chapters creates a smooth
transition from introduction to historic beginning to current situations and
finally to future projections. Frequently, Crystal refers back to prior
chapters, which further strengthens the cohesion of the book. Similarly, all
the diagrams have a clear purpose and are appropriate to aid in the readers’
understanding as the book progresses.

Since this book is meant for beginners, it would be best used in conjunction
with other introductory type linguistic and sociolinguistic material. For
example, deeper understanding of the migration of language through Europe and
of linguistic phenomenon such as code-switching and speaker identity could
help to create an even clearer understanding of many points presented in the

Another outstanding aspect of this book is Crystal’s frequent recommendations
for further research. This book touches on many areas of research that are on
the cutting edge of current developments. One example is his discussion of the
lack of research in the study of many new Englishes in specific domains
instead of broad areas and in relativity to whether those collocations or
vocabulary choices are considered to be appropriate by the relevant society or
considered poor English. The closing paragraphs of his last chapter ask very
specific theoretical questions as to the future of English as a global
language. These questions are quite thought-provoking and end the book on an
intriguing high note.

Despite being a very well made book, there are some shortcomings worth
mentioning. First, the expanded chapter five is very long. Normally this is
not necessarily a problem, but the chapter’s latter half could easily have
been put into another chapter. That is, the first half of chapter 5 discusses
current situations and then switches to examples of new Englishes and then to
the future of new Englishes. Perhaps a more logical choice would be to create
a chapter 6 only for discussion of the future.

Another small, but strange enough to mention, occurrence in the book, is
Crystal’s opinion that Americans mistake Canadian English for British English.
As an American, or if one were ever to watch an American television show
making fun of Canadian accents, it would be obvious that in no way does
Canadian English sound British. It is commonly portrayed as American English
with emphasis on the different pronunciation of the diphthong “ou” or with a
French accent if one is referring to French-speaking people of Quebec.

Aside from these minor issues, this book is a thorough introduction to English
as a global language. It could inspire its readers to seek out further
information about many of the subtopics covered in this book and asks a
multitude of questions that reflect the dynamic and ever changing environment
of English today.


Christie DeBlasio is an alumni of the Masters of English Language Teaching
program in the Graduate School of English at Assumption University. Her thesis
investigates the unique culture-based characteristics of lexical bundles in
Thai Business English Lingua Franca (BELF) using a corpus of business stories
from Bangkok English newspapers. She is currently doing independent research
on intercultural communication and linguistic landscapes.
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