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Review of  English as a Global Language

Reviewer: Margarita V. Balamakova
Book Title: English as a Global Language
Book Author: David Crystal
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 15.1391

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Date: Mon, 3 May 2004 15:34:36 +0400
From: Margarita Balamakova
Subject: English as a Global Language

Crystal, David (2003) English as a Global Language,
Cambridge University Press.

Margarita Balamakova, English Philology Department,
Ivanovo State University (Russia)

In this review I will try and follow the natural order
of perception -- first addressing the form and then dealing
with the contents.

The structure of the book is truly reader-friendly: prefaces
to the first and second editions explain the importance of
the subject under study, the approaches taken by the author
in his investigation of it, and the differences between the
two editions. Unfortunately, often a time some casual
readers skip the preface as they consider it a formal demand
of the publisher. An attentive and careful reader, on the
contrary, will start reading with this particular section
and will be rewarded as the author will 'talk' directly to
him/her explaining the goals and ideas of the book, thus
personalizing this piece of printed matter that came to the
reader's possession. Let us now see how Crystal does it
in his "English as a global language".

The book deals with global linguistic developments as
reflected in the English language of today. In linguistics,
according to the author, the 1990s were a revolutionary
decade due to public recognition of the proliferation of new
linguistic varieties arising out of the Internet's world-
wide implementation, the crisis affecting endangered
languages, and the global position of English as they were
addressed in academic publications.

This is why the first edition of the book appeared back in
1997 and its updated version became possible in 2003 when
there accumulated much literature to refer to, and more
points of view were expressed along with the greater
availability of descriptive studies of individual varieties.
In its new version the book also changed in the presentation
style, which is now more academically conventional and yet
so recognizable -- this is David Crystal and no one else.

The book addresses three large issues - what is a global
language, why is English the leading candidate, and what is
the future of global English. A motivated reader will follow
the author's way in discovering facts, comparing them,
compiling their logical sequence, and drawing inferences. A
critically-minded reader will think of counter arguments to
what is stated by the author. However, both will recognize
Crystal's clear logic and shrewd reasoning.

In Chapter 1 - "Why a global language?" - the author
describes time-tested stereotypes about the English language
and its power in the world. While doing this he considers
the mixed feelings that some people might have about this
language domination and its influence on their own
(sometimes endangered) cultures. Crystal then
investigates the linguistic and extralinguistic mechanisms
that can trigger the global spread of a language and the
need there might be for that. What makes his argumentation
fair enough is the unbiased discussion of the dangers of a
global language. Impressive and thought-provoking is the
statement that it only took one generation to move from a
situation of a global language being a theoretical
possibility to one where it is an evident reality. Thus the
key concept of the book is defined and applied to the modern
world situation.

Chapter 2 - "Why English? The historical context" -
investigates factors of the geo-historical context that lead
English and no other language to become a global one, in
other words, "how English reached a position of pre-
eminence" (Crystal). The author gives a brief account of
its origin and spread on the British Isles, and a more
detailed description of its overseas travel and today's
position there covering America, Canada, the Caribbean,
Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South Asia, former
colonial Africa, South-east Asia and the South Pacific.
Finally, Crystal states that the present-day world status
of English is primarily the result of two factors: the
expansion of British colonial power and the emergence of the
United States as the leading economic power. The language
situation in today's world is discussed in the last part of
this chapter and visualized in charts, maps, and tables.

Chapter 3 - "Why English? The cultural context" -
investigates those socio-cultural factors that help to
understand why English preserves the status it attained in
the course of its consolidation and expansion, and proves
that English became the dominant language of global politics
and economy.

In Chapter 4 - "Why English? The cultural legacy" -
Crystal observes the role of international relations, the
media, international travel, international safety,
education, and communications in the current standing of
English as a language functioning on a global scale. The
conclusion of this wide-ranging review is that English took
the right place at the right time, which was largely
facilitated by two events: the movement towards political
independence and the electronic revolution.

Chapter 5 - "The Future of global English" - explores the
perspectives for English to retain its current position on a
world language scale and/or to change its standing due to
certain political, socio-economic, educational, and other
trends in today's global society. New Englishes have entered
the linguistic scene, each of them having its own character
explicated in grammar, vocabulary, etc. so that code-
switching is not as easy as it used to be even within an
English family of languages. The author is extremely
accurate about predictions: in fact, he rather speculates
than predicts and ends up with asking questions and not
giving straight-forward answers on the future of English.

This final chapter we find of a paramount importance as it
stirs the reader's interest to the issues raised in the
book. Also, it inspires further research: the questions
asked by the author work like guidelines, following which
may lead an attentive reader to finding answers to each of
them. The resulting answers, however, will definitely differ
from reader to reader and may largely depend upon numerous
factors of political, economic, cultural differences and
personal views of the book's audience. The author's personal
opinion can hardly be traced between the lines of the text:
he operates by unbiased facts and figures. In other words,
the status of English as a global language is proven and
recognized but Crystal avoids predictions about its future
position as the situation may change in this changing world.

Earlier, we mentioned the user-friendliness of the book that
reveals not only in its language but also in the edition
'architecture'. Once again, it is for the readers'
convenience that the author introduces the References
section with 173 sources listed (monographs, articles from
reference books and periodicals, official reports,
transcripts of debates, etc.) and the Index section with 918
entries (names of people, places, and various phenomena of
social, cultural, technical, political, and economic

As a reader, I thanked Crystal many a time for those
reference sections. As a reviewer, I was satisfied with the
precision of the References and Index compilation. As a
linguist who is not 'technically challenged', I understand
the mechanisms of such compilation. Yet, these 'auxiliary'
sections look state-of-the-art to me: they are of
substantial value to the book as they constitute its other
layer - the book's hypertextual structure - thus assisting
the readers in their effective search for the necessary
information and serving as memory boosters.

Crystal's "English as a Global Language" is a scholarly
yet reader-friendly book on a burning issue of today: is
globalization going to take over so that our civilization
will end up sharing one language. Being a linguist, the
author clearly expresses his points of narration and
argument. Being an authority, he knows how to manage his
audience. Being a liberal person of wide views, he offers
each reader to follow his/her own path in the exploration of
the subject with a solid foundation provided.

The book is a true example of high-quality intellectual
material that is flexible enough to be used by various
audiences: from educational to professional through just
Margarita Balamakova is an Associate Professor, PhD, at the
Department of English Philology, Ivanovo State University
(Russia), currently teaching English, American Studies and
New Information Technologies in linguistics to future
language professionals and current language teachers. She is
the Director of IvSU Linguistic Centre. Language application
spheres of top interest are cross-cultural communication and
translation; recent research projects deal with text
production and perception in the Internet.

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