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Review of  English as a Global Language

Reviewer: Christie Marie DeBlasio
Book Title: English as a Global Language
Book Author: David Crystal
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
History of Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 23.5146

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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 respect.

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 world.

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 Englishes.

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 book.

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.

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9781107611801
Prices: U.S. $ 16.99
U.K. £ 10.99