By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
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)
OVERVIEW 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 spheres.)
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.
CONCLUSION 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 curious.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER 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.