What is Globish?

Globish ( Ɡləʊbɪʃ )noun

a simplified version of English used by non-native speakers, consisting of the most common words and phrases only Collins English Dictionary

English is increasingly spoken between non-native speakers

English is the world’s leading second language, with over 750 million speakers using it as a lingua franca.

In his survey for the British Council English Next, David Graddol concluded that the majority of conversations in English across the world no longer involve someone speaking their first language.

International tourism is growing {around 763 million international travellers in 2004} but the proportion of encounters involving a native English speaker is declining. Nearly 75% of international travel involved visitors from a non-English-speaking country travelling to a non-English-speaking destination. This demonstrates the … growing role for global English.

French businessman Jean-Paul Nerrière was one of using English as a second language. He began noticing that he could communicate more effectively with other non-natives (L2s) than those using their native tongue (L1s)

When I travelled to Japan, to Korea, Europe, Asia… everywhere…to the Americas, people seemed happy to do their business in English with me… because my English was as limited as their English. It was easier for us to speak English with each other because we all had PROBLEMS. But they were never very DIFFERENT problems.

These ‘problems’ were centred on L1s not making linguistic concessions to L2s. When a native language is shared the basic assumption is that there is common pool of shared vocabulary. This can be confused by class or and/or education: What’s he talking about? Has he swallowed a dictionary? but adjustments can be made: complex terms simplified etc.

The problem with L1 — L2 interactions is that there is often a basic misunderstanding of the source of communication problems. Phrasal verbs , for exampl— where the meaning is changed by a preposition — get out, turn down, show up — are generally not complex for L1s but can be baffling for L2s. We’ll start when they arrive is more formal but easier to understand than ….when they show up. L2s are more aware of the potential issues so instinctively try to avoid them.

when a Japanese employee met a Belgian, a Chilean and an Italian, they managed. None spoke English brilliantly but each knew the others were making mistakes too. When an American or British manager walked in, everything changed. The native speakers talked too fast and used mysterious expressions.

To Nerrière there was only one solution — and it would not involve more English classes. He devised a system or ‘language tool’ which he names Globish. This he claims is to be natural language rather than a constructed one like Esperanto

It uses a subset of standard English grammar, and a list of 1500 English words. Nerrière claims it is “not a language” in and of itself,[2] but rather it is the common ground that non-native English speakers adopt in the context of international business.

The emphasis is on practicality and adaptation:

With 1500 of the most common words from English, you can say all you need or want — maybe not perfectly — but understandably. With simple sentence structures…And no idioms that we can’t understand…And no jokes!

Quite right! We wouldn’t want anyone laughing out of turn. Or telling stupid idiomatic gags using non-listed words.

Different strokes

Ill-judged joking aside, Nerriere identifies an important distinction between the expectations of L1s and L2s. Communication between an Italian designer and his Japanese client might be different in character from that used between native speakers: I don’t like that colour rather than That colour is too loud/tacky.

L2s tend towards explicit meaning while L1s generally have more access to linguistic and cultural conventions and a broader vocabulary. This enables native speakers to ‘read between the lines’ but can introduce greater ambiguity.

Globish is an attempt to establish a set of rules or guidelines that L2s can rely on — limiting the number of verbs and so on. It puts greater emphasis on clarity of expression, which it is undeniably important, especially when conducting business or discussing technical or legal matters.

Some would argue that reducing language to pure functionality strips it of subtlety and poetry. The word globish, for example, will not win any prizes for aesthetic beauty.

Nerrière, however, aims to close business deals rather than win literary prizes. He is unconcerned if a word is ‘ugly’, aiming to establish the linguistic equivalent of a budget airline. Who cares what a word looks or sounds like as long as it gets its intended message across?

Like any challenger company CEO, Nerrière wants to clip the wings of the establish leader in the field. He aims to ‘limit the influence of English dramatically’ and issues a call to arms to defend other ‘threatened’ languages:

‘I am helping the rescue of French, and of all the languages that are threatened by English today but which will not be at all endangered by Globish. It is in the best interests of non-Anglophone countries to support Globish, especially if you like your culture and its language.’

Good luck with that, Monsieur…




The vocabulary, grammar & history of English

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Kieran McGovern

Kieran McGovern

I grew up in an Irish family in west London

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