Book review: Crystal: English as a Global Language

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue May 4 12:30:08 UTC 2004

Forwarded from Linguist-List,

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

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

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.


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.


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.

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list