Klingon as a Second Language

English has conquered the world. As it spreads, it is seeping into foreign cultures, mutating into a global language. Its footprint across the globe is only set to expand.

Issue: July-Aug 2010

Robert McCrum, Globish: How the English Language Became the World’s Language (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), 331 pp., $26.95.


[amazon 0393062554 full] FEW SUBJECTS engender such passionate argument and virulent quibbling as the English language. Its use and misuse have been the cause of beheadings, burnings at the stake, and innumerable bad report cards and tongue lashings over the past thousand years or so. One imagines that all people must feel strongly about their mother tongue, yet we speakers and writers of this glorious polyglot linguistic mess appear to have exceeded all others in the amount of praise we accord to our particular system of communication, and the abuse we heap upon those who we feel employ it poorly.

There are varying estimates as to how many people in the world speak English (anywhere from 700 million to guesses that there are over 2 billion), and yet unless there is some agreement as to what exactly constitutes knowing a language (which seems unlikely), it will remain impossible to get a sense of how pernicious our language is.

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