What Is Global English? 

Rita Raley 
Department of English 
University of California, Santa Barbara 

Ce este Engleza globală? (Romanian translation)

This page comes out of research I did for my dissertation (and now book project), Global English in the Academy.  I have put up a general description of my project, now quite a dated description, and some relevant links.

For print publications, see my articles:
-- “On Global English and the Transmutation of Postcolonial Studies into `Literature in English,'” Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies 8:1 (1999): 51-80
-- “A Teleology of Letters; or, From a `Common Source' to a Common Language,” Romantic Circles Praxis Series; “The Containment of English India,” ed. Daniel O'Quinn (November 2000) [online]
-- “Cadmus Britannicus: Between Language and Literature in British India,” ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 31:1-2 (January-April 2000): 101-125
-- "Machine Translation and Global English," The Yale Journal of Criticism 16, no. 2 (Fall 2003) (forthcoming).

Page Created: December 1, 1997 [text completed in early 1998]
Last Revised: August 28, 2000

[ description | links | universal languages | language and the internet | lexicology ]

What Is Global English? 

Because the syntactical formulation "Global English" does not yet have an immediately obvious meaning, I'll begin with four instances of its use, culled from both academic and more general sources: 

1)The Global English Newsletter (from The English Company (UK) Ltd. and the British Council’s "English 2000" Project) 
"Global English" in a sociolinguistic context refers almost literally to the use of English as a global language. The BBC and Oxford dictionaries define the phrase global English in much the same fashion. Also of note is a new book and related electronic publication called The Future of English?, which is in part concerned with the "forecasting" and implementation stage of English 2000. The Global English Newsletter is designed to utilize the British Council’s Market Intelligence Service to monitor the changing role of English in the world.  And the book, which the Council commissioned the linguist David Graddol to write, is an imagined account of the linguistic scene in 2050, and it is billed as a "thoughtful and responsible management strategy" of "an important resource," where the "resource" is English.[1]

2) David Crystal, English as a Global Language (Cambridge UP, 1997) 
Designed for both an academic and a more general audience, the bottom line of this text is that the desire for a globally common language and the desire to preserve local languages and by extension cultural identities are not mutually exclusive desires.  In Crystal’s terms, English can be made to operate in both capacities:  it can operate as what he terms World Standard Spoken English and it can appear in the guise of "New Englishes," as English dialects made local, indigenous, and informal.  So, "Global English" here is more or less shorthand for English in use around the world in the latter half of the twentieth century (he does write about the new technologies), with a particular acknowledgement of local dialects (Englishes).  Crystal does see it as a contemporary phenomenon driven by both British imperialism and the ascension of the US economy after WWII, and Joe Lockard's essay on "English Language Ideologies in Mandatory Palestine" makes use of the phrase in much the same way. 

3) The formulation makes an appearance in Rosemary George’s transnational literary study, The Politics of Home (Cambridge UP, 1996). "Global English" in George’s terms is more or less just a descriptive phrase for the imperial force of language and the new generation of cosmopolitan writers this force has produced.  As such, it functions simply as a replacement term for "Literature in English." 

4) Last, in software and related technological circles, this phrase signifies a kind of dialect of English that is presumed to be universally comprehensible. So, when Lotus advertises their SmartSuite 97 as one which "will be widely available in Global English from U.S. resellers," this means the product has been encoded in a language that all readers world-wide will find accessible. One consultant even suggests that the phrase is synonymous with "simplified or international English."[2] The fallacy here is twofold: one, that Global English has been severed from (regular?) English to such an extent that it has become a benign and neutral means of international communication, without all of the attendant anxieties about cultural imperialism; and two, that Global English has been stripped of all of the ambiguities and complexities of (regular?) English and is now immediately legible—that it has gained another life as an "easy" language designed never to mystify.  See, for example, the description of this software: 
Global English for Business with Asia (The New Zealand Exposition Centre):  "Our specialty is editing your documents into a form of international business English, expertly tailored for Asian readers....The Global English Editor. The right way to edit international documents. The easy way to learn the skills of Global English....streamline international communication....Editing your Web pages into Global English gives you access to a massive new market—Asia." 

My Description of Global English 

Now, my suggestion is that Global English has more to do with what lies behind its use by the British Council, by David Crystal, by Rosemary George, and by more general or popular publications. What lies behind its use in these contexts, in other words, is the idea that the potential for a unification and consolidation behind a global language does in fact exist, a notion that is dependent upon English itself as its very condition of possibility. 

Also, while it is generally taken to mean the literal spread of English throughout the world after the colonial period, "Global English" has now come to stand in as a manufactured historical and cultural condition constituted in part by the supposition that language has made it possible to elide or transgress the boundaries of nations and races. We are distinctly no longer in a moment of Thomas Babington Macaulay's "Minute on Indian Education"--a moment in which English and an English education can be imagined as the formers of an educated populace that is English in all but "blood and colour."

The phrase is basically an impossible literalism in that Global English does not exist per se, yet one might still imagine and speak of a moment in which it could be a so-termed ‘common language’ for the world.  We are at a moment in history now in which English has been figured as both the fulfillment of the colonial promise of an all-pervasive, hegemonic system of language and as the sine qua non of the new world information order, a constitutive part of a global human society at ‘the end of history.’ My manuscript, Global English and the Academy, thus comes out of a single question:  What remains to be said once English is taken to be inevitably, ineluctably here—now that the power and status of the language is taken to be self-evident?  The provisional answer is that we must come to know by what means it has achieved this kind of primacy and that a strictly economic approach to this problem cannot give full account of the linguistic ordering of English as a dominant, global language, for this has also to do with the evaluation of English as cultural capital. I posit that this incursion of English is absolutely bound up with the academy—especially with the evolving relation between learning English and learning literature in English as the two are legitimated within a common horizon of "use."


  • The Global English Newsletter (The English Co. Ltd. and the British Council English 2000 Project):   "GEN offers a means of keeping up-to-date with the key developments connected with English as a global language....GEN offers not only news but also interpretation. It uses the British Council's unrivalled Market Intelligence Service as one of its sources, linking items of news to key themes or forecasts made in The Future of English?"
  • Global English College (English Language Center; Vancouver, B.C.):   "English is a Global Language....At GEC you will feel comfortable in the friendly, global community that we represent here. We welcome you to contribute to our cultural understanding of your part of the world."
  • Global English: Word Links (a CD-ROM from the UK):   "a useful, one-to-one programmed learning tool" 
universal and constructed languages...  language and the internet...  lexicology and english language pages...  a partial list of terms coined to describe international dialects with ties to english...

Anglikaans/Anglicaans, Anglonorsk, Arablish, Benglish, Chinglish, Deutschlish/Gerlish, Dutchlish, Eurolish, Franglais/Frenglish, Hindlish/Hinglish, Indonglish, Inglish, Italglish, Japlish/Janglish, Manglish, Minglish, Punglish, Russlish, Singlish, Spanglish, Swedlish, Taglish, Tamlish, Tinglish, Wenglish, Yinglish


[1] There is much more to say about the BC English 2000 project, which in some senses is simply a polling organization with a self-appointed ‘global’ focus.  They’re known for example for questionnaires and surveys that test the ‘global market for English language teaching’ in order to identify the hottest ‘growth areas.’ <back

[2] I won't burden you with endless examples of its use in reference to software here, but running a web search will provide you with more if you'd like them. 

Search the web for: 

a partial list of artificial universal language projects...
Note about this list:  Not included here are brachygraphic / phonographic or shorthand systems, and for now, neither are the projects more accurately described as philosophical, like Bishop Wilkins’ An Essay Towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language (1668). 

-- Ramón Llull, Ars Magna (13th Century) 
-- Cave Beck, Universal Character (1657) 
-- Faiguet, Langue nouvelle (1765; printed in the 9th volume of the Encyclopedié
-- Simon Brodley, Cadmus Britannicus (1787) 
-- Delormel, Projet d’une langue universelle (1795) 
-- Thomas Northmore, A Triplet of Inventions (1796) 
-- Jean-François Sudre, Solresol, also called Langue Musicale Universelle (1817); a kind of phonetic alphabet based on the notes of the scale, e.g. do, re, mi, fa, sol, la; the letters are formed out of a combination of notes and drawn as music is drawn 
-- Author as yet unknown, Description (1835) 
-- Sotos Ochando, Universal Language (1852) 
-- Herr Schleyer, Volapük (1879); Charles Sprague, Handbook of Volapük (1887) 
-- Adolphe Nicolas, Spokil (1887) 
-- Volk and Fuche, Weltsprache (1883) 
-- Lazarz Ludwik Zamenhof, Esperanto (1887) 
-- Eugen A. Lauda, Kosmos (1888) 
-- George Henderson, Lingua: an International Language (1888) 
-- J. Bauer, Spelin: A Universal Language (English edition by Charles Strauss; 1889) 
-- P. Hoinix, Anglo-Franca (1889) 
-- (George?) Henderson, Latinsce (1890) 
-- Julius Lott, Un lingua internazional (1890; also Mundo Lingue, Mondolingue, Mundolingue) 
-- Eugene Heintzeler, Universala (1893) 
-- L. Couturat, Ido (1894); also with De Beaufront; his project is tied to the Délégation 
-- Bollac, Blue Language (also Bolak, La Langue Blue) (1896)
-- Kurschner, Komun Language (1900) 
-- M. Rosenberger, Idiom Neutral (1902) 
-- Peano, Latino Sine Flexione and Interlingua (1903;1910) 
-- Nicholson, Ulla (1905) 
-- Edgar Wahl, Occidental (1922) 
-- René de Saussure, Nov-Esperanto (1929) 
-- Otto Jespersen, Novial Lexike (1930) 
-- Lancelot Hogben, Interglossa (1943) 
-- Alexander Gode, Ila (1952) 
-- Hugh Blair, Interlanguage (1951) 

comments, criticisms, suggestions welcome... 

[ top | description | links | universal languages | language and the internet | lexicology ]

the galoshes of remorse Rita Raley

Dept of English
University of California, Santa Barbara

"Today, how can we not speak of the university?"
-- Jacques Derrida, "The Principle of Reason: The University in the Eyes of Its Pupils"

Rita Raley