Say What?


on audiovisual and literary translation, subtitling, and the French & American film industries

The Trouble with “Globish”

Perhaps because I’m a) a French translator, b) getting older, and/or c) ever less culturally pliable, non-native English speakers professing linguistic skill or expertise they don’t have neutralize my patience like no one else.  Anyone who’s spent any time on a customer service line lately will understand perfectly.

Accordingly, my curiosity was piqued by an article in the current ATA Chronicle by Jeana Clark and Esma A. Gregor on “Globish,” or “Global English.”  Most Chronicle articles seesaw/skew between the academic and the technical, and while their logic only jumps one shark (whose household familarity with Globish?), the authors have made a thorough presentation of something native speakers often experience as a linguistic APM.

Unfortunately, being messengers (like me) in the endless skirmish that is language, Clark and Gregor pussy foot around taking stakes for either “side” linguistically.   For instance , is this the death knell for the English we know and (love? hate? despise? tolerate? endlessly mangle?)  (Happily I’m not the first person to rhyme Globish with rubbish.)  Is it a linguistic mutation more zombie than real?

Professionally, when clients and editors alike resort to it through ignorance or inexperience, I find Euro English the most exasperating manifestation.  At the end of the day (the business one, anyway), this all reminds me (and hopefully my clients!) that it’s essential to pay a professional when an amateur only creates more confusion.


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2 Responses

  1. Mag says:

    Hello Alexander! I’ve just found this post and wanted to comment on it because I found it really interesting.

    I am not a native English speaker but, with your permission, I have to say that sometimes I also feel that “exasperation” and “lack of patience” you mention, even if from a different perspective.

    I’ve spent over 20 of my 30 years of life studying English and until today I still strive to improve my language skills, to learn new things and to correct my mistakes—because I am perfectly aware that English is a really diverse language and, even though I have no problems to communicate in English (also with native speakers), to express my ideas or to watch movies, listen to the radio, etc., English is not my mother tongue and I still make mistakes. Simple—and obvious—as that.

    I don’t think Globish is a/the problem—it is just an excuse. The excuse for those who are either too lazy to make an effort to learn, or simply too stupid to realize that speaking another language is something more that blurting out some words and expecting others to get a meaning from them. Or even for those too proud to admit that their English skills are not good.
    ‘Globish’ is a “simplified version” of English, alright… but most languages, if not all, have always had localisms and various registers or “levels” according to the context in which they are used and by whom, particularly if it is by non-proficient foreign speakers, and that’s not new.

    I guess that any native speaker has more and better reasons than me to be annoyed, but this sort of “modern trend” of saying “of course I can speak English”, “today everybody can speak English”, in Europe and most of the world, can be really exasperating.

    Especially in some countries. I am a Spaniard—I know, we Spaniards have a bad reputation when it comes to speaking foreign languages, but some of us also get to learn them—living in Germany, where _of course_ everybody speaks perfect English… Or… wait… They actually don’t! Who could have guessed that?
    OK, sorry for the sarcasm, but I am also quite fed up with my often non-understandable boss and other “Globish-speaking Germans” (or for that matter “bad-English-speaking people”) boasting about their theoretically good English, who keep on trying to correct me “just because I am Spanish” and “everybody knows Germans speak good English and Spaniards don’t”, and not even thinking for a second that a native English speaker should edit what they write. Some people seem not to be able to accept they are not always right and to correct their mistakes.

    Anyway, this comment is getting too long and the main point I wanted to bring up is this feeling that I sometimes have, the fear that there is a much bigger problem hiding and growing behind any discussion on this topic: it seems there are fewer people looking for correctness or accuracy and more people who think that as long as communication occurs, nothing else is needed.
    Maybe it’s because I am a language lover, but I simply can’t understand that the *quality of this communication* is not taken into account, particularly regarding the most usual examples of the use of ‘Globish’: businessmen discussing transactions for millions of dollars or euros…

  2. Nathan Eddy says:

    Mr. Nerrière is a French businessman, and he wants the language of business to be Globish rather than English. What he doesn’t realize is that using simple English when trying to sell something to both native and non-native speakers the natives will interpret it either as condescension or sarcasm unless you go to pains with adverbs like “simply” and “seriously”. Yes, we are that sarcastic, seriously!

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