think:act Magazine Issue 9 2008 Hamburg, Germany

Meeting in the Tower of Babel
The world speaks Globish. As economies and societies grow together, the necessity for transnational communication increases. The result is a weird, improvised and, well, impoverished version of today’s global tongue: English. American Linguist Steven Donahue does not like it.

DOES THE WORLD NEED ANOTHER LINGUA FRANCA? think:act Magazine Issue 9 2008 Hamburg, Germany
ving language on the face of the earth

Parlez Globish!”) “Parlez Globish” approaches English from a business angle thatsprings from Nerrière’s past employment with IBM. Globish is English-light without the cholesterol of cumbersome spelling, vocabulary, idioms and pronunciation.

Faster than an SMS, able to leap borders in a single syllable, a new bastard language now threatens Anglo-American linguistic dominance of the business world. Henceforth, English is fired; Esperanto is expired; Interlingua is tired; Globish is now allegedly wired for the world of the third millennium. Globish owes its genesis to Madhukar Gogate. Back in 1998, he built a simplified version of English predicated upon a subset of highfrequency vocabulary. In 2004, Frenchman Jean-Paul Nerrière took up Gogate’s language mission and published a French language book entitled “Parlez Globish.” (Full title: “Don’t speak English:

standard English sentence: “JeanPaul Nerrière lays out that theory, and everyone can play with it as they wing and hop around the world.” Transformed into Globish, it becomes: “JeanPaul Nerrière builds and demonstrates that theory, and everyone has a chance to experiment with it as soon as he or she travels a lot around the world.” The site also offers a clutch of Globish books for people whose native languages are Italian, Spanish, Japanese or Korean and who want to master Globish. Mercy beaucoup, Mister Nerrière— but whythe hassle? Maybe there is no need for Globish. English is the most forgiving language on the face of the earth, a language

In fact, Nerrière’s main intent seems to be on curbing the influence of “CocaCola English” throughout the world. On Nerrière’s Web site ( the following example is presented as the

DOES THE WORLD NEED ANOTHER LINGUA FRANCA? think:act Magazine Issue 9 2008 Hamburg, Germany which allows any conceivable error in pronunciation, syntax or even semantics. Why go to all this trouble to simplify a language that can be mangled without penalty? People get along all the time with real English, even when it is rough around its edges. I hail from the American city of Miami, Florida (or as Globish would have it: I coming from Miami), where the rough-andready approach is on constant display. It even seems as if even immigrants develop a remarkable interest in linguistic questions. I recently saw a Haitian walk up to the counter at a gas station and tell the Hispanic clerk, “Give me $15 on pump two.” The clerk responded, “Fifteen or fifty?” The Haitian angrily retorted, “Why don’t you learn English? Who wants $50 in gas?” Forgive me if I sound conservative, but to me this seems to show that there is a genuine interest in correct English— and not a need for a new, simplified Globish tongue. Given that the urge to tinker with English is probably irresistible, what does a Globish sentence look like? The sentence “Two fine cats quickly went to the city” is rendered, in Globish, “too faain kaets kwikli went tu thuh siti.” Note that capital letters are only used for abbreviations and periods become triplets. Spelling is a phonetic free-forall. Can native English speakers understand Globish? Of course they can. At New York’s JFK airport I overheard a Korean and a Japanese conversing in what was at first an indistinguishable tongue to me. Fortunately, like listening to Scots jabbering at a pub, I was eventually able to tune in my ear enough to comprehend the strained English. But then, who wants to feel like being in a pub all the time? Of course, the appeal of Globish fits perfectly with the economic fad of globalization: Learn English quickly and make a ton of dough just as fast. Its proponents claim it can be learned in a mere 182 hours. While the expansion of Globish may offer its users a method of simplified communication,

DOES THE WORLD NEED ANOTHER LINGUA FRANCA? think:act Magazine Issue 9 2008 Hamburg, Germany Globish advocates should note that in the more than 100 years since Esperanto’s invention, it has noticeably failed to become the lingua franca of global business. The same fate, I am sorry to predict (or, well, maybe not so much), awaits Globish. During a vexing business meeting at the tony Mandarin Oriental hotel in Miami, over bottles of a California mystery wine, the conversation devolved from its primary focus on the British OFEX market to a slur of babble in this trendy Globish.

I closed my eyes to the sparkling water of Biscayne Bay, and heard a jangle of clashing tongues. The Spanish participants were inserting “claro,” “tiqui-tiqui” and “cono” into every other sentence; the French speakers were doing their best to keep English on the back burner by speckling it with a stock of French phrases; the Italian was engrossed in speaking mostly to the waiter about the best Vespa scooter, in his native language. Effective? Definitely not. In the end, the meeting failed almost as surely as if it had been hosted at the Tower of Babel. Advocates of Globish are pushing something

that is increasingly beside the point. English is a language with so little grammar that it steals vocabulary wherever it can. There is no point in simplifying it. Native speakers are working on that aspect of the language continuously. Their children are pushing these trends even further. Nerrière’s favorite examples involve using slang-laden English to show off the supposed superiority of Globish. For example, “This erstwhile buddy of yours is a weird duck who will probably put the kibosh on all of our good ideas.” In Nerrière’s decaffeinated Globish, the speaker utters instead: “Your old friend is too strange. He would ruin all our efforts.”


DOES THE WORLD NEED ANOTHER LINGUA FRANCA? think:act Magazine Issue 9 2008 Hamburg, Germany Of course, that is what good native English communicators would do anyway— come down to the appropriate level for the persons they are conversing with, and strip away the slang and idioms. Many non-native speakers outperform native speakers in their fluent and careful use of English. NATO’s secretarygeneral, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, came to Washington in October 2006 for talks with top American officials. His English was practiced, nuanced and finely tuned. Some observers rated it better than the version spoken by his American counterparts. But the de Hoop Scheffer phenomenon is an exception. Most interactions between native and non-native speakers are a matter of muddling through. In conclusion, there is no need for Globish. The proof is in the pudding. Recently, I met with a group of Indian programmers, speaking English about an intricate software coding project. While the English was different, there was no doubt we were on the same page. After a long day together, one of them expressed the wish that I have a “tight sleep,” apparently intending the idiom “sleep tight.” Did the programmer’s mistake matter? Not in the least. I got the drift and did in fact have a wonderful sleep after a productive day’s work.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
George Bernard Shaw

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