Crystal begins English as a Global Language by asking what it means for a language to be global, and what the advantages and disadvantages of having a global language are. In three chapters he then traces the rise of English to that status. The first surveys the extent of its use around the world and briefly outlines the history of its spread. The second examines some nineteenth century ideas about the place of English in the world and the foundations for its success laid by the British Empire and the Industrial Revolution. The third describes the cultural legacy that underpins the present dominance of English — its use in diplomacy and international communications, in the media (Hollywood, popular music, books), in education, and on the Internet. The final chapter looks at the future of English as a global language, focusing on debates about its status within the United States and the possibility of its fragmentation into regional dialects (Crystal suggests these might end up coexisting with some form of "World Standard Spoken English").
With just 150 pages to cover such a broad topic, superficiality is hardly avoidable. (The maps could easily have been improved on, however: most are unexciting political maps with no information an ordinary atlas wouldn't have.) Those with a reasonable background in modern history and general politics will find nothing substantially new in English as a Global Language. Many of the details may be unfamiliar, however, and it is instructive to have them all pulled together. Crystal is, in any event, writing for the broadest possible popular audience — and he has succeeded in producing an accessible and enticing treatment of his subject.
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