This is a book about what Robert McCrum calls ‘the global power and influence of Anglo-American language and culture’. It is about English as we know it, and as we don’t. He calls it ‘a Jackson Pollock of language’, and describes its continual mutations. It has become the lingua franca. Like Latin in pre-modern times, when two people meet and have no understanding of each other’s mother tongues, they normally have some English that can come to the rescue. The difference between ‘Globish’ – a term coined fifteen years ago by Jean-Paul Nerrière, a Frenchman, but seized upon by the author – and Latin in bygone centuries is that one does not need to be part of an educated elite to have a grasp of it: English is the ultimate democratic tool, there for everyone.
McCrum’s book is not the history of the English language that I was expecting: it is a history of England, then of Britain, then of the world that Britain conquered or colonised. It describes how variants of the language grew up in those overseas possessions, notably of course