‘Globish’: why France has a love-hate relationship with global English

The Salon du Livre in 2018.

The Salon du Livre in 2018. Photograph: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images

French writers were up in arms this week after the Salon du Livre book fair in Paris announced a celebration of young adult books that would feature a “Bookroom”, a “Photobooth”, and even a “Bookquizz”, a prospect so exciting it needs two zs. Such anglicisms, critics wrote, were an “unconscionable act of cultural vandalism”, employing the “sub-English known as Globish”.

It is a lamentable irony, then, that Globish has been so energetically popularised by a Frenchman. In 2004, the former IBM executive Jean-Paul Nerrière began selling his system of simplified English (only 1,500 words) to students around the world. (Globish is a portmanteau of “globe” and “English”.) The earliest attested use of the term, however, described in 1997 a more natural linguistic hybridisation of various “non-western forms of English” that had become just as “creative and lively” as the standard tongue.

“Globish” is therefore both a trademark for one man’s singular vision of international communication, and a way of describing the branching of English into multiple exotic planetary species. But the literary Parisians see it simply as yet more Anglo-Saxon cultural imperialism. Well, as the French do sometimes say, c’est la life.

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