Over the past century, there have been several attempts to create a universal language. Forget Esperanto or Anglish, Globish is the latest constructed dialect to set tongues wagging worldwide. But can a 1500 word vocabulary really get your global message across?
Globish is an economical version of English designed to aid conversations between non-English speakers. In 2004, Frenchman Jean-Paul Nerriere, compiled a list of 1500 high-frequency words to create an ‘English-lite’ for the boardroom, free of idioms and complex syntax. And since it takes much less time to learn than full English, Nerriere saw no reason for Globish not to become “the worldwide dialect for the third millennium”.
Nerriere witnessed the ease with which two men with limited English conversed and decided it should form the basis for a global language. But should two men’s attempts to get by form the inspiration for an international communication tool? And should people be encouraged to limit themselves to a set vocabulary?
Oxford academics recently published a list of the 3000 most important words in the English language, ‘The Oxford 3000’. With this list they believe a non-native English speaker can understand 80% of the words in a general English text. So perhaps Nerriere was too economical by half.
Interpreter Simon Kuper recently experienced the limitations of Globish on its home turf: an international business conference. “Germans, Belgians and French people stood up and, in monotones and distracting accents, read out Globish speeches that sounded as if they’d been turned into English by computers,” he explains in his blog.
“Sometimes the organisers begged them to speak their own languages, but they refused. Meanwhile the conference interpreters sat idle in their booths.
“Yet whenever a native English-speaker opened his mouth, the audience listened. The native speakers sounded conversational, and could make jokes, add nuance. They weren’t more intelligent than the non-natives, but they sounded it, and so they were heard.”
While Globish may have begun with good intentions, it’s clear that the more it becomes institutionalized the more it will dilute, rather than develop international business communications.
As Gloria Gibbons, a member of the Health Communications Council, recently wrote in Pharmaceutical Marketing Europe (PME): “We are in danger of watering down our communication in the name of global democracy.”
And anyway, with China making its presence felt more and more on the global stage, maybe we should be saying move aside Globish, ni hao Chinglish.
Some words that didn’t make the cut in Globish
Here are five words from this post that don’t feature in the Globish dictionary (there were 56 in total):
Forbes, A new international business language: Globish, January 2012
Blogspot, Globish is rubbish – Simon Kyper, December 2010
Globish, Text scanner