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The Oxford Guide to World English

by Tom McArthur

ISBN 0198607717 / 9780198607717 / 0-19-860771-7
Publisher Oxford University Press, USA
Language English
Edition Softcover
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Book summary

Long gone are the days when English as proprietarily used by educated people in the tiny triangle of southern England formed by Oxford, Cambridge and London is deemed correct and all other versions wrong. The Oxford Guide to World English takes as its "descriptivist" starting point that English is now spoken in every continent by over a billion people across the world, about a quarter of them native speakers. In 70 countries worldwide English is an official or semi official language and has a significant role in 20 more. And because of the Internet--the language of which is 75 per cent English--the number of English users is rising exponentially with middle classes everywhere seeking it for their children as a global resource owned by nobody and everybody. Sadly, it has also become a very powerful almost predatory--language which seriously threatens endangered languages.

The regional varieties and their evolution make a fascinating study that forms the main body of Tom McArthurs book, a spin-off from his The Oxford Companion to the English Language (1992). In Singapore, for example, the particles "on" and "off" can be used as verbs as in "to on/off the light" and he lists 34 expressions used in Antarctic English which have "ice" as a prefix ranging from "ice year" and "ice tongue" to "icepan" and "ice pilot." Each variety of English is minutely discussed in terms of its history, grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary.

The 500 pages of The Oxford Guide to World English conclude by examining the ways in which English continues to change, and the role of so called "standard" English and whether or not the world now needs an international Standard version. Then theres the vexed question of English teaching. Should it be, or is it, a profession, a social service or a global industry? Macarthur quotes Indian journalist Santanu Bora writing in the Maharashtra Herald: "I am speaking a living language and writing one too. I dont hate Bob Marleys English any more than Paul McCartneys. Pauls got rain and snow in his way of speaking and Bobs got sun and sand in his speech. I have the monsoon, the mystic, religions, caste, poverty, the Queen... the list in long, in mine."--Susan Elkin [via]