The Observer, where I work, is housed in a flashy modern glass cube in central London, overlooking Regent's Canal. The crystal cliff face of the newsroom reflects sky and water, jet travel and chugging barges. The English language my co-workers and I use also reflects a duality: Part of it is grounded in dictionaries and traditional grammar, while another, more modern part reflects a global dialect energized by the digital revolution.
A sign of the times, not so very long ago, was a memo the Observer's staff received from our editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger. His note contained 10 propositions about the implications of a global readership: "There is no such thing as Abroad," it began. "Most of our readers are ‘foreign'." Alluding to the 50 million visitors who access our website from across the globe each day, the memo also issued a declaration fraught with significance for the deployment of language across the world today. "No economy is an island," declared Rusbridger. "Technology is global."
We're not just seeing a revolution in the newspaper business -- we're seeing a linguistic revolution. English is running riot across the globe, becoming, in the words of anthropologist Benedict Anderson, "a kind of global-hegemonic post-clerical Latin." From my British perspective, this Olympic year has exposed variants of our language to a global audience of billions. The ups-and-downs of the U.S. presidential race, the dramas of Kate's pregnancy, the plot twists of Downton Abbey: These political and cultural landmarks are now being retailed to a world audience.
The hubbub of the world's incessant conversation has sparked the creation of a new language. This emerging lingua franca, what I call Globish, is the most vivid and universal cultural phenomenon the world has ever known. Its expressions have a technicolor exuberance: "Glassy" and "fundoo" -- meaning "wanting a drink" and "excellent," respectively -- dramatize the impact of technological and social change on the Indian subcontinent. So do "cent per cent" for "100 percent," "badmash" for "naughty," and "eve teasing" for "sexual harassment."
We must recognize this awesome fact: For the first time in human history, it's possible for one language to be transmitted, and received, across the whole planet. Moreover, it's not just a linguistic story.
In India, after half a century of trying to replace English with Hindi (inadvertently creating "Hinglish"), the current government has finally embraced the goal of establishing English teaching in all primary schools. It could be a liberating phenomenon: As Zareer Masani writes in the current issue of Prospect, in India there is "a growing conviction among India's most disadvantaged communities that the English language could be their salvation from poverty and social exclusion."