The English is Coming!
How One Language is Sweeping the World
By Leslie Dunton-Downer
(Touchstone, Hardcover, 9781439176658, 352pp.)
Publication Date: September 14, 2010
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English has fast become the number one language for everything from business and science, diplomacy and education, entertainment and environmentalism to socializing and beyond—virtually any human activity unfolding on a global scale. Worldwide, nonnative speakers of English now outnumber natives three to one; and in China alone, more people use English than in the United States—a remarkable feat for a language that got its start as a mongrel tongue on an island fifteen hundred years ago.
Through the fascinating stories of thirty English words used and understood in nearly all corners of the globe, The English Is Coming! takes readers on an eye-opening journey across culture and commerce, war and peace, and time and space. These mini-histories shed new light on everyday words: the strange turns of fate by which their meanings evolved and their new roles as the building blocks of the first language ever to forge a global community.
Exploring such familiar terms as shampoo (from a Hindi word for scalp and body hygiene long practiced in India); robot (coined by Czech painter Josef Capek for his brother Karel’s 1921 play about man-made creatures); credit (rooted in a prehistoric phrase of sacred significance: "to put heart into"); and dozens of others, Dunton-Downer reveals with clarity and humor how these linguistic artifacts embody the resilience, appeal, adoptability, and wild inclusiveness that English, through a series of historical accidents, gained on its road to worldwide reach. These words explain not only how English has managed to link our distant and often disparate pasts but also how it is propelling humankind to a future that we can, for the first time, talk about and shape in a language that now belongs to all of us: Global English.
Perfect for culture buffs, armchair travelers, and language lovers alike, The English Is Coming! is sure to inspire truly global conversations for decades to come.
Leslie Dunton-Downer earned a BA, with specialization in Ancient Greek, from Harvard, where she returned for a Ph.D. with distinction in Comparative Literature. Her graduate work focused on English and other languages and literatures of western medieval Europe. Dunton-Downer coauthored the acclaimed Essential Shakespeare Handbook and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“Dunton-Downer is persuasive and, better yet, entertaining. She’s an affable and learned guide to the history and future of Global English. Her skillful, humorous and thoroughly absorbing book shows us that the English language has always been polyglot, and it continues to evolve into a mirror for our global community.” —BookPage
"Chockablock with facts, figures and interesting tidbits, this is no stodgy history lesson. " —The Washington Post
“[Dunton-Downer] explores how the spread of English has led the language, and its speakers, down some fascinating paths—with intense implications for English’s future. . . Strongly recommended.” —Library Journal
"A fascinating intellectual romp through the past and the future of the English language. Like the best cocktail party conversation you’ve ever had, this book is smart, engaging, unpredictable, and leaves you wanting more. Leslie Dunton-Downer has created a masterpiece. If you like words, you will love this book." —Steven D. Levitt, coauthor of Freakonomics
"An ardent, spirited look at what is increasingly considered the world’s language." —Kirkus Reviews
“You don’t have to be a ‘word person’ to find Leslie Dunton-Downer’s book engaging, illuminating, and even exciting. With ingenious analogies and a healthy dose of humor, she gives us a timely look at the English language—past, present, and future—that’s full of surprising insights and unexpected fun.” —Kitty Burns Florey, author of Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences
“With fresh wit and original research, The English Is Coming! beckons the reader on a global safari of English. Both casual tourists and experienced hands will delight in stories that surprise on almost every page. Tracking expertly between the past and the present, between linguistic details and global history, Leslie Dunton-Downer ends with a tantalizing glimpse into that most elusive quarry—the future of English.” —Daniel Donoghue, John P. Marquand Professor of English, Harvard University and author of Lady Godiva: A Literary History of the Legend