The final quinquennium of the twentieth century saw an unprecedented interest in the topic of global English, articulated at both popular and academic levels, and a discernible step forward in the generality with which the phenomenon was discussed. To the media of the time, the global spread of English was an established and straightforward fact. ‘English Rules’ (The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 12 July 1997) was just one of many newspaper headlines presenting to the world an uncomplicated scenario that took for granted the universality of the language's spread, the speed with which it had happened, and the likelihood of its continuation. A statement prominently displayed in the body of the associated article, memorable for its alliterative ingenuity but for little else, reinforced the initial impression: ‘The British Empire may be in full retreat with the handover of Hong Kong. But from Bengal to Belize and Las Vegas to Lahore, the language of the sceptred isle is rapidly becoming the first global lingua franca.’ Millennial retrospectives and prognostications continued in the same vein, with several major newspapers and magazines finding in the subject of the English language an apt symbol for the themes of globalisation, diversification, progress and identity addressed in their special editions (e.g. Ryan, 1999). Certainly, by the turn of the century, the topic must have made contact with millions of popular intuitions at a level which had simply not existed a decade before.
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