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"Global" as a 21st-century Keyword: A Call for Elucidating the Meaning of this Term in Today's English Linguistics and Anglophone Literary Studies

  • Gerday, Laura
Publication Date
Jul 19, 2021
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The term "global", at first absent from Raymond Williams’s seminal Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976), recently entered the updated list compiled by the members of "The Keywords Project" (MacCabe and Yanacek 2018: 171-174). The latter collective defines a "keyword" as "a socially prominent word […] that is capable of bearing interlocking, yet sometimes contradictory and commonly contested contemporary meanings" (The Keywords Project 2016). In line with this description, the word "global" has "accreted meanings" over the past centuries: it initially denoted "a spherical shape", then came to signify "pertaining to the whole planet" before shifting from a "physical" to a "social" sphere, from "something found everywhere to something affecting everyone", and referring to, inter alia, "globalization" (MacCabe and Yanacek 2018: 171-172). This polysemous, all-pervasive and value-laden term has lately become part of a ubiquitous – yet under-theorised – paradigm in contemporary English linguistics and Anglophone literary studies (e.g. "Global English" and "Global South"). What "global" designates, entails, and stands for in these research areas, I will posit, has caused some confusion: as Williams observed in another context, scholars do not seem to "speak the same language" (1983: xxiii) nowadays when it comes to the word "global". In this paper, I propose to bring to the fore some of the ways in which "global" has variously been construed within the two spheres under discussion, that is, English linguistics and Anglophone literary studies. My endeavour is above all a modest attempt to raise awareness of the need for researchers to verbalise the content of this all too often un(der-)specified unit to avoid misapprehensions in academic circles. Hazy, deceptive, equivocal, the sign "global" requires formulation in limpid prose for one to disentangle its multiple seams of meaning and to be cognizant of the fact that behind an immutable six-letter word does not invariably lie a single, incontestable, value-free and unanimously agreed-upon acceptation.

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