LINGUIST List 15.1651

Tue May 25 2004

Review: Sociolinguistics: Tonkin & Reagan (2003)

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  1. Svetlana Kurtes, Language in the Twenty-first Century

Message 1: Language in the Twenty-first Century

Date: Tue, 25 May 2004 12:58:43 -0400 (EDT)
From: Svetlana Kurtes <>
Subject: Language in the Twenty-first Century

EDITOR: Tonkin, Humphrey; Reagan, Timothy 
TITLE: Language in the Twenty-first Century
SUBTITLE: Selected papers of the millennial conferences of the
Center for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems,
held at the University of Hartford and Yale University
SERIES: Studies in World Language Problems 1
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2003
Announced at

Svetlana Kurtes, Language Centre, University of Cambridge, UK


The present volume comprises contributions originally presented at the
two conferences discussing the future of language and languages in the
21st century: at the Center for Research and Documentation on World
Language Problems University of Hartford, Connecticut, in 1998, and
the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University in 1999. The
participants observed the linguistic implications of the political,
economic and technological changes of the modern world, and,
specifically, their significance for the language situation at the
beginning of the new millennium. The series of questions supplied to
the participants included, inter alia, the following: - Is the
maintenance of linguistic diversity in the 21st century an achievable
goal? - What effect will the globalization of markets have on
language use? - What is the future of language teaching and learning
and what role will they have in the education system of the future? -
Is the idea of equality among languages and among speakers of
languages attainable or desirable? - What is the future of language
rights, the rights of speakers of minority languages, and the right to
mother tongue education? - What is the effect of the Internet and
advances in language technology on language use, language change
and/or language planning? - Is the policy of multilingualism in
international organizations sustainable? - What is the future of
languages associated with former colonial powers or power blocs
(e.g. French, Portuguese, Russian)? - What is the likely language
scenario in the United States? - What can or should be done to
preserve languages in danger of extinction? - What role will
education have in reducing or stimulating language diversity?

Selected presentations from participants, expanded for the present
volume, represent a summary of discussions, dialogue and debate ?about
issues of language, language diversity, language policy, and language
rights as we enter the new millennium? (p.5), providing ?a solid
foundation for further dialogue in these important and timely matters?
(p.7). There are 12 papers in total, an introduction by the editors,
bibliography, contributors and index.

Paul Bruthiaux's contribution entitled 'Contexts and trends for
English as a global language' opens the volume. The author examines
the role of English, now being 'the code of choice for encoding
information in science and technology and for transacting economic and
cultural exchanges supranationally' (p.11) vis-�-vis its potential
'competitors' for a global role -- Arabic, German, Japanese, Russian,
Spanish, French and Chinese. Although in many cases languages of wider
communication 'have been imposed on unwilling communities through the
overt repression' (p.17), a key condition for their globalization is
to be seen in the fact that they must appeal to a large number of
their potential users as a modernizing force, giving them access to 'a
hitherto inaccessible world of knowledge' (p.17). Bruthiaux concludes
that the continued dominance of English, critical mass being its
single most important factor, could only be challenged from China 'as
it increases in economic, military, and political power' (p.21).

'Global English and the non-native speaker: overcoming disadvantage'
is Ulrich Ammon's contributions discussing the implications of English
serving as the preferred language of international communication. The
author starts from Kachru's (1982) classification of English around
the world represented by three concentric circles ('inner circle' of
countries with English as a native or primary language; 'outer' and
'expanding' circles with English in non-native settings) and adds a
possible fourth, or 'outside', circle of non-English-speaking
countries containing over three quarters of the world population. He
then looks more closely into the consequences of the fact that
educated individuals of the outside circle, specially scientists and
scholars, 'find themselves less perfectly equipped linguistically for
such activities as publishing than their colleagues of the inner
circle' (p.25). Correctness judgements are still governed by US or
British standards set for orthography, vocabulary, grammar,
pragmatics, as well as the overall structure of the text, which
particularly differs across languages and cultures (cf. Clyne 1984;
1987) As a rule, any non-native features found in scholarly literature
are evaluated negatively, even when the reader does not have any
serious difficulties understanding the text. What Ammon sees as a
possible solution is the development of a new form of global English,
'Globalish', the multinationality of which would incorporate
characteristics 'beyond those of today's English, namely also those of
non-native speakers' (p.34).

John Edwards in his article 'Language and the future: choices and
constraints' defines four different categories of languages and
examines their present and future status: small stateless languages,
small state languages, languages of wider communication and
constructed languages. The author points out that language is not
purely an instrumental medium, since it 'has deep psychological
importance; of particular note is the association with group identity
and its continuity. This is why the struggle between large and small
varieties is so vehement, why the apparently logical steps that
improved communication would benefit from are resisted -- why, in a
word, we need always remind ourselves that our work takes us into
heavily mined territories of emotion' (p.45). And that, Edwards
maintains, is unlikely to change in the future.

Mark Fettes discusses the linguistic future of the world in his
article 'A world-centric approach to language policy and
planning'. That future involves 'the dynamic interplay of homogeneity
(unilingualism) and plurality (multilingualism)' (p.52) that will
result in an interlingual world 'characterized by a fluidity of
intercourse among many languages' (ibid). Interlingualism thus
defined can manifest itself in five possible models (also Pool and
Fettes 1998): World English (spreading English as a second language
globally); Esperantism (designing a global auxiliary language in which
fluency can be achieved at low cost); Language Brokers (expert
translation between a wide range of human languages); Plurilingualism
(multilingual competence achieved through modern instructional
technologies); Technologism (technological advances applied to human
communicative tools).

'Development of national languages and management of English in East
and Southeast Asia' is Bjorn H Jernudd's contribution examining
national language planning and language policy in Malaysia. He
observes the use of Bahasa Malaysia, now a fully functioning standard
language, vis-�-vis English, the use of which has never actually
disappeared, even in domains where it has been particularly
discouraged, e.g. education. An open and free society, Jernudd
concludes, should see the evolution and use of national languages as
an absolute prerequisite for a successful development. It also
'implies successful accommodation of foreign languages, foremost among
them English. The foreign languages take their places as varieties in
individual multilingual repertoires to enable communication in complex
networks beyond local boundaries' (p.66).

Language obsolescence, maintenance and revitalization and the
challenges the issues pose on scholars are discussed in Luisa Maffi's
contribution 'The ''business'' of language endangerment: saving
languages or helping people keep them alive?'. The author focuses on
the role of linguistic scholars and experts in other academic fields
or outside academia concerning the language endangerment crisis,
looking also into the question of their professional ethics. That in
particular should involve 'respect for the human (including cultural
and linguistic) rights of the people among whom scholars conduct
research -- especially the more vulnerable groups such as indigenous
people and minorities' (p.78). Relevant international documents
(e.g. the Draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
the Draft Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights, submitted to
UNESCO) are beginning to provide a necessary legal framework, with
which the researchers should also be familiar.

'Equality, maintenance, globalization: lessons from Canada' is the
title of Jacques Maurais' article in which he looks more closely into
the question how attainable or desirable the idea of language equality
actually is, taking the Canadian experience of symmetrical rights as
an example. He then focuses on the impact of the globalization of
markets and mass consumerism on language use and linguistic
domination. Any analysis of this issue must observe the role of
multinational companies as well. Maurais points out that, when
discussing language protection, a distinction should first be made
between private and public communications and then also 'between
institutional multilingualism -- inherent in a supranational
organization, for example - and individual multilingualism, that is
the knowledge of several languages by an individual' (p.96).

'Maintaining linguodiversity: Africa in the twenty-first century' is
the title of Alamin M Mazrui's conribution. He examines the
implications of Africa's sociolinguistic past and present on the
preservation of its linguistic diversity in the future. The author
gives an overview of major arguments supporting and justifying the
imperative of language conservation that can be found in relevant
literature. Elaborating on the situation in Africa, Mazrui warns that
'even the more powerful local languages are in danger of atrophy in
the long run if they are not consciously cultivated and made
compatible with the present state of knowledge' (p. 110). What, on
the other hand, must be ensured at the community level, 'with its
varied dynamics and counter-dynamics' (ibid.) is continuity in
intergenerational language use.

Teresa Pica in her article 'Language education in the twenty-first
century: a newly informed perspective' proposes new avenues for
foreign language instruction, specifying that it should be 'less
method-driven, and more classroom-focused than its predecessors'
(p.115). She points out some shortfalls of the communicative approach
which dominated the field of language teaching during the 80s and 90s,
saying that the 'communicative techniques were found to provide uneven
outcomes, with their differential success conditioned by language
skill emphases, learner age and ethnicity, and the types of activities
and materials used for their implementation' (ibid., also Pica and
Doughty 1985, etc.). Language education of the 21st century should be
more contextualised and responsive to the individual learner's needs
'within a more bottom-up, research-based, classroom-situated
perspective' (p.117). Pica supports a newly emerging approach, called
the communicative grammar-based task, specifying that it 'engages
language learners in collaboration, decision making, and opinion
exchange in order to complete grammar-focused activities' (p.130; also
Fotos and Ellis 1993).

Timothy Reagan discusses the linguistic future of the United States in
his article 'Language and language education in the United States in
the twenty-first century'. He points out that foreign language and
learning in the US is a very complex problem, 'in which student apathy
and even resistance, compounded by often ill-prepared teachers,
outdated teaching methods and materials, and institutional barriers to
effective teaching, essentially ensure large-scale educational
failure' (p.134). He then goes on to outline two likely scenarios --
'monolingualism victorious' (or 'English only') and 'the blessings of
Babel restored' (or 'English plus'), maintaining that language
learning can not only 'help us understand what we as human beings have
in common, but also assist us in understanding the diversity which
underlines not only our languages, but also our ways of constructing
and organizing knowledge, and the many different realities in which we
all live and interact' (p.142).

The volume finishes with Humphrey Tonkin's contribution 'Why learn
foreign languages: thoughts for a new millennium'. Language learning,
Tonkin points out, is a fundamental element in self-understanding, 'a
means by which we learn to break the wall of silence' (p.150). It is
also one of the basic social skills, and a basic tool of citizenship,
helping us 'reach beyond our own social envelopes and appreciate how
others are closed in theirs' (ibid).

Kurt E Muller gives a final overview by highlighting the main points
and arguments made in each article of the volume, hoping that it 'will
spawn a range of discussions that will include the impact of language
on various disciplines, a gap we have yet to explore' (p.157).


'Language in the twenty-first century' is a comprehensive,
authoritative, brilliantly written and path-breaking collection on a
range of topics thematically clustering around the complex question of
the linguistic future of the world. It brings to light the latest
developments and proposes new avenues in the field, offering plenty of
examples of language policy at work worldwide.

The issues discussed -- language rights, equality and diversity and
how to maintain them in an increasingly globalized world - are
presented not only within current relevant theoretical frameworks, but
also through personal experiences of a number of world's leading
sociolinguists who discuss some very controversial issues with utmost
tact, impartiality and open-mindedness. Their dialogue, the essence of
which is convincingly captured in the present volume, is
thought-provoking and inspiring and no doubt provides plenty of
guidelines and pointers for further debates and research.

The volume will be an indispensable reference for language policy
makers and educators as well as theoreticians and practitioners in the
fields of communication theory, applied linguistics, sociology and
anthropology of language, etc. It almost goes without saying that
sociolinguists themselves will warmly welcome the appearance of the
book and find it insightful and eye-opening. It will be hard for them
-- regardless of their theoretical provenance - not to agree with
Humphrey Tonkin's witty final observation -- 'there's a millennium
underway: we'll need bottled water and foreign languages' (p.155)!


Clyne, Michael 1984. 'Wissenschaftliche Texte Englisch- und
Deutschsprachiger: textstructurelle Vergleiche'. Studium Linguistik
15, 92-97.

- --- 1987. 'Cultural differences in the organisation of academic
texts'. Journal of Pragmatics 11, 211-247.

Fotos, Sandra and Rod Ellis 1993. 'Communicating about grammar: a
task-based approach'. TESOL Quarterly 25, 605-628.

Kachru, Braj 1982. 'Models for non-native Englishes'. In B Kachru
(ed), The other tongue: English across cultures, Pergamon Press,
Oxford, 31-57.

Pica, Teresa and Doughty 1985. 'Input and interaction in the
communicative language classroom: teacher-fronted vs. group
activities'. In S M Gass and C Madden (eds), Input in second language
acquisition, Hewbury House, Rowley, Mass., 115-132.

Pool, Jonathan and Mark Fettes 1998. 'The challenge of
interlingualism: a research invitation'. Esperanto Studies (Autumn),


Svetlana Kurtes holds a BA in English Philology and an MA in
Sociolinguistics from Belgrade University and an MPhil in Applied
Linguistics from Cambridge University. She worked as a Lecturer in
English at Belgrade University and is currently affiliated to
Cambridge University Language Centre. Her research interests involve
contrastive linguistics, sociolinguistics, pragmatics/stylistics,
translation theory and language pedagogy.
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