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LINGUIST List 25.2301

Sun May 25 2014

Review: Applied Linguistics; Sociolinguistics: Erling & Seargeant (2013)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>

Date: 06-Jan-2014
From: Josep Soler-Carbonell <josep.soler.carbonellut.ee>
Subject: English and Development
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-2127.html

EDITOR: Elizabeth J. Erling
EDITOR: Philip Seargeant
TITLE: English and Development
SUBTITLE: Policy, Pedagogy and Globalization
SERIES TITLE: Critical Language and Literacy Studies
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Josep Soler-Carbonell, University of Tartu

This collection of essays provides an in-depth look at a highly topical matter
in sociolinguistics and globalization, namely the spread of English around the
world and its impact on education and economic development. Indeed, English,
development and education are the three keywords that best summarize the
essays here gathered. The geographical scope and intellectual breadth of the
chapters are remarkable. In their introduction, editors Philip Seargeant and
Elizabeth J. Erling offer an overview of this range, as well as a summary of
each of the chapters. In that way, they make clear from the very first page
what the book’s focal points are: (1) the connection between English-language
ability and personal and national development; and (2) the effects of
increased use of English on broader educational issues, its impact on local
language ecologies and cultural identities (p. 1).

The bulk of the introductory chapter, by the editors, is devoted to further
developing the main topics of the collection. Firstly, the authors discuss
English as a global language and how English-language education and
development programs have become deeply interconnected in modern times.
Secondly, they introduce the basic ideas behind the emerging field of language
and development research, an area which has expanded significantly since the
late 1990s. Seargeant and Erling summarize the contributions to this field in
three main strands: (1) quantitative studies, investigating the relationship
between language skills and economic gain; (2) qualitative studies, examining
the complex relationship between language, education and development; and (3)
critical studies, challenging the extent to which English-language teaching
programs in development fulfil their aims. After that, the authors explain in
greater detail the concepts and themes of the book, delving into the meaning
of development and its connection with education and literacy. The final
section introduces the subsequent 11 chapters.

In chapter 1, “English, Development and Education: Charting the Tensions,”
Gibson Ferguson offers a detailed account of and introduction to education and
development issues, with a focus on Africa. The main controversy discussed is
the language of instruction and how teaching students in a foreign language
such as English can hinder their educational attainment. Ferguson argues
convincingly, however, that it is not simply a question of changing the
language of instruction into a local one. He proposes that, unless such a move
is accompanied by diverse and wide-ranging reforms, the desired effects might
not come about as swiftly as expected. While acknowledging the cost of
English-language education in already weak education systems, he concludes
that “removing, or restricting, English is not, however, the optimal solution
to resulting inequality, the reason being that inequality is not ultimately
rooted in language” (p. 37).

Chapter 2, “The Political Economy of English Language and Development: English
vs. National and Local Languages in Developing Countries” by Naz Rassool,
explores the validity of assumptions about English in multilingual countries
that do not have an English-language background. More specifically, Rassool
seeks to find out more about the long-term implications of adopting English as
a medium of instruction for educational attainment, sociocultural relations,
and social and cultural development in such countries. Adopting a
sociologically informed theoretical framework (Bourdieu’s symbolic and
cultural capital, Billig’s banal nationalism and Anderson’s imagined
communities), she concludes that within the framework of globalization,
“developing countries need to revise their stance on the intrinsic value and
‘superiority’ of English and instead focus on developing their multilingualism
(including English)” (p. 62).

Chapter 3, “Political Perspectives on Language Policies and Development in
Africa,” is a contribution by Eddie Williams, offering a persuasive account of
how the use of English as a medium of instruction in three African countries
(Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda) constitutes a significant barrier, rather than a
tool for improving students’ educational achievements. However, not unlike
Ferguson in the first chapter, Williams recognizes that reality is
intrinsically complex and that we cannot reduce Africa’s historical
development challenges to issues of language and political ideologies. In
conclusion, the author advocates more effective education in Africa, with an
emphasis on enhancing literacy skills and teaching English more effectively.

Elizabeth J. Erling, M. Obaidul Hamid and Philip Seargeant are the authors of
chapter 4: “Grassroots Attitudes to English as a Language for International
Development in Bangladesh.” Here, the authors investigate how grassroots
attitudes and ideologies relating to English are constructed in Bangladesh,
and whether they match official and institutionally framed discourses on
English. Drawing on a mixed methods approach (i.e. with quantitative and
qualitative tools), they conclude that there does indeed appear to be a
parallelism between top-down and bottom-up discourses on the need and
usefulness of English for personal and economic progress. However, the authors
rightly note that in both cases (official and grassroots discourses), we are
dealing with language ideologies which do not necessarily coincide with or
reflect a genuine, practical need for the language (p. 106). The authors do
not possess sufficient data to draw any kind of causal link between the two
variables (English and personal development). They do, however, show how
speakers frame their needs in relation to the language, which can be
informative for the purposes of ELT programs.

“The Relationship between English-Medium Instruction and Examining and Social
and Economic Development: A Sub-Saharan African Case Study” is chapter 5, by
Pauline Rea-Dickins, Zuleikha Kombo Khamis and Federica Olivero. This chapter
also revolves around the politics of EMI (English as a Medium of Instruction)
and the consequences it has for young learners in Sub-Saharan Africa. With a
contrastive study, the authors show how the language of examinations can
negatively impact students’ performance and overall attainment: students have
a greater chance of success when examined in Kiswahili as opposed to English.
Again, however, following a line similar to those of authors in previous
chapters, Rea-Dickins, Khamis and Olivero acknowledge that reducing such an
impact is not simply a matter of changing the language of examinations.
Nevertheless, they conclude that students need to be given every opportunity
to display their talent, and hence offering bilingual or multilingual exams
could be a fruitful avenue for the competent authorities to explore.

Martin Wedell is the author of chapter 6: “Proficiency in English as a Key to
Development? Helping Teachers to Help Learners to Succeed.” As if to
corroborate some of the claims made in previous chapters, Wedell asserts and
successfully illustrates that if in-classroom policy modifications are not
accompanied by wide-reaching actions targeting other elements in the language
ecological context, the effectiveness of such policies may be hampered.
Drawing on his considerable experience with ELT policies worldwide, he
discusses and contrasts case studies in two countries, China and Oman. He
argues persuasively that, since governments and public institutions in a
growing number of contexts aim to improve the English-language skills of the
general public, a thorough reflection is needed on issues outside the
in-classroom context. If policy makers hope to bring about any change in those
areas, they need to carefully examine the education system as a whole, and
Wedell’s proposals are pertinent in that regard.

In chapter 7, “Constructing Local Voices through English as a Lingua Franca: A
Study from Intercultural Development Discourse,” Tom Bartlett shifts the focus
from education issues towards development. More specifically, he discusses how
the notion of ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) can be employed to analyse the
possible ways in which the different actors in development projects can
construct their own discursive repertoires. Drawing on the sociolinguistic
concept of “voice”, Bartlett offers a Systemic Functional Linguistics analysis
of recordings of meetings between development project managers and local
community representatives from the North Rupununi savannahs of Guyana. He
concludes that, as suggested earlier in the chapter, ELF literature has the
potential to explore new and “more radical approaches, which would enable
speakers from different cultural backgrounds to offer alternative worldviews,
to create alternative interpersonal relations and to draw on alternative
rhetorical traditions” (p. 179).

Chapter 8 provides an analysis of the development of ICT literacy skills and
how this can benefit school children’s English-language competence and
HIV/AIDS knowledge and awareness in rural Uganda. “Digital Literacy, HIV/AIDS
Information and English Language Learners in Uganda,” by Bonny Norton, Shelly
Jones and Daniel Ahimbisibwe, falls within the research areas of “the new
literacies,” on the one hand, and applied linguistics and HIV/AIDS, on the
other. The authors follow the progress of 17 female secondary-school pupils in
acquiring better ICT skills and learning to use the Internet, and they examine
the impact it has on the girls’ motivation to learn more, not only about
HIV/AIDS and English, but also about numerous other topics and questions. The
results have important implications for the development of ELT programs,
showing that when an investment is made in worthwhile activities, students can
achieve more than simply improving their language skills. The authors
illustrate how, through the development of the girls’ ICT abilities, they
build on global “imagined identities” and seek to become not just consumers of
information, but producers too.

“Language Policy in Singapore: Singlish, National Development and
Globalization” is the title of chapter 9, by Lionel Wee. Returning to the
Asian context, the discussion in this chapter revolves around the complex
interconnection between language ideologies, policy and practices. Wee
presents the situation in Singapore, a country with four official languages,
focusing on Singlish and differing opinions of it. On the one hand, supporters
of official and dominant language ideologies claim it should be avoided at all
costs, and link its use to an impoverishment of younger generations’
English-language skills, thereby hampering national progress and
competitiveness worldwide. On the other hand, Wee argues that Singlish may in
fact work to Singapore’s benefit in different ways: (1) by enabling its
diaspora to maintain symbolic links with the country; and (2) by removing
Singapore from a homogeneous global context, i.e. introducing a sense of
variability and “added value”, which can be usefully exploited in the tourism
and cinema industry, for example. With this in mind, Wee concludes that
supporters of official language ideologies and language policies would do well
to reconsider their stance with regard to Singlish and see it as an
opportunity rather than a threat.

In chapter 10 (“English, Scientific Publishing and Participation in the Global
Knowledge Economy”), Theresa Lillis and Mary Jane Curry introduce a somewhat
different topic than those presented in previous chapters, but one that is
equally relevant to the discussion of English and development issues in a
broader context. Their focus is on global academic publishing practices and
the key position that English occupies in that context. In short, their main
argument is that there needs to be a more explicit recognition of that
position, which goes beyond the limits of “language” and has implications for
the production of, and participation in, the process of knowledge creation.
Indeed, their findings illustrate what is by now common knowledge: that
“publish or perish” has become “publish in English (and in high-impact factor
ISI journals) or perish.” Lillis and Curry admit that focusing their analysis
on scientific articles in high-status indexes provokes a clear bias and does
not allow them to analyse the type of knowledge being produced elsewhere and
in other languages, which is by no means irrelevant. Despite this, they argue
compellingly that, because of the academic capital of such publications, the
questions presented in the chapter need to be discussed more thoroughly in

In the final chapter of the book, “Language in Economic Development: Is
English Special and is Linguistic Fragmentation Bad?,” Jean-Louis Arcand and
François Grin argue persuasively in favour of the hypothesis that societal
multilingualism is beneficial to economic progress and national development.
By means of a robust quantitative analysis and using econometric tools, they
employ an “English-language variable” to test whether English is linked to
development in postcolonial contexts. From their evidence, they conclude that
it is not, and that “ethnolinguistic fragmentation (with the associated
linguistic dimensions) has probably been blamed for feeble economic
performance, whereas no such correlation may in fact exist, and the true
causes for slow growth lie elsewhere” (p. 259). Moreover, they conclude that
“there are solid grounds for considering linguistic diversity as a priori
conducive to economic development” (p. 261). As a consequence, given the
evidence, they suggest it is now time to “shift the burden of proof” and leave
it to “advocates of monolingualism to provide proof positive that uniformity
is better” (p. 261).

In the context of increased globalization and mobility, the role played by
languages in economic development and personal progress has gained more
prominence. Some authors have sought to capture this process, conceptualizing
the transformation from the “workforce” to the “wordforce” (Heller and Duchêne
2012), and debates on the commodification of language and identity (Heller
2003) have multiplied in recent years, both academically and in society in
general. Similarly, the importance attached to multilingualism and developing
language repertoires in key languages is also growing. English is,
unsurprisingly, at the heart of these changes, which is why a contribution
like the book in question makes a very positive addition to such debates.
There are several salient aspects of the book, including: (1) its
intellectually stimulating breadth, (2) its coherence, (3) the range of topics
and geographical areas covered, and (4) the different methodological
approaches adopted in each chapter.

It is intellectually stimulating because it offers food for thought to
academics and policy makers alike. It offers a range of empirical studies that
shed light on language-ideological issues relating to English and its impact
on education and development strategies. If we consider these phenomena in
light of Woolard’s (1998, p. 3) definition of “language ideology”
(“representations, whether explicit or implicit, that construe the
intersection of language and human beings in a social world”), we can see that
the perception of English in various contexts is of a complex nature, defying
any simplistic reading. It is worth emphasizing the importance of language
ideologies in social life, because people’s ideas about languages play a
crucial role in shaping their development. As Monica Heller puts it: “our
ideas about language(s) are, in other words, not neutral; we believe what we
believe for reasons which have to do with the many other ways in which we make
sense of our world and make our way in it” (Heller 2008, p. 518).

In addition to analysing whether and how English affects the language
ecologies of developing countries, these chapters provide another, perhaps
deeper, insight, into how English is viewed and perceived by people in such
countries. That is the reason why one can consider the collection a coherent
one, because the issues addressed in its chapters are to a significant extent
connected to attitudes towards, and beliefs about, English as a global
language. Some chapters are more concerned with educational and pedagogical
issues; others align themselves more with the question of development and the
efficacy of development programs in relation to language matters. All in all,
however, there is a clear thread linking all the topics and chapters in the

As mentioned above, even if the three keywords that can be used to summarize
this collection are English, development and education, the range of topics
covered stretches much further. It includes debates on linguistic equity and
equality, critical language policy analysis, issues of language and symbolic
capital, agency and identity construction, linguistic hybridization and new
forms of language practices, and the position of English in academic
publishing. Geographically, the areas covered are mainly in Africa and Asia,
with some in South America. Although it would be difficult for a single book
to encompass worldwide case studies, a fuller treatment of other countries
would have further enriched the collection. It would be very informative, for
instance, to read about the issues presented here in the context of
Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America, countries in the Arab-speaking
world, Central Asia, the Middle East and Post-communist Europe. Nevertheless,
if anything, this indicates the potential for further studies and that the
book in question can prove fruitful in the development of future research in
this field.

Last but not least, the fact that a number of methodological approaches are
applied by the different authors adds value to the collection. Qualitative
analyses feature most prominently in the book, but other methods are also
used, particularly in chapter 11, in which Arcand and Grin show that
quantitative studies can serve to shed light on key aspects of the questions
raised in the book.

Overall, this collection of essays provides useful material to highlight key
questions regarding the English language and its links to, and impact on,
development and pedagogical issues. Readers should come away with a better
idea of the complexities that lie behind such questions, their intricate
relationship with the different contexts mentioned, and their possible
connections with other geographical areas and related fields in the study of
language in society. In applied terms, this book, or at least several
chapters, would make useful reading in advanced courses on sociolinguistics,
development studies, multilingualism, critical language studies, language
policy and planning, and courses on English and multilingualism, with a focus
on ELT and ELF.

Heller, M. (2003). Globalization, the new economy, and the commodification of
language and identity. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 7(4): 473-492.

Heller, M. (2008). Language and the nation-state: Challenges to
sociolinguistic theory and practice. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 12(4):

Heller, M. and Duchêne, A. (2012) (eds.). Language in late capitalism. Pride
and profit. London: Routledge.

Woolard, K. (1998). Introduction: Language ideology as a field of inquiry. In
Schieffelin, B B, Woolard, K. and Kroskrity, P. (eds.). Language ideologies.
Practice and theory (pp. 3-35). New York-Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Josep Soler-Carbonell obtained his Ph.D. in Linguistics and Communication at
the University of Barcelona (2010) with a contrastive analysis of the
sociolinguistic situation in Estonia and Catalonia from the point of view of
speakers’ language ideologies. His main research interests gravitate around
the broad areas of sociolinguistics and language anthropology, language
ideologies, language and identity, language and media, and intercultural
communication. He now works as an Associate Professor at the Institute of
Communication, Tallinn University and is a postdoctoral research fellow at the
University of Tartu. In his current project, he is investigating the role of
English as a global language in the internationalization of Estonian higher
education from both macro and micro perspectives.
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