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Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users."
EDITORS: Ann Hewings and Caroline Tagg TITLE: The Politics of English SUBTITLE: Conflict, Competition, Co-existence SERIES TITLE: Worlds of English PUBLISHER: Routledge YEAR: 2012
Damian J. Rivers, Graduate School of Language and Culture, Osaka University, Japan
As the third book in a series designed for the Open University module on Worlds of English, this volume features eight individual chapters and an afterword. Each chapter is accompanied by two reproduced readings from external authors that are used to exemplify the issues discussed. Furthermore, each chapter contains a number of student activities, discussion questions and an explanatory or leading narrative from each respective author. The reproduced readings are also used as the foundation for many of the student activities and as a more academic companion to the regular text of each chapter. As a guiding principle underpinning the book and its focus on policies and practices surrounding the use and position of English in various global contexts, the editors adopt the stance that, as a primary mode of human communication, language is political in nature and thus impacts “the management of political, diplomatic and social relations” (p.1) in a variety of ways. Consequently, each chapter presents insightful information and discussion concerning English language dominance in relation to a broad spectrum of topics including, but not limited to, language and migration, language in educational policy, language teaching, language testing and academic publishing, Anglophone literature, language and the global media, language translation, and language ideology.
Chapter 1 [The politics and policies of global English], by Philip Seargeant, discusses the enigmatic position of global English as a positive resource, the hegemony of English and the appropriation of English, framed by the position that “English in the contemporary world is multiplex” (p. 30). These themes and related core concepts are linked together through thoughtful articulation. The examples used to support the narrative are varied and make reference to the English language in contexts such as Wales, Japan, Bangladesh and Slovakia. The two reproduced readings in this chapter come from Catherine Prendergast [English and ambivalence in a new capitalist state] and Jan Blommaert [Locked in space: on linguistic rights].
Chapter 2 [English and migration], by Naz Rassool, posits that the “English language is bound up with patterns of migration in two main ways” (p. 47), explaining how “migration has shaped the structure and usage of English language varieties” and, due to its position as a global lingua franca, “English can facilitate migration” (p. 47). The chapter further addresses language as a motivating factor for migration to another country, language-based exclusion from certain countries due to proficiency requirements, and the multitude of ways in which migrants adapt to their new country of residence from the perspective of culture and language. The chapter features extracts ranging from actual migrants talking about their experiences to examples of citizenship / language tests from countries such as the UK, the US, and Canada. The chapter also touches upon issues of identity, gender, and linguistic landscapes. The two reproduced readings in this chapter come from Ingrid Piller and Kimie Takahashi [At the intersection of gender, language, and transnationalism] and Francis M. Hult [Ecological linguistic landscape analysis: a Swedish case].
Chapter 3 [Learning English, learning through English], by Ann Hewings, focuses on TESOL and the learning of other subjects through the medium of English. It opens with a number of questions such as “What reasons are there for the use of English in education in non-dominant countries?” (p. 93). The chapter discusses bilingual and multilingual contexts in which English is used as a medium of education with a detailed case-study analysis of Malaysia. The author then switches contexts to examine the position of English in different European educational environments, English in higher education, and the increasing demand for English for academic purposes as a “consequence of the dominance of English in the academic sphere” (p. 115). Just as the chapter started, it ends with the author posing a number of questions directly to the reader with the intention to promote discussion and critical thinking about the issues discussed. The two reproduced readings in this chapter come from Peter Martin [Tensions between language policy and practice in Malaysia] and Frank Monaghan [English lessens].
Chapter 4 [English the industry], by John Gray, explores “English as a commodity” (p. 137) in the field of English Language Teaching (ELT), with particular attention given to the domains of English language testing and academic publishing. The student activities presented within this chapter, especially those in relation to a 2009-2010 British Council report and the case-study of ‘helping Rwanda’, introduce critical discourse analysis to students. The critical tone within the author’s narrative is maintained through subsequent discussions concerning high-stakes tests and how advertisements and promotional materials are specifically structured to sell a particular image of success and empowerment -- achievable primarily through English language proficiency. The chapter finishes with an overview of the academic publishing industry. The two reproduced readings in this chapter come from Eddie Williams [Language policy, politics and development in Africa] and Mark Pegrum [Selling English: advertising and the discourses of ELT].
Chapter 5 [English literary canons], by David Johnson, expands the theme of the previous two chapters with a focus on “what happens when literary texts, novels, plays and poems, in the English language, travel to and from non-Anglophone countries” (p. 179). From asking what is English literature to discussing the canonization of Shakespeare, the author presents a number of case studies highlighting the literary debates influenced by colonial, political, economic, and military factors. Specific attention is given to literature in eighteenth-century Europe, nineteenth-century India, and early twentieth-century Africa. Shifting to the postcolonial period, the author then focuses on literary canons in contexts including India, Kenya and South Africa, providing an extensive commentary on the critical dimensions of English literature and its spread around the world. The two reproduced readings in this chapter come from Rajeswari Sunder Rajan [Writing in English in India] and David Damrosch [World literature in a postcanonical hypercanonical age].
Chapter 6 [English and the global media], by Daniel Allington, addresses the historical development of language use through the mass media, noting how “[o]nly a very small proportion of the world’s languages are employed in this way even on a national level” (p. 219). Issues of power, prestige and wealth are implicated, as the central domain is revealed to be the use of the English language in the UK and US. This combination is considered beyond linguistic and cultural imperialism and instead termed as representing the “linguistic face of globalization” (p. 220). Various forms of media from a wider context are critically addressed, and like in other chapters, are accompanied by a range of student activities and author comments. In the conclusion, the author admits that the current textbook would “never hope to achieve such sales even if its content were identical” (p. 245) if published in a non-globalized language or in sub-Saharan Africa. The two reproduced readings in this chapter come from Miha Kovač et al. [Literary translation in current European book markets] and Shalini Shankar [Reel to real: desi teens’ linguistic engagements with Bollywood].
Chapter 7 [Translating into and out of English], by Guy Cook, draws attention to interpersonal interaction between people who speak different languages. In moving away from the promotion of English as a global lingua franca, the author argues that it is translation which forms “the bedrock of communication across language barriers” (p. 260) and is “simply indispensable to any hope of peace and understanding in a multilingual world” (p. 260). The chapter presents a detailed discussion of some of the fundamental, practical and theoretical issues involved in translation and provides examples from a number of languages and contexts. Similar to the previous chapter, the conclusion warns us that “[b]y translating only from English, or by making everything foreign conform to the norms of English- speaking culture, we are acting to the detriment of English as well as other languages” (p. 285). The two reproduced readings in this chapter come from Juliane House [What is translation?] and Mona Baker [Reframing conflict in translation].
Chapter 8 [Ideologies of English], by Caroline Tagg, begins by highlighting the 400 viewer complaints to the BBC for broadcasting swearing from a number of performing artists at the Live 8 charity concert in 2005 (an event watched by 9.6 million people). The deconstruction of this incident is used as a departure point for discussion concerning the associations and values which different social groups place on certain forms of language and the policies and practices which aim to regulate language use according to social demand. The main content of this chapter deals with English ideologies around the world and explores concepts such as language values and policy, language values and language research, issues of correctness and prescriptivism, and the ideology of standards. In noting the belief that language can never be value-free, the author concludes the chapter by stressing that the “important thing is to be aware of the impact our values may have on those around us, and to recognize that attempts to regulate language use are always grounded in a particular way of seeing - and organizing - the world” (p. 323). The two reproduced readings in this chapter come from Deborah Cameron [The great grammar crusade] and Anneliese Kramer-Dahl [Reading the ‘Singlish debate’].
The Afterword [Imaging the future of English], by Philip Seargeant, considers the future of English and the immense speculation surrounding this topic. The author argues that such speculation reveals how “predictions about the future are in great part evaluations about the present” (p. 340). Drawing on extracts from two books, the author offers a narrative and posits some of the most commonly asked questions about the future of English. Consistent with the wider style of the volume in which the reader is invited to engage in discussion, the author notes in the conclusion how “[t]o give much more of a detailed mapping than this of the future of English is probably futile…to predict the future of English -- or any other widely spoken language -- necessitates predicting the future of global society itself” (p. 346). This certainly leaves the reader with plenty to consider and discuss.
From my own professional perspective, I found all of the chapters interesting, as the topics discussed are broad in scope and offer voice to lesser known aspects connected to the politics of English. Despite not wanting to detract from the quality of the overall project, I found chapter four to be particularly compelling due to its willingness to engage in a form of critical self-reflection through highlighting some of the more invidious elements within the ELT industry. Indeed, throughout the entire book there is a welcome undertone of critical dissent as each author highlights a particular area of linguistic and cultural concern surrounding the Worlds of English. With this in mind, and further considering the content of chapter four, I was somewhat surprised by the very commercial nature of this book, and indeed, the entire series, which is produced by a well known British university (for one of their own courses) in association with a major (British) international publishing house. It is therefore perhaps natural that one of the most instantly striking features of this volume is the high-quality, full-color print presented on smooth glossy paper. Strictly academic texts not intended for such mass consumption by students are rarely afforded such luxuries. As one would then expect, the volume is visually attractive throughout, using warm colors to entice readers to engage with its substantial 383 pages. However, my own cynicism in mixing commercial and educational interests is one which could be aimed against almost any other critically themed book written in English and published within the dominant Anglophone publishing industry. Although the politics of academic publishing is complex, often forcing authors to walk a fine line between freedom of expression and satisfying mainstream commercial interests, I believe that all of the individual authors in this book have been successful in presenting their critical message, albeit in a subdued or muted fashion.
Overall, this book would be an excellent course book for undergraduate or even perhaps postgraduate students interested in English language studies, cultural studies, and language politics. As a current tutor on a UK based MA Applied Linguistics & TESOL program, I am confident that this book would also be of significant value to early-career teachers of English to speakers of other languages. This is facilitated by the narrative tone, adopted by many of the authors, that speaks directly to the reader (as a teacher would speak to a student in the classroom), and the interesting combination of formats within each chapter. Postgraduate students might find the academic concepts presented in the book lacking in depth, but nonetheless, the wide range of references and key-terms identified are sufficient enough to direct postgraduate readers to more substantial materials on the broad topics under the rubric of Worlds of English.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Damian J. Rivers is an Associate Professor at Osaka University in the
English Department, Graduate School of Language and Culture and
holds a Ph.D in Applied Linguistics / Sociolinguistics from the University
of Leicester, England. His main research interests concern the
management of multiple identities in relation to otherness, the impact of
national identities upon a variety of foreign language education
processes, critical issues in intercultural communication, and social
processes underpinning intergroup stereotypes. He is co-editor of the
forthcoming publications -- ‘Native-Speakerism in Japan: Intergroup
Dynamics in Foreign Language Education’ (Multilingual Matters) and
‘Social Identities and Multiple Selves in Foreign Language Education’