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Review of  Multilingualism in the English-speaking World

Reviewer: Jens Maier
Book Title: Multilingualism in the English-speaking World
Book Author: Viv Edwards
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Language Family(ies): New English
Issue Number: 16.1598

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Date: Mon, 16 May 2005 18:33:09 +0200
From: Jens Maier
Subject: Multilingualism in the English-speaking World

AUTHOR: Edwards, Viv
TITLE: Multilingualism in the English-speaking World
SUBTITLE: Pedigree of Nations
SERIES: The Language Library
PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing
YEAR: 2004

Jens Maier, Department of English Linguistics, University of Tübingen,


This book is about multilingualism in those countries that belong to the
inner-circle according to Kachru's (1985) classification, namely the UK,
Ireland, Canada, the USA, Australia, and Aotearoa/New Zealand. People from
the expanding circle might expect monolingualism or at least linguistic
homogeneity there; however, Edwards shows with many illustrating examples
that this is nothing but a myth. She traces the history of multilingualism
in these six countries over several centuries and describes the situation
of people speaking minority or indigenous languages (including sign
languages) in a majority language environment.

The result is an impressive collection of facts about linguistic life in
the inner circle. It is of high interest for anyone who wants to know more
about linguistic reality in all its facets, the developments and
consequences of language policy in those countries and their shortfalls.

The book is divided into three parts: The first part describes "The extent
of diversity", the second part takes a closer look at "Language at home
and in school" and the last chapters are about "Language in the wider
community." The rationale of this work is "to chart the influence of other
languages on the English-speaking world". Edwards uses Kachru's (1985)
metaphor of concentric circles - where this book will concentrate on the
inner circle, namely: The UK, Ireland, Canda, the USA, Australia and
Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Part I
The first part of the book explores the extent of diversity in inner-
circle countries. Edwards traces the history of diversity from the
sixteenth century to our time and shows the roots of diversity, the extent
and the effects on everyday life.

In the first chapter, Edwards clears the myth of monolingualism. She
claims that the political monolingual mindset could be traced back to 19th
century Europe and the rise of nation states. This mindset then changed
the linguistic reality in Australia and the USA dramatically. She provides
up-to-date census data to show how many people speak languages different
from English today. For instance, there are approximately 28 million
people speaking Spanish, two million speaking Chinese and still half a
million people speaking Portuguese in the USA. Furthermore, Australia,
New Zealand and the US still have indigenous languages, as those
territories might have been blank on the map of the colonizers, but not in

The second chapter provides a historical overview on the spread of the
English language and the roots of diversity. From England, it was taken to
Wales, Scotland and Ireland, although never completely. Later on, when
British settlers sailed for America, their English language challenged
Spanish and French, not to speak of the languages of the Indigenous in
America, Australia and New Zealand. In the days of colonialism, language
was too often used as a tool for the subjugation and assimilation of other
peoples. The Welsh, for example, have fought for their language and
identity with the proverb "Heb iaith, heb cenedl" (No language, no
nation). English might seem a global language today, however, the first
steps of the spread in the UK were of course the hardest and often the

Chapter three looks at the problematic facts with respect to "Language and
the provision of service" in the inner circle. Without basic skills in
English, it is very hard to participate in the life of the community. But
it is even harder to communicate with doctors or at court. Edwards
describes various problems with interpreting, names the efforts which have
been undertaken (for example telephone interpreting) and comes to the
conclusion, that although the awareness for translation and provision of
services in minority or indigenous languages has grown, a long way lies
before us until the nonnative speakers in the inner-circle will eventually
come to all their rights.

Part II
Part two looks at language in two very important domains: home and school.
Families are the core of society and the place where individual decisions
may yield in the maintenance, growth or decay of a language. Edwards
discusses the problem of bilingualism in families, describes the support
for bilingual education and mentions the values of inherited minority
languages for the identity of their speakers.

Chapter five and six on language and education are probably most
interesting in practical terms: Edwards describes the role schools have
played and still play in language policy. In the early years of
colonialism, language policy was much more tolerant than today. In those
days, schools were under control of local districts and lessons were
usually held in the language of the community, for instance German or
French. In the UK, however, the English-only policy has been imposed much
more rigorously, for example by punishing children when they spoke in
their native language. Today, however, institutions try to integrate
minority speakers by teaching English in order for them to participate in
society. At the same time efforts are made to teach minority and
indigenous languages and thus keep them alive. Furthermore, linguists and
professionals try hard to reduce prejudicial attitudes towards English
varieties such as African American Vernacular English (or Black English),
which are too often considered inferior.

Part III
The third part of the book takes a look at "language in the wider
community", such as language and economy, different languages in the
media, the role of minority languages in diplomacy and defence.
Correlations between minority languages and economic success and social
status of individuals vary from country to country and depend on the
language. On the group level, workplaces offer an opportunity to use
minority languages and keep them alive. Tourism is another example, where
minority local languages play a greater role in giving visitors a better
impression of the uniqueness of the country.

The Internet brought completely new opportunities for minority language
speakers to get informed. Chapter nine gives an outline of the historical
developments in mass media and communication with respect to

Chapter ten gives the reader an idea about the role, minority and
indigenous languages play in the arts. From bilingual story telling and
rap and dub poetry, oral arts offer great opportunities for language
awareness and cultural tradition.

Chapter eleven about "language, diplomacy and defence" then mentions the
problems of the US after 9/11. For instance, a catastrophic shortage of
translators and interpreters made it difficult to deal with important
documents which had not yet been translated. Edwards reports, that
government tried to motivate people to learn more foreign languages. It is
yet the question, how long people will keep their interests in those

Moreover, Edwards points out a problem in the relationship between
linguistic research and political action. The UK and Australia both use
language analysis to identify the home country of asylum seekers. A word
pronounced in the "wrong" accent could lead to refusal, although there are
no definite linguistic reasons to judge from accent to nationality.

Internet forums in other languages than English are also described as
problematic for those who are responsible. In order to avoid possibilities
for the underground, those discussions need to be monitored by speakers of
that language. Therefore foreign language speakers are needed, but they
are rare.

The last chapter sums up the findings of the book. The range of languages
spoken in the inner-circle at the beginning of the twenty-first century is
much wider than ever before and multilingualism is a normal part of life.
As most inner-circle countries have a long lasting tradition of
immigration, new people and new languages arrive every day. Still, the
attitudes towards foreign languages remain problematic. Often, debates
about language are in fact debates about culture, identity, legislative
power and control. Although much of the official life is in English,
immersion-schooling and places to learn other languages have kept minority
languages from language death.


This book provides an up-to-date and in-depth description of the
situation of people in the inner-circle who do not speak English as their
mother tongue. Although intended as a textbook, the nature of describing
language policies in six different countries over several centuries makes
it more a encyclopaedia than a textbook. However, it is not solely a book
for linguists as linguistic theories don't really play a central role in
the book. Nevertheless, I am sure that many of the mentioned situations
are well worth being further examined with linguistic methods in the
future. Furthermore, I hope, that this book will not only be read by
people from the inner-circle countries but also by politicians and
linguists in Europe, as some of the problems of multilingualism seem to be
emerging in the European Union as well. The book includes bibliographical
references and an index.


Kachru, Braj B. (1985): Standards, codification and sociolinguistic
realism: the English language in the outer circle. In: Randolph Quirk and
H. G. Widdowson (Eds.), English in the World, (p. 11-34). Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press


Jens Maier is a doctorate student in the Department of English
Linguistics, University of Tübingen, Germany. His interests concern
language evolution and language variation, especially in the context of
English as a Lingua Franca.

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ISBN: 0631236120
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ISBN: 0631236139
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 264
Prices: U.K. £ 16.99