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Review of  Reclaiming the Local in Language Policy and Practice

Reviewer: Elizabeth M. Erling
Book Title: Reclaiming the Local in Language Policy and Practice
Book Author: A. Suresh Canagarajah
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 17.160

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Date: Sat, 14 Jan 2006 09:19:07 +0100 (CET)
From: Elizabeth J. Erling
Subject: Reclaiming the Local in Language Policy and Practice

EDITOR: Canagarajah, A. Suresh
TITLE: Reclaiming the Local in Language Policy and Practice
SERIES: ESL & Applied Linguistics Professional Series
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
YEAR: 2005

Elizabeth J. Erling, Freie Universität Berlin


Canagarajah's edited volume reports on ways that language planners
and educators are responding to the way in which local and global
discourses and practices meet and intermingle. As the editor states in
the preface, the chapters primarily address researchers and graduate
students in applied linguistics (AL). Readers require a background in
AL and knowledge of contemporary discussions in the field;
nevertheless, the texts are clearly written and make for fascinating
reading. Each context the contributors describe sheds light on the
complexity of globalization, migration, and language use -- from a
village school in Brunei to the Dominican community in New York City.
We are presented with an overwhelming amount of variables and an
impressive view of diversity that needs to be taken account of in each
context where policy and practice are planned. Some texts argue for
taking great account of local practices and cultures and respecting
their value and validity. Others call for a reconfiguration of the
discipline to allow for different conceptions of identity, knowledge
practices, and social networks. Overall, the volume demonstrates a
clear need for ''disciplinary reorientation'' in the field of AL.

Part I, Redefining Disciplinary Constructs, deals with the critical effect
that acknowledgement of local practices has on global paradigms. The
contributions deal with central constructs in the field of AL that need to
be revised in order to reflect the complex reality of the local contexts.
In the first chapter, Canagarajah shows how ''knowledge from hitherto
suppressed traditions serves to constructively challenge and
reconstruct dominant paradigms, exposing their biases and vested
interests'' (xix).

In the second chapter, Rakesh Bhatt critically examines the notion of
standard language/s in the context of postcolonial India. He retells the
story of how New Englishes challenge the standard language
paradigm. He presents an analysis of hybridity in Indian English and
shows how Indian English speakers move between various norms of
English at local, national, and global levels. He argues that such
findings must be considered in mainstream linguistics and that multiple
standards and negotiation between varieties must be endorsed.

In chapter 3, Dominique Ryon exposes the ideological slant in
language death studies that ignores local resistance and assumes
assimilation, sometimes to the detriment of the language that
protectionists were intending to save. She shows how the story of
Cajun French in the southern US is different when told by academics
and politicians then when told by the local population, who report on
cultural struggle and painful conflict that is by no means over yet.
Ryon argues that in an attempt to remain objective or ''scientific,''
many sociolinguists neglect to consider issues of power and cultural
struggle in linguistic assimilation.

In chapter 4, Lynn Mario de Souza looks at the grapho-centric
dominance in literacy studies, which has led to the suppression of
alternative (multi-modal) literacies. She reports on the importance of
words, pictures, icons, color, and spatial arrangement in Brazil local
traditions and compares them to postmodern forms of communication
that, for example, the New London Group (1996) encourages us to
teach and embrace.

Part II is dedicated to Interrogating Language Policies. In chapter 5,
Kanavillil Rajagopalan discusses the local resistance to the perceived
threat of English in Brazil and the fear that globalization will destroy
national integrity. He then compares this to Brazilian linguists'
approach to the topic, which does not take into account local attitudes.
He makes clear that an appreciation of the reasons for the continuing
stand-off between expert and lay knowledge is needed for fruitful
dialogue and appropriate policy. Thus, Ryon concludes that linguists
need to realize that there is more to language policy than linguistics
and they need address the needs and concerns of the common

In chapter 6, Maya David and Subra Govindasamy show what can
happen when nationalistic language policies are implemented, and
how the result can be detrimental when the cognitive and social
advantages of bilingualism are not recognized. The chapter presents
us with the situation in Malaysia, where nationalistic policy was
implemented in the late 70s to promote the indigenous language and
counter the postcolonial influence of English. The decision not to
teach English has resulted in Malays being left behind in global
developments, while the Chinese and Indian communities in Malaysia,
who continued to learn English, are better prepared to work in the SE
Asian region and are more globally competitive. The authors then
present the complexity of reviving this community's skills in English.

In Chapter 7, Sharon Utakis and Marianne Pita discuss the effects of
transnationalism on education with the example of Dominicans living in
New York City. They show how members of this community shuttle
between the Dominican Republic and the US, speaking both English
and Spanish. They also show that education in the US -- which
promotes assimilation -- does not serve the needs of these
transnational migrants. Thus, the authors argue that language policy
in education should support balanced bilingual competence with dual
language programs and a bicultural curricula that values Spanish and
incorporates critical language awareness into the classroom. Such
pedagogical practices involve empowering the identity of students and
drawing from their local knowledge to facilitate their biliterate

Part III, Reframing Professional Lives, presents us with the hybrid
professional and personal identities of educators who create a space
in which they can balance their cultural practices of the home with
practices of the host community.

In chapter 8, David Block examines the attitudes and experiences of
French teachers of French in England. Through narrative analysis, he
shows how these individuals, who are not yet British but are no longer
entirely French, struggle with staying or leaving and with their roles as
instructors within British National Curriculum. Block argues that their
local knowledge and experience should be used as a source of
critique and reform.

In Chapter 9, by Angel Lin, Wendy Wang, Nobuhiko Akamatsu, and
Mehdi Riazi, the authors use autobiographic narratives to report and
interpret common experiences in learning English and how these
shaped their teaching and research practices. The implications of
these accounts suggest the need to change the focus in AL from
TESL to TEGCOM (Teaching English for Glocalized Communication).
According to the authors, this alternative theoretical orientation
requires ''a deeper understanding of diverse local pedagogical
practices and beliefs in their sociocultural situatedness, deeper
understand of issues of agency, identity, ownership appropriation,
resistance, and English language learning, teaching, and use in
diverse sociocultural contexts and a deeper understanding of various
cross-cultural encounters'' (218). This would also involve
experimenting -- as the authors of this article do -- with new modes of
research inquiry that better reflect the local, such as anthropological
research methods, interpretive sociological, narrative analysis, and
autobiographic studies.

In the final section, Part IV, Imagining Classroom Possibilities,
particular classroom contexts are presented. Here it is shown how
local identities, knowledge and discourses need to be brought in to
negotiate the learning of unfamiliar codes and content in ELT.

In chapter 10, Peter Martin presents a discourse analysis of one class
in a small community in rural Brunei, where there are students who
speak several different indigenous languages. He shows how the
teacher uses multilingual literacy pedagogies to localize the lesson
and have it make sense for the children. This contribution highlights
the struggle in the quest for knowledge and the attempt of classroom
participants to incorporate both local and textbook knowledge into
their talk.

In chapter 11, Jasmine Luk argues that communicative intent is the
most important aspect of language teaching and looks into how this
can be promoted through opportunities for students to express their
local identity, interests and values. She presents two lessons taught
by native English-speaking teachers where communicative
competence is supposedly promoted. One activity, while typical of
communicative language teaching, does not promote communication
of local identities, nor does it provoke interest or motivation in the
students. The second activity, however, allows students to express
themselves, their opinions, and to have a valuable cross-cultural
experience, even though the instructor does most of the talking. Luk
argues that in this situation, the desire to assert ''self'' motivates
learners' active participation. She thus concludes that in appropriating
global discourse, it is essential for learners to be able to assert their
selves in cross-cultural global interactions so that multiple, or
pluralistic, language user identities can be constructed. She argues
that native English-speaking teachers can help to promote this type of
intercultural understanding, but only if they promote communicative

In chapter 12, Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak and Nancy Sullivan
consider the relevance of Mexican culture and language in the
borderlands of Corpus Christi, Texas, where minority school failure is
endemic. The authors argue that curricular inclusions of language and
literatures produced by Mexican American writers can help bridge
cultural and linguistic discontinuities present in the current education
system and work against anti-immigrant, antiminority, antibilingual
positions. They describe how the classroom can be turned into a
learning environment where students' cultures and languages are
valued and how students can be encouraged to engage in activities
where they can show their expertise and their linguistic and cultural
experiences and knowledges. Finally, they show how local diversity
can be a valuable tool in fostering citizenship that is attuned to global


The blurb on the back of the book states that ''the authors make a
case for why it is important for local social practices, communicative
conventions, linguistic realities, and knowledge paradigms to actively
inform language policies and practices for classrooms and
communities in specific contexts, and to critically inform those
pertaining to other communities. They illuminate the paradox that the
local contains complex values of diversity, multilingualism, and plurality
that can help to reconceive the multilingual society and education for
postmodern times.'' Indeed, the book does not disappoint. While most
contemporary literature dealing with globalization focuses on
homogenization, this volume shows the vast diversity of local cultures
and languages that need to be taken account of in language policy
and practice. It presents numerous examples of hybrid groups who
fluidly move between languages, varieties and registers.

Any faults the book has are points that the authors recognize and
mention in their chapters. Open questions in one chapter may be
answered, or at least echoed, in other chapters. For example, after
reading Parts I and II, it was clear that education fails to equip
students for real-world needs and that students have to be proficient
in ''negotiating multiple dialects, registers, discourses, and if possible,
languages, to function effectively in a context of postmodern
globalization'' (xxv). However, while reading the text I felt frustrated by
the fact that the reader is not given a realistic approach that could
influence national policies nor solid advice as to how to go about
doing this. But the final chapters in Part III and IV follow up by
presenting practical responses that could be incorporated in language
education policy and in the classroom.

One crucial problem that several contributions in this volume deal with
is the dynamics between local communities, national language
education policies, and global forces. Often these issues can present
frustrating realities in which nationalist positions do not allow for
policies and practices that would actually benefit local people. For
example, the chapter on the complex situation of Dominican students
in New York City recommends the introduction of a bilingual and
bicultural curriculum. In light of current national ideologies in the US,
which seem to strongly enforce the notion of Americaness, it is not
likely that the US education system would, even if it could, offer the
means to promote bilingual, bicultural transnationalism. As Mermann-
Jozwiak and Sullivan show in the final chapter, many US Americans
have negative attitudes towards those who cling to their ''other''
languages and cultures. The struggle between national language
policies and global realities is echoed in the chapters on Malaysia and
Brazil. Here the clash between national education to create national
citizens and the promotion of transculturalism, multilingualism, and
multiliteracies is also highlighted. These complex issues will surely
continue to play an important role in language policy and practice.

While many of the ideas in this volume may not be new -- for example
the need to challenge the notions of language standards or the native
speaker -- the contributions offer new insight into these discussions
and reemphasize the need for a paradigm shift within AL. The authors
use a number of different and innovative research methodologies to
get at questions concerning globalization and local responses. It
seems that future studies of this type could continue to draw from
research done in other disciplines, for example sociology and
economics (e.g. Grin 2003, Smith and Favell forthcoming, Urry 2005,
etc.). The volume as a whole -- but especially the contribution from
Lim et al -- paves the way for new platforms of research which will
continue to take account of socially, culturally, historically, and
intuitionally situated perspectives.


Grin, F. 2003. ''Language Planning and Economics.'' Current Issues in
Language Planning, 4(1): 1-66.

New London Group. (1996). ''A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing
social futures.'' Harvard Educational Review, 66(1): 60-92.

Smith, M. P. and Favell, A (eds). forthcoming 2006. The Human Face
of Global Mobility: International Highly Skilled Migration in Europe,
North America and the Asia Pacific.,New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Urry, J. 2005. ''Globalisation and complexities'' In I. Rossi (ed)
Frameworks for Globalization Research. Amsterdam: Kluwer.

Elizabeth J. Erling has her PhD from the University of Edinburgh's
Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics. Her dissertation,
Globalization, English and the German University Classroom (2004), is
a sociolinguistic profile of English use at the Freie Universität in Berlin,
where she has taught in the language center since 1998. She has
published articles in English Today, The Globalisation of English and
the English Language Classroom (Gnutzmann & Intemann 2005), and
Speaking from the Margin: Global English from a European
Perspective (Duszak & Okulska 2004). Her academic interests are
World English(es), second language writing, and European language
policy and education.

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