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Review of  The Politics of English


Reviewer: Damian J. Rivers
Book Title: The Politics of English
Book Author: Ann Hewings Caroline Tagg
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
General Linguistics
Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Book Announcement: 23.4486

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Review:
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

SUMMARY

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.

EVALUATION

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’ (Continuum).

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