LINGUIST List 23.4486

Sat Oct 27 2012

Review: Applied Linguistics; Sociolinguistics; English: Hewings & Tagg (2012)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 27-Oct-2012
From: Damian Rivers <>
Subject: The Politics of English
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EDITORS: Ann Hewings and Caroline TaggTITLE: The Politics of EnglishSUBTITLE: Conflict, Competition, Co-existenceSERIES TITLE: Worlds of EnglishPUBLISHER: RoutledgeYEAR: 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 ofEnglish, this volume features eight individual chapters and an afterword. Eachchapter is accompanied by two reproduced readings from external authors that areused to exemplify the issues discussed. Furthermore, each chapter contains anumber of student activities, discussion questions and an explanatory or leadingnarrative from each respective author. The reproduced readings are also used asthe foundation for many of the student activities and as a more academiccompanion to the regular text of each chapter. As a guiding principle underpinningthe book and its focus on policies and practices surrounding the use and positionof English in various global contexts, the editors adopt the stance that, as aprimary mode of human communication, language is political in nature and thusimpacts “the management of political, diplomatic and social relations” (p.1) in avariety of ways. Consequently, each chapter presents insightful information anddiscussion concerning English language dominance in relation to a broad spectrumof topics including, but not limited to, language and migration, language ineducational policy, language teaching, language testing and academic publishing,Anglophone literature, language and the global media, language translation, andlanguage ideology.

Chapter 1 [The politics and policies of global English], by Philip Seargeant,discusses the enigmatic position of global English as a positive resource, thehegemony of English and the appropriation of English, framed by the position that“English in the contemporary world is multiplex” (p. 30). These themes and relatedcore concepts are linked together through thoughtful articulation. The examplesused to support the narrative are varied and make reference to the Englishlanguage in contexts such as Wales, Japan, Bangladesh and Slovakia. The tworeproduced readings in this chapter come from Catherine Prendergast [English andambivalence in a new capitalist state] and Jan Blommaert [Locked in space: onlinguistic rights].

Chapter 2 [English and migration], by Naz Rassool, posits that the “Englishlanguage is bound up with patterns of migration in two main ways” (p. 47),explaining how “migration has shaped the structure and usage of English languagevarieties” and, due to its position as a global lingua franca, “English can facilitatemigration” (p. 47). The chapter further addresses language as a motivating factorfor migration to another country, language-based exclusion from certain countriesdue to proficiency requirements, and the multitude of ways in which migrants adaptto their new country of residence from the perspective of culture and language.The chapter features extracts ranging from actual migrants talking about theirexperiences to examples of citizenship / language tests from countries such asthe UK, the US, and Canada. The chapter also touches upon issues of identity,gender, and linguistic landscapes. The two reproduced readings in this chaptercome from Ingrid Piller and Kimie Takahashi [At the intersection of gender,language, and transnationalism] and Francis M. Hult [Ecological linguisticlandscape analysis: a Swedish case].

Chapter 3 [Learning English, learning through English], by Ann Hewings, focuseson TESOL and the learning of other subjects through the medium of English. Itopens with a number of questions such as “What reasons are there for the use ofEnglish in education in non-dominant countries?” (p. 93). The chapter discussesbilingual and multilingual contexts in which English is used as a medium ofeducation with a detailed case-study analysis of Malaysia. The author thenswitches contexts to examine the position of English in different Europeaneducational environments, English in higher education, and the increasing demandfor English for academic purposes as a “consequence of the dominance of Englishin the academic sphere” (p. 115). Just as the chapter started, it ends with theauthor posing a number of questions directly to the reader with the intention topromote discussion and critical thinking about the issues discussed. The tworeproduced readings in this chapter come from Peter Martin [Tensions betweenlanguage 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 attentiongiven to the domains of English language testing and academic publishing. Thestudent activities presented within this chapter, especially those in relation to a2009-2010 British Council report and the case-study of ‘helping Rwanda’, introducecritical discourse analysis to students. The critical tone within the author’snarrative is maintained through subsequent discussions concerning high-stakestests and how advertisements and promotional materials are specifically structuredto sell a particular image of success and empowerment -- achievable primarilythrough English language proficiency. The chapter finishes with an overview of theacademic publishing industry. The two reproduced readings in this chapter comefrom Eddie Williams [Language policy, politics and development in Africa] andMark Pegrum [Selling English: advertising and the discourses of ELT].

Chapter 5 [English literary canons], by David Johnson, expands the theme of theprevious two chapters with a focus on “what happens when literary texts, novels,plays and poems, in the English language, travel to and from non-Anglophonecountries” (p. 179). From asking what is English literature to discussing thecanonization of Shakespeare, the author presents a number of case studieshighlighting the literary debates influenced by colonial, political, economic, andmilitary factors. Specific attention is given to literature in eighteenth-centuryEurope, nineteenth-century India, and early twentieth-century Africa. Shifting to thepostcolonial period, the author then focuses on literary canons in contextsincluding India, Kenya and South Africa, providing an extensive commentary onthe critical dimensions of English literature and its spread around the world. Thetwo reproduced readings in this chapter come from Rajeswari Sunder Rajan[Writing in English in India] and David Damrosch [World literature in apostcanonical hypercanonical age].

Chapter 6 [English and the global media], by Daniel Allington, addresses thehistorical development of language use through the mass media, noting how “[o]nlya very small proportion of the world’s languages are employed in this way even ona national level” (p. 219). Issues of power, prestige and wealth are implicated, asthe central domain is revealed to be the use of the English language in the UK andUS. This combination is considered beyond linguistic and cultural imperialism andinstead termed as representing the “linguistic face of globalization” (p. 220).Various forms of media from a wider context are critically addressed, and like inother chapters, are accompanied by a range of student activities and authorcomments. 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) ifpublished in a non-globalized language or in sub-Saharan Africa. The tworeproduced readings in this chapter come from Miha Kovač et al. [Literarytranslation 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 tointerpersonal interaction between people who speak different languages. In movingaway from the promotion of English as a global lingua franca, the author arguesthat it is translation which forms “the bedrock of communication across languagebarriers” (p. 260) and is “simply indispensable to any hope of peace andunderstanding in a multilingual world” (p. 260). The chapter presents a detaileddiscussion of some of the fundamental, practical and theoretical issues involved intranslation and provides examples from a number of languages and contexts.Similar to the previous chapter, the conclusion warns us that “[b]y translating onlyfrom 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 otherlanguages” (p. 285). The two reproduced readings in this chapter come fromJuliane House [What is translation?] and Mona Baker [Reframing conflict intranslation].

Chapter 8 [Ideologies of English], by Caroline Tagg, begins by highlighting the 400viewer complaints to the BBC for broadcasting swearing from a number ofperforming artists at the Live 8 charity concert in 2005 (an event watched by 9.6million people). The deconstruction of this incident is used as a departure point fordiscussion concerning the associations and values which different social groupsplace on certain forms of language and the policies and practices which aim toregulate language use according to social demand. The main content of thischapter deals with English ideologies around the world and explores concepts suchas language values and policy, language values and language research, issues ofcorrectness and prescriptivism, and the ideology of standards. In noting the beliefthat language can never be value-free, the author concludes the chapter bystressing that the “important thing is to be aware of the impact our values mayhave on those around us, and to recognize that attempts to regulate language useare 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 ‘Singlishdebate’].

The Afterword [Imaging the future of English], by Philip Seargeant, considers thefuture of English and the immense speculation surrounding this topic. The authorargues that such speculation reveals how “predictions about the future are in greatpart evaluations about the present” (p. 340). Drawing on extracts from two books,the author offers a narrative and posits some of the most commonly askedquestions about the future of English. Consistent with the wider style of thevolume in which the reader is invited to engage in discussion, the author notes inthe conclusion how “[t]o give much more of a detailed mapping than this of thefuture of English is probably futile…to predict the future of English -- or any otherwidely spoken language -- necessitates predicting the future of global societyitself” (p. 346). This certainly leaves the reader with plenty to consider anddiscuss.


From my own professional perspective, I found all of the chapters interesting, asthe topics discussed are broad in scope and offer voice to lesser known aspectsconnected to the politics of English. Despite not wanting to detract from the qualityof the overall project, I found chapter four to be particularly compelling due to itswillingness to engage in a form of critical self-reflection through highlighting someof the more invidious elements within the ELT industry. Indeed, throughout theentire book there is a welcome undertone of critical dissent as each authorhighlights a particular area of linguistic and cultural concern surrounding the Worldsof English. With this in mind, and further considering the content of chapter four, Iwas 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 oftheir own courses) in association with a major (British) international publishinghouse. It is therefore perhaps natural that one of the most instantly strikingfeatures of this volume is the high-quality, full-color print presented on smoothglossy paper. Strictly academic texts not intended for such mass consumption bystudents are rarely afforded such luxuries. As one would then expect, the volumeis visually attractive throughout, using warm colors to entice readers to engagewith its substantial 383 pages. However, my own cynicism in mixing commercialand educational interests is one which could be aimed against almost any othercritically themed book written in English and published within the dominantAnglophone publishing industry. Although the politics of academic publishing iscomplex, often forcing authors to walk a fine line between freedom of expressionand satisfying mainstream commercial interests, I believe that all of the individualauthors 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 evenperhaps postgraduate students interested in English language studies, culturalstudies, and language politics. As a current tutor on a UK based MA AppliedLinguistics & TESOL program, I am confident that this book would also be ofsignificant value to early-career teachers of English to speakers of otherlanguages. This is facilitated by the narrative tone, adopted by many of theauthors, that speaks directly to the reader (as a teacher would speak to a studentin the classroom), and the interesting combination of formats within each chapter.Postgraduate students might find the academic concepts presented in the booklacking in depth, but nonetheless, the wide range of references and key-termsidentified are sufficient enough to direct postgraduate readers to more substantialmaterials on the broad topics under the rubric of Worlds of English.


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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