Epilogue: the appropriation of English and ethical issues



In this essay I have looked at the spread of English and its appropriation from a global, a European and an Austrian perspective. My frequent cross references from one perspective to another show that these three levels intersect and interconnect at various points. If I were to wrap up my thesis in one or two paragraphs I would disregard the complexity of the topic. Those interested in a summary of my findings should consult the respective chapters ("summary and conclusion") in each of the three parts of my paper. I finish my work not with a definite conclusion but with a sense of wonder about the many purposes English serves in today’s multipolar world.


However, the appropriation of English and ELT raises some ethical questions which I would like to deal with in this chapter. It seems to me that current mainstream linguistics is perhaps too enthusiastic when it uncritically applauds this appropriation. Although there is nothing to be said against the appropriation of English in principle - after all English belongs to all those who use the language - many scholars do not look closely enough at the concrete purposes to which English is put. One must be aware that state schooling always teaches certain values and that, therefore, ELT will also be used to convey one or another form of ideology. It is thus impossible to teach "just English". Is it in this connection not shocking to learn that the chapter headings "Our flag" or "Our great leader" are not taken from a national-socialist ELT textbook but from a contemporary Pakistani one? (see Malik 1993)

These headings clearly show that English language teaching at school is part of an identity-building process. I suggest that one can distinguish two kinds of such identity-building processes: a negative identity-building process (my terms) defines national identity as contrasting with other peoples' national identity ("The Germans are Germans because they are not English, the Pakistani are Pakistani because they are not Indian"). Implicitly or explicitly one’s own identity is considered superior. A positive identity building process, by contrast, deals critically with one’s own culture and compares and contrasts it with different cultures without ascribing fictional values to these foreign cultures.


Of course it is not always easy to judge which values are acceptable and which are not. As wa Thiong'o rightly points out, the search for universal values has often meant "the West generalizing their experience...as the universal experience of the world. What is Western becomes universal and what is third world becomes local." (1992: 149) A guideline may be that we cannot accept values which violate the innate dignity of human beings - like the National Socialist system of beliefs but also like widow-burning in India. Polygamy, by contrast, may be acceptable if all wives are treated equally. Such questions are important as the above examples may well occur in non-native ELT schoolbooks - or have done so in the past.


Educators in general and English teachers in particular must actively resist the negative-identity building processes and promote the positive way of establishing identity (for instance by teaching a polymodal approach regarding standards: see part 2). In this regard the suggestions by Pennycook (1994) and Kramsch (1993) may be a help - although more practical, down to earth suggestions what exactly critical educators should teach are necessary. (see my suggestions in part 3)

In any case, if we succumb to state-sponsored propaganda the verdict of future generations may be as harsh as Remarque’s evaluation of teachers in pre-World War One Germany:


Sie sollten uns Achtzehnjährigen Vermittler und Führer zur Welt des Erwachsenseins werden...Mit dem Begriff der Autorität, dessen Träger sie waren, verband sich in unseren Gedanken größere Einsicht und menschlicheres Wissen. Doch der erste Tote, den wir sahen, zertrümmerte diese Überzeugung...Das erste Trommelfeuer zeigte uns unseren Irrtum, und unter ihm stürzte die Weltanschauung zusammen, die sie uns gelehrt hatten...Während sie den Dienst am Staate als das Größte bezeichneten, wußten wir bereits das Todesangst stärker ist. (1999 [1929]: 18).


[Note: the references in this sections are scattered among the three bibliographies].



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