The Global Level


Two important books on international English are Phillipson's "Linguistic Imperialism" (1992) and Crystal's "English as a Global Language" (1997). These books represent two diverging views on the subject matter. While Phillipson sees English and ELT as a means of oppressing the third world, Crystal regards the language as a neutral and beneficial tool for international communication.

[Note: The two books - and the linguistic imperialism hypothesis are discussed at lenght in the print version].

When Phillipson criticises Crystal's book as an oversimplification of the complexity and reality of global English (Phillipson 1999b: 270) he is guilty as charged himself. Although it is certainly wrong to attribute the spread of English to luck, as Crystal does, it is equally misguided to see the language only in terms of linguistic imperialism. On the one hand, Crystal's and Phillipson's books are important because they raise fascinating questions; on the other hand, both are faulty because none provides a balanced account. In this respect, Kachru's "The Alchemy of English", although already a bit dated (1986), is a preferable alternative.

A crucial lesson that can be drawn from these three books, then, is that one walks a very thin line when dealing with such a politically charged topic as the spread of English in a global context. While an "objective" linguistic inquiry - as far as such a thing is possible - should under no circumstance disregard the political perspectives of English and ELT and while it should also take the unequal distribution of wealth, power and information around the globe into account one must at the same time make sure that one is not carried away by ideology. Rather, conclusions should be reached after a thorough review of the evidence.


Because of the complex nature of the topic it would be preposterous to suggest a definite conclusion to this chapter. However, I would like to restate some important points that have been made so far [Note: see print version]:

The main research finding seems to be, though, that English is appropriated for local purposes around the world (sometimes, but not always, by elites). I have the strong suspicion that Phillipson's notion of "resistance" and Pennycook's critical pedagogy (1994) are, in fact, such appropriations. If, for instance, an ELT book from the West is used in a developing country in a different manner as conceived by the authors of this book, this can be conceived as both, "appropriation" or "resistance". Another form of appropriation/resistance is the use of indigenous teaching material (this has been mentioned several times already). My point is that English can be appropriated for both: colonialism (as the British did in the 19th century) and resistance to foreign influences (as developing countries do now).

Let me give a few more instance of appropriation to show how global this phenomenon really is:

As the appropriation of ELT is such a widespread phenomenon, not authentic (that is native-speaker centred) but appropriate pedagogy should be applied. Such appropriate pedagogy should "prepare learners to be both global and local speakers of English and to feel at home in both international and national cultures" (Kramsch and Sullivan 1996: 211, see also my suggestions for a polymodel approach in the chapter on English in Europe).

The "internationalisation" of English might also bring new possibilities for native speakers of the language. McCabe elaborates:

...whereas for two centuries we exported our language and our customs in hot pursuit of...fresh markets, we now find that our language and our customs are returned to us but altered so that they can be used by that out own language and culture discover new possibilities, fresh contradictions." (1985: 45)

Here, McCabe refers to writers from Africa and Asia who have used and appropriated the English language for their own purposes but whose usage of English has also made their works accessible to a wider audience. For Kachru, once English aquires a new identity - African or Asian - through creative writing the language is liberated from its colonial past. (1997: 232)

Finally, let me stress that the role of English is not only discussed by a small number of ELT professionals and linguists. On the internet I came across a passionate discussion about the very same subject by biologists. Some were quite happy with English, others pointed out alternatives like Esperanto or Interlingua. Because biologists know quite a lot of Latin, it has even been suggested to adopt this dead language, as it would be more neutral than present-day English. (see Taxacom Biological Systematics and Biocollections Computerization Discussion Listserv Archiv 1996)

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