The Shape of Things to Come? Some Basic Questions About English as a Lingua Franca

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The shape of things to come? Some basic questions about English as a lingua franca

Introduction: 'English' as a global lingua franca

'English', whatever may be meant by this designation, is the language in which most lingua franca communication worldwide is now taking place. This predominance is well documented (cf. e.g. Crystal 1997, Graddol 1997). Although, as these authors argue, this predominance may well turn out to be a temporary one, maybe for approximately the next 50 years, for the time being the global use of English is still on the increase, and markedly so (cf. e.g. Ammon 1996 for the European Union).[1] The reaction to this state of affairs among the population at large and government agencies covers the whole spectrum from enthusiasm to rejection and counter-offensive. Among academics, however, it seems fair to say that attitudes are mainly (though by no means exclusively) negative, with calls for resistance to the hegemony of English gaining considerable momentum over the last decade or so (e.g. Canagarajah 1999, Pennycook 1994, 1998, Phillipson 1992, Smith and Forman 1997). This critical literature includes treatments of historical, cultural, ecological, educational, socio-political and psychological issues, obviously with a good deal of overlap among these areas. In both the areas of language use and (particularly) language learning and teaching, challenges have been formulated which call into question the native speakers' long-accepted 'ownership of English' (Widdowson 1994).[2] Ammon (2000) presents arguments for moving 'towards more fairness in International English' but does (still) feel a need for a question-mark in the second part of his article’s title: "Linguistic Rights of Non-native Speakers?".[3] Ammon is concerned mainly with non-native speakers' rights to 'linguistic peculiarities' (2000: 111) when using English in the inter-national scientific community. He convincingly demonstrates that the insistence on native-speaker norms acts as a powerful gate-keeping device which has little to do with intelligibility but a great deal with socio-economic factors – an observation which recalls Wolff's seminal 1964 paper describing the phenomenon of non-reciprocal intelligibility between two tribes who to all intents and purposes speak the same language: the Kalabari, the largest and most prosperous group in the Eastern Niger Delta claim not to understand the Nembe, their poor country cousin neighbours. The Nembe, on the other hand, say they have no problem understanding the Kalabari. For Kalabari we can read 'native speakers of English', and for Nembe, 'non-native speakers of English'. Concerns are voiced about 'English only' in Europe (Ammon et al 1994) and worldwide (Phillipson & Skuttnab-Kangas 1996). One also hears emotive condemnations of English as the killer language. In language teaching and learning, a recognition has been gaining ground of the need to reconsider the status of 'non-native speakers' of English. Even in second language acquisition research, with its traditional dependency on native speaker norms against which to measure interlanguage development, the view has been put forward that 'non-native' speakers need to be regarded as language users in their own right (Cook 1999). Whole volumes are dedicated to discussing the specific assets of 'non-native' speaker teachers of English (Medgyes 1994, Braine 1999). Vygotsky's sociocultural theory (Lantolf 2000) underlies arguments for an 'appropriate pedagogy' emphasizing the importance of respecting and building on local values, beliefs and ways of doing things (e.g. Holliday 1994, Kramsch & Sullivan 1996) and some language testing specialists have demonstrated how irrelevant and potentially damaging it can be to insist on native-speaker norms when assessing the proficiency of English in the 'Outer Circle' (Lowenberg 2000) – an argument which would have to be investigated for 'Expanding Circle' contexts, too. [4] There...
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