The Politics of English: Conflicts, Competitions and Co-existence edited by Ann Hewings and Caroline Tagg
Hewings, Ann and Caroline Tagg, eds. The Politics of English: Conflicts, Competitions and Co-existence. Abingdon: Routledge, 2012. 416 pp.
The Politics of English: Conflicts, Competitions and Co-existence (2012) presents a concise study of the tensions, anxieties and policies related to the usage and hegemony of English as language in current times. Editors Ann Hewings and Caroline Tagg compiled this text focusing on how (not why) English operates as a language of universal communication and holds a position of absolute in a post colonial world. The text concerns itself with the socio-anthropological role of English as a language, its significance in cultural and personal identity formation, and its influence as a deciding factor of one’s socio-economic coordinates in the age of globalization. The editors managed to encompass most of the important theoretical aspects of the politics of language and presented relevant case studies to highlight the consequences of promoting English as a global language in situations of post-colonialism, migration, education and beyond.
The Politics of English: Conflicts, Competitions and Co-existence follows the Open University module and is published by Routledge as a part of the Worlds of English series, presented in association with The Open University, serving a general readership as well as students of English language. The work is structurally divided into eight parts; each part is further divided into smaller study modules with adequate analytical reading exercises covering a wide range of contemporary academic research and scholarship to newspaper articles and political speeches.
In the first chapter, “The Politics and Policies of Global English,” Philip Seargeant discusses the nature of English in global politics and its value in one’s success in business, education, recreation, travel, etc. in the global world. Drawing attention to the phenomenon of “linguicide,” Seargeant contrasts the turbulence of sociolinguistic ecosystem with the apparent success story of global English (11). As a part of the reading exercise, the chapter includes a study by Catherine Prendergast which focuses on the rise in the value of English in Slovakia after the revolution of 1989 and shows how English became an ambassador of capitalism while serving as “capital” in itself once the western capitalist market was opened up to Slovakia (45-47).
The second chapter reflects on the case of migration: language criterion and tests related to immigration and citizenship in the USA, Canada and the UK, the influence of English in migrant communities and the discrimination in the employment sector and labour markets on the basis of language skills. The third chapter “Learning English and Learning Through English” by Ann Hewings, focuses on the tensions between language policies and practices in postcolonial Malaysia: the consequences of English as medium of instruction in schools was proved to be detrimental to overall progress of the students in subjects like mathematics. Hewings proceeds to address the case study of Europe in the second section of the chapter. The last two sections of this chapter discuss the use of English as a medium of instruction in higher education intuitions and the status of English in academia. The chapter surveys a variety of geopolitical spaces and educational institutions and provides a general statement about the status of English in the international educational scenario.
In chapter four, “The English Industry,” John Gray provides a summary of the trillion-dollar industry that is built around the power politics and language policies associated with English. Since being fluent in English dignifies one’s position in the capitalist economy, individuals and organizations are prone to invest in order to gain the required skills. This often prompts to reach out for private training from commercial ELT programs, prove their efficiency through high efficiency tests (IELTS, TOEFL, TOEIC, etc.) and academic publishing houses. The chapter points out that knowledge is often equated with language skills in non-English speaking communities, and political policies can bring on fatal underdevelopment (as in the case of post genocide Rwanda). Chapter five focuses on the canon of English literature. In a few subsections, the chapter reflects on the problematic of the canon in a post colonial world.
Chapter Six, “English and the Global Media,” provides a survey of the dominance of English in almost all the genres of modern media: news media, literary publications, internet information services, movies etc. In this chapter, Daniel Allington carefully points out that the standardization and power play over the use of English is a class phenomenon and a particular dialect or accent is promoted through the various manifestations of media programs that originate from the countries with a dominant English speaking population. In contrast, the linguistic communities with history of British colonialism, such as India, often promote a hybridization of the English language through their media industry which can be read as both resistance to and acceptance of the hegemony of English at the same time.
In chapter seven, Guy Cook discusses the role of English as a translation medium. Chapter eight, entitled “Ideologies of English” is subdivided into nine subsections and covers topics like comparative “value” system of languages in relation to English, “authenticity” and “correctness” in the use of English, prescriptivism versus descriptivism with respect to the policies and research in the global English scenario. The book ends with an afterword with a brief discussion on the future of English which focuses on the anxieties and tensions that surround this global phenomenon.
One of the concerns related to this work arises from the misinterpretation of Punjabi as Hindi in page 76. The author puts forward the example of “Southall” station in west London, England in fig. 2.7 as an example of bilingual signage usage; the station signage is in displayed in English and Punjabi. Hindi and Punjabi are two separate languages and the script under the English title in fig 2.7 is Gurumukhi, a script used for Punjabi (the script used for Hindi is Devnagari). Though this incident does not have any serious implication on the internal message of the concerned section of the reading, the current reviewer is hesitant to overlook such a misinterpretation. This reflects on over-simplification of the complex diversity that resides within the different language families of the Indian subcontinent and reduces all the languages as simply an “other” to the dominant language of English. Such a position also threatens the identity of the immigrant communities, and their cultural diversity is challenged as it is ignored in an academic text like the one under discussion.
Another anxiety related to this work generates from the very idea of English with a capital “E.” From the multiple studies provided throughout the text, the readers get the impression that though English as a language has the dominant power in the world of communicative expressions, it is not a simple homogenous category in cultural terms. English is spoken differently by different classes, races and communities. So, wouldn’t it be more relevant to call it The Politics of englishes? This reviewer wonders if there is a single homogenous accent and dialect for using “English” in the global scenario that underpins but is never specified within the text.
The Politics of English refers to certain case studies for discussing the current topics of immigration, media politics, industrial use and the global industry built around English, etc.; however, the audience remains ignorant about the reasons behind selecting certain individuals, locals, communities for the presented case studies while ignoring others. In chapter five, the author David Johnson does not mention the role of comparative literature at all while discussing the hegemony of Western and English literature in the literary canons, which is unfortunate.
The Politics of English would serve best as a text book to students desiring a general understanding and survey of the socio-economic situation related to the tensions, politics and policies related to globish, global English. The references used in this book could contribute to an excellent research bibliography. A new researcher in the area would benefit from this text as it provides direction, organization and required research materials in a comprehensive and condensed manner.
Sabujkoli Bandopadhyay is a Doctoral Candidate in the Program in Comparative Literature, University of Alberta. Her dissertation "From Being to Becoming: A Study of Class Identity and Sociology of Class" focuses on working-class novels from the 1930s and analyses the inter-relationship amongst working-class identity, philosophy of the novel form and sociology of the text in the context of modernity. Her current research areas include Marxist literary theory, identity theories, modernity, Sociology of Literature, working-class culture, novel theory and practice, realism, 20th century literature, world literature, print capitalism, colonialism and literary forms in India.