Elt in the Expanding Circle and/or Outer Essay

Pages: 12 (4023 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Communication - Language

ELT in the Expanding Circle and/or Outer Circle

The 2001 maven conference bore testimony to the growth of interest in EW L' over the past few decades.

In the years between ? The first major academic gathering on this subject, the seminal conference on cross-cultural communication held at the University of Illinois in 1978 (Kachru 1992), and MAVEN 2001, much has been written and spoken about the spread of English around the world, the diverse ways in which the language has developed in this process, especially in the Outer Circle,2 and about the wider implications of this unique socio- linguistic development. Crystal (2003) lists 75 territories in which English is currently spoken as either a) the principal or only L1, or b) as an L2 with official or institutionalized status (World Englishes). These range from Antigua to Zambia, spread across vast distances and exceptionally varied linguacultural contexts. Among these implications, the issue of the ownership of English and its passing from native to non-native speakers has received considerable comment. Graddol typically points out that ?native speakers may feel the language 'belongs' to them, but it will be those who speak English as a second or foreign language who will determine its world future? (1997: 10).

In this essay, we will pick up some of the ideas which have originated in the Outer Circle and investigate what their significance may be for the Expanding Circle of foreign language users - which is, indeed, expanding rapidly.

Varieties of English

The current situation of English globally has led to a blurring of the conventional categories:

ENL -- English as a 'native' language

ESL -- English as a second language

EFL -- English as a foreign language

Historically, EFL contexts have involved speakers learning the language in order to use it with its native speakers, the assumption being that English serves no purpose within their own countries (World Englishes).

The global spread of English has provoked a broad spectrum of responses over the last decade or so. For example, we find the following in a British Council conference prospectus: The incredible success of the English language is Britain's greatest asset. It enhances Britain's image as a modem, dynamic country and brings wide- spread political, economic and cultural advantages, both to Britain and to our partners. (the British Council, Conference prospectus, ELT conference 1998)

The front page of the Observer newspaper reveals that

This week the Government will announce that the number of people with English as a second language has overtaken the number who speak it as their native tongue. [...] Insiders say the drive to make English the global lingua franca comes directly from Tony Blair. (the Observer, 29 October 2000)

In this article, we also learn that [the then British Education and Employment Secretary] ?David Blunkett [...] will tell a meeting of business leaders on Tuesday to capitalize on their advantage as native speakers. The same native speaker 'advantage' enables materials based on the Cobuild Bank of English to ?help learners with real English? (front cover of the Collins COB UILD English Dictionary). At the other end of the spectrum, English is accused of being a ?killer language? guilty of ?linguistic genocide? (Skutnabb-Kangas 2000). With regard to language pedagogy, Swales (1997: 373) in an article entitled 'English as Tyrannosaurus rex' asks whether English has become too successful and argues that resistance to the 'triumphalism' of English is also a responsibility of EAP teachers, and Canagarajah 1999 details options for resisting linguistic imperialism in English teaching.

However, the question which is not addressed in all these deliberations is what exactly the 'English' in EWL actually is. In this respect, different though they are in ideological perspective, the above quotations are all alike in failing to problematize the notion of the linguistic entity 'English'. The difference between the various perspectives is thus only a partial one: it does not reside in the way English is defined, but only in the way its global spread is viewed.

This can be illustrated in the following way:

CONCEPTUALIZATION of the LANGUAGE: English is English?

RESPONSE to ITS SPREAD: This is wonderful! This is appalling ?

British Council Skutnabb-Kangas COBUILD/Bank of English Swales etc. etc.

Despite all the (necessary and welcome) theorizing, one might be forgiven for saying that the state of the art in this area a ?hubbub without a hub, 3 for surprisingly little thought has so far gone into what certainly must be the extreme core of the matter: the life of the language itself as an international means of communique in the Expanding Circle, and in what respects English as a lingua franca (EL F) may differ from 'English as a native language' (ENL). ). In most Outer Circle contexts, of course, the long and vigorous struggle for the acknowledgement of their very own sociopolitical identities has been largely successful (Bamgeboe, Banjo & Thomas 1995, Kachru 1992, Smith & Forman 1997).

The naive notion of a monolithic, uniform, unadoptable linguistic medium owned by its original speakers and forever linked to their rule(s) has been recognized as simply contrary to the facts, and has therefore given way to the realization that indigenized varieties of English are legitimate English's in their own right, accordingly emancipating themselves vis-a-vis British and American Standard English. Codification has been recognized as a crucial prerequisite for the emergence of endonormative standards in indigenized varieties (Bamgeboe 1998), and important research programs are under way in order to provide language descriptions as a basis for dictionaries and grammars (Greenbaum 1996). Outer Circle linguistic independence has, on the whole, been given the linguistic seal of approval.

In the Expanding Circle, however, a totally different situation presents itself. In spite of the all-pervasive use of English all the way through what many like to be called the 'international community' and notwithstanding countless anecdotes about up-and-coming varieties such as 'Euro-English', professional linguists have up to now shown only limited interest in describing 'lingua franca' English as a legitimate language variety. The received wisdom appears to be that only when English is a majority first language or an official extra language does it merit explanation. So, while the Outer Circle has at long last successfully asserted its right to appropriate the language for the expression of its diverse cultures and identities, while postcolonial literatures flourish and language use by writers such as Achebe, Okara, Rushdie, Saro-Wiwa and many others constitutes a prolific area of research, Expanding Circle English is not thought of as worthy of such attention: users of English who have been taught the language as a foreign language are likely to conform to Inner Circle norms, albeit using English constitutes a significant part of their lived knowledge and personal uniqueness.

No right to 'rotten English' for them, in that case. Quite the opposite: for Expanding Circle consumption, the chief effort remains, as it has forever been, to explain English as it is used among its British and American native speakers and then to "allocate" (Widdowson 1997: 139) the resulting descriptions to those who speak English in non-native contexts around the world. This is probably why, when it comes to practicalities, those who have had so much to say at the theoretical level tend to fall silent. Alastair Pennycook, for example, in an article entitled ?Pedagogical implications of different frameworks for understanding the global spread of English, argues as follows: Drawing on notions of post colonialism and resistance, it [the postcolonial performative response] suggests that English can be appropriated and used for different ends. But it also suggests that such appropriation is not achieved without considerable struggle. Thus the postcolonial performative position is one that sees English language teaching as part of a battle over forms of culture and knowledge [...] an attempt to challenge central norms of language, culture and knowledge, and to seek ways of appropriating English to serve alternative ends. The challenge to develop contextual (i.e. location-specific) postcolonial pedagogies for English is, to my mind, one of the crucial challenges facing English language teachers today. (1999: 153; our emphasis) a language teacher in search of suggestions as to how to ?challenge central norms of language? within his or her classroom practice, however, would be sorely disappointed. Nothing of a practical nature is suggested in this article, despite its title and the fact that the challenge is presented in the article as ?crucial. In another area of activity, efforts are being made to 'empower' non-native speaker teachers through direct access to large corpora, as the authors of the BNC Handbook point out:

In language teaching increasing access to corpora may modify the traditional role of the teacher as authority about the use of the language to be learned, and reduce the sense of inferiority felt by many non-native speaker teachers. More generally, there is much to be said about the way in which thinking about language, particularly the English language, is politicized, and hence about the political implications of changing the basis on which assessments of correctness or appropriateness of usage are made. (Aston… [END OF PREVIEW]

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