In a modern and globalised world, the spread of English has occurred and subsequently dominated as an international language for a complexity of reasons in a range diverse contexts. Kachru et. al (1996) identifies that English is unquestionably “the most widely taught, read and spoken language the world has ever known.” Widdowson (1994) also attributes English’s standing as an international language as arising from its ability to diversify its vocabulary to “serve a range of institutional uses.” However, English as an international language is still considered and generally interpreted as the “distribution of native-speaker Standard English” (Seidlhofer 2009) rather than the acceptance and acknowledgement of the many ways the language has been shaped by global influences and how it has adapted to suit a range of communicative functions around the world.
The concept of a custodianship of English is a highly discussed issue. To attribute a group with ownership is problematic for a range of reasons. Firstly, it assumes that language is stable, and that it cannot be changed or modified to remain current to the needs of an ever-changing, globalised society. If English was to remain stable, it would eventually fail to meet the needs of speakers for the purpose of international communication. Widdowson (1994) identifies English as serving the “communicative and communal needs of different communities” and as such “must be diverse.” Furthermore, English is said to be a fluid phenomenon, not unlike any language, that shifts and changes to meet the needs of a dynamic and evolving environment, as it develops endo-normatively (Widdowson 1994) rather than remaining reliant on a fixed, standardised native version.
Secondly, custodianship assumes that one group have entitlement to the language over others, thus reinforcing the traditionally accepted dichotomy of native and non-native speakers of English. To begin with, the world is experiencing “the decline of the native speaker” (Lin et. al 2002). English, therefore, cannot be under the guardianship of any nation or group of speakers as it can be possessed by any individual who chooses to take ownership.
Language can be owned or possessed when it functions for the purpose intended for the individual; when it can be used to express what the speaker is wanting to say. English is owned by those who identify with the language, and that use it to connect with others and the world around them. Widdowson (1994, p. 384) asserts that you “are proficient in a language to the extent that you possess it, make it your own, bend it to your will, assert yourself through it rather than simply submit to the dictates of its form.” Lin et. al (2002) describes the experience of appropriating English to expand one’s identity and horizons as “self-transforming, culturally enriching and also at times psychologically liberating.”
Through an inclusive approach to learning about and through English, the English Faculty aims to extend each students’ critical thinking and reflection of themselves and the world they live in by fostering individuality, creativity and freedom of thought. Through discussion and provocation, we encourage students to own their ideas, support them with evidence, analyse the construction of meaning, challenge embedded ideas and articulate with confidence so that they may continue to employ these notions as lifelong learners and critical thinkers in a dynamic and globalised world.
Kachru, B. & Nelson, C. 1996, World Englishes, in S. McKay & N. Hornberger, eds, Sociolinguistics and language Teaching. Cambridge University Press, Camridge.
Lin, A., Wang, W., Akamatsu, N. & Riazi, AM (2002) Appropriating English, expanding identities, and re-visioning the field: from TESOL to teaching English for glocalized communication (TEGCOM), Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, vol. 1, no. 4, pp. 295-316.
Seidlhofer, B. (2009) Common ground and different realities: World Englishes and English as a lingua franca. World Englishes 28 (2) 236-245
Widdowson, HG (1994) The ownership of English TESOL Quarterly28 (2) 377-389.
Rebecca Sultana | English and ESL Teacher