'Complacence': Keith Davidson Looks at 'The Significance of English as a Global Language'

By Davidson, Keith | English Drama Media, February 2008 | Go to article overview

'Complacence': Keith Davidson Looks at 'The Significance of English as a Global Language'


Davidson, Keith, English Drama Media


We are now nearing the end of the period where native speakers can bask in their privileged knowledge of the global lingua franca. (David Graddol, 2006)

From time to time the QCA flags up the significance of English as a global language, and that's about as far as it ever gets. It was an agenda item for the QCA 2005 English 21 project, oddly tied to 'how we teach the spoken language'; and was the subject of a challenging paper by Gillian Klein ('English as a global language') in the linked 'think pieces':

... the prevailing response to the globalised position of English is complacence. Most of the denizens of Anglophone--and affluent--countries are content with their single language (Klein, 2005)

which occasioned some comment in the responses collated in the QCA English 21 Playback (2005):

The 'global role' of English is probably the most striking aspect of English in the 21st century with implications for English in education in England as well as worldwide. But what English, and whose English?

It was missing from the QCA's project conclusions in Taking English forward (2005) but was flagged up again, having got no further, under 'Range and content' for English in the QCA 2007 secondary curriculum review:

KS3: the significance of standard English as the main language of public communication nationally and globally / KS4: the importance and influence of English as a global language

'Standard English', globally, begs all the questions in any case; we shall have to look elsewhere.

Global English

If the demographics of global English have become familiar, David Graddol (2006) suggests they are now fast changing. The following approximations are based on projections, always provisional, by Crystal, Graddol and McArthur (cited below). Anglophones make up some 12 per cent of the global population ('Anglophones', a broader term than the more problematic, not to say contentious, 'native speakers' or 'mother-tongue speakers' of English). Speakers of English in the UK count for about 16 per cent of the 380 million or more Anglophones worldwide. For some two per cent of the UK population English is a second or additional language. Perhaps only 15 per cent regularly speak a southern British form of standard English, and only a small minority of these have as their everyday accent forms of the 'Received Pronunciation' (RP) predicated as the basis of 'phonics' in initial literacy and the default accent assumed as the norm in teaching of British English to speakers of other languages in the UK and elsewhere. Globally there are probably at least as many regular speakers of English as an additional language as there are Anglophones. English has a 'special place' in seventy five 'territories' (Crystal, 1997 a), and, if the spread of English worldwide has now peaked (Graddol, 2006), with Mandarin and Spanish major contenders among the other world languages, it is likely to serve as the global auxiliary language in various forms for some time yet. All of which has 'significance' for language education in but a small segment of the English-speaking world.

Not only under the shadow of English, some 90 per cent of the world's 6,000-7,000 languages may now be endangered species. Yet the world remains resolutely pluringual, with most people speaking one or more forms of one or more languages--as in a classroom near you:

About 1 in 10 children in the UK already speak a language other than English at home.

(Graddol, 2006)

Yet, in spite of the highlighting of the significance of English as a global language, the secondary curriculum review for English was still predicated on the persistent myths of the monolingual 'native speaker' and a single uniform 'standard English'. The reality is rather different. While there is a high degree of homogeneity in the forms of written English published worldwide, Crystal (1997 a, b) and McArthur (1999) have mapped the development of eight main, if overlapping, standard(ising) varieties of global English: British and Irish, American and Canadian, Australian and New Zealand, African, Caribbean, South Asian, East Asian--with South Pacific forms variously ascribed, and English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish 'Englishes' distinguished nearer home. …

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'Complacence': Keith Davidson Looks at 'The Significance of English as a Global Language'
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