Negotiating Academic Literacies: Teaching and Learning across Languages and Cultures

By Vivian Zamel; Ruth Spack | Go to book overview

Chapter 18
The Ownership of English

H. G. Widdowson

The following is the text of a plenary address delivered in April, 1993, in Atlanta at the 27th Annual TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) Convention. The oral character of the presentation has been preserved.

Given the theme of this convention, Designing Our World, and at a time when territorial disputes and matters of ownership and identity are so prominent in the affairs of the world in general, this is perhaps an appropriate occasion to raise the question of how we stake out our own territory as English teachers in delimiting and designing our world. And to ask who does the designing and on what authority.

To start with, who determines the demarcation of the subject itself? We are teaching English and the general assumption is that our purpose is to develop in students a proficiency which approximates as closely as possible to that of native speakers. But who are these native speakers?

One answer might be: the English. And why not? A modest proposal surely. England is where the language originated and this is where the English (for the most part) live. The language and the people are bound together by both morphology and history. So they can legitimately lay claim to this linguistic territory. It belongs to them. And they are the custodians.

____________________
TESOL Quarterly, 1994

-237-

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