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The many names of English

ELIZABETH J. ERLING

A discussion of the variety of labels given to the language in its


worldwide role

IN HIS article ‘Is it world or international or Widdowson & Modiano: English as


global English, and does it matter?’ (ET79, Jul an international language
04), Tom McArthur welcomes further com-
ment on the names of English in a ‘globalizing The first of these terms, abbreviated as EIL, has
world’. He examines the histories and mean- been used in a range of ways. Widdowson
ings of the three most popular labels for Eng- (1997) for example employs it to describe the
lish: world, international and global. In addi- specific use of English for international, profes-
tion to discussing his contribution, I would like sional and academic purposes, which is mostly
to draw attention to other, perhaps less famil- carried out in the written language. He argues
iar names for English that have been proposed that EIL should be treated as a register of Eng-
as alternatives. This paper seeks both to survey lish, as most of the people learning it only need
these labels and uncover why there is such a access to certain occupational or functional
strong compulsion to rename the language. I domains, and do not use it as a community or
suggest that these proposals have arisen in national language. Widdowson (1998:400)
response to postcolonial ambiguity about the further argues that EIL is a ‘composite lingua
spread of English and a desire to shape a new franca which is free of any specific allegiance to
ideology for English language teaching (ELT) any primary variety of the language’.
which more accurately reflects the global Modiano, however, uses EIL in a different
nature of the language and its diverse uses and manner. He suggests that it is an appropriate
users. alternative to ‘standard English’, providing a
space where speakers can be culturally, politi-
cally and socially neutral (2001:170). As he
Introduction: English as … sees it, EIL should combine those features of
The terminology discussed in this section refers English which are easily understood by a broad
to proposals that have evolved in order to cross-section of L1 and L2 speakers. Modiano
describe the increasing amount of communica-
tion among and between speakers that have
English as an L2: that is, as an additional lan- ELIZABETH J. ERLING has a PhD in theoretical
guage that is being or has been learned to an and applied linguistics from the University of
Edinburgh and is a lecturer in English at the
adequate level (cf. McArthur 1992:406). These
Language Centre of the Freie Universität Berlin.
proposals place emphasis on functional uses of Her thesis, ‘Globalization, English and the German
the language instead of geographical varieties University Classroom’, compares contemporary
and recognize that English can be used as a lan- theories of English with the reality of how German
guage of communication without necessarily students acquire, use and appropriate the
being a language of identification. It has been language. She is interested in the politics of the
suggested that the phrasing ‘English as…’ high- spread of English, especially in Europe, and the
lights the international use of English rather effects of globalization on language teaching. She is
than suggesting, with a term like International currently designing curricula for a new Bachelor’s
English, that there is only one monolithic vari- program in English Studies, as well as researching
the role of English in German higher education.
ety (cf. Seidlhofer 2002b:8).

DOI: 10.1017/S0266078405001094
40 English Today 81, Vol. 21, No. 1 (January 2005). Printed in the United Kingdom © 2005 Cambridge University Press
Major varieties
CAN, AUS, NZ, British
SA English
American
English

EIL
The
Common
Core

Foreign
Language Other varieties
Speakers

Model of EIL (Modiano (1999:10, in English Today)

(1999) represents this conception of EIL as In her view, an accurate conception of English
overlapping circles: At the centre is a core in the world should allow for the complex uses
based on the commonalities of all varieties of of the language in L1 and L2 English-speaking
English used by all ‘competent speakers’ of communities alike.
English who use all varieties of English that Modiano’s proposal indeed offers this, but he
function well in international communication. fails to give further insight into what kind of
He argues that English speakers of ‘excessive English may be comprehensible to the majority
regional accents and dialects’ or of pidgin and of English speakers. It remains unclear what he
creoles should only be included in this cate- means by ‘competent’ speakers of English and
gory if they are capable of switching into an ‘excessive’ regional accents and dialects of Eng-
internationally comprehensible variety lish. However, the work discussed below may
(1999:25). In addition, for him, other features shed light on an internationally comprehensi-
that should not belong to EIL are: ble variety of English.
● extreme regional dialects
● words that have not gained international Jenkins & Seidlhofer: English as a
acceptance Lingua Franca
● marked RP usage
Because communication in English in the
● terms that have different meanings in British
world today often does not involve L1 speakers
and American English
of the language, the term English as a Lingua
However, Modiano admits that EIL is difficult Franca (ELF) is preferred by several recent
to describe, since there are few speakers who commentators. Both Jenkins (2000) and Seidl-
can be considered adequate language models. hofer (2001) suggest that since relying on L1
In recent studies of English as a world lan- norms cannot guarantee successful communi-
guage (e.g. especially Brutt-Griffler 2002), cation, English norms should not be based on
Widdowson’s classification of EIL as a register any particular national linguistic standard.
has been rejected, because it stops a long way Jenkins (2000), basing her comments on the
short of giving an accurate description of pre- analysis of a corpus of exchanges between L2
sent-day global uses of English. Brutt-Griffler speakers of English, advocates an approach to
(1998:389) appropriately notes that the classi- English pronunciation teaching that has as its
fication of EIL as a register ‘seems to be an goal mutual intelligibility rather than the imi-
unjustified restriction on English use, one tation of L1 language norms. Similarly, Seidl-
which also flies in the face of global practice’. hofer is currently compiling a corpus of the

THE MANY NAMES OF ENGLISH 41


most relied-upon grammatical constructions American standards. He therefore proposes
and lexical choices in ELF exchanges. Further- General English as an alternative name for a
more, she seeks to describe factors associated broader sense of the language. Along with the
with L1 English speakers that might not be rel- need for a change of name, Ahulu argues that
evant in L2 English communication (cf. Seidl- the standards of English should be broadened
hofer 2002a). Both commentators insist that a to reflect its international character. In doing
pedagogical approach based on ELF norms will so, he seeks to make the language more demo-
better prepare learners to communicate with cratic by embracing the wide range of English
other L2 English speakers from all over the speakers.
world and allow them to express their individ-
ual identities through English.
Wallace: Literate English
While different in their approaches, the pro-
posals discussed above all recognize the func- Like Ahulu and Toolan, Wallace (2002) argues
tions of English as a global language and the that in a world where the majority of users are
reality that it is being increasingly used as a lin- L2 English speakers, the English language
gua franca among L2 speakers. In the follow- should be less preoccupied with L1 norms. She
ing section, I will examine three further pro- therefore proposes what she calls literate Eng-
posals that suggest a change in discourse about lish – a primarily written variety of the language
English at large. In addition, these proposals which can also be used in spoken communica-
promote more democratic practice in ELT by tion. She also argues (Wallace 2002:107–108)
addressing the varying needs and identities of that this type of ‘transnational English’ should
L2 language users. not be a reduced or simplified model of English
which restricts communication to immediate
utilitarian contexts; on the contrary, it should
Toolan: Global
be elaborated to serve global needs, the most
In 1998, Wilk claimed that ‘everything today is crucial one being as ‘a tool for resistance’. She
becoming “global”’, as the word became a argues that literate English needs to embrace a
catchphrase in both business and academia. range of settings and bind diverse periphery and
Toolan (1997) especially shares this enthusi- centre communities together so that its users
asm when he uses the term Global on its own to can put the language to ‘critical and creative
refer to the English used worldwide by people use, challenging and dismantling the hegemony
of any ethnicity in any kind of international of English in its conventional forms and uses’
setting. He argues that an entirely new name (2002:112). Thus, her proposal does not only
for English is necessary to more appropriately attempt to make English more democratic and
cover its use in a world where British and neutral, but also more suitable as a tool of crit-
American authority over the language is ical reflection and resistance.
decreasing and its non-native users are also
laying claim to ownership.
Why so many names for English?
Addressing the dominance of L1 varieties of
English, Toolan (1997:7) asserts that Global is The reasons behind so many proposals for a
a variety that L1 speakers of English also have new name for the English language in recent
to acquire, so that they can ‘accommodate their years include:
speech so as to conform to it when they talk to
● the increase in the use of English globally
each other, thereby meeting on comparatively
● the emergence of scholarship that critically
neutral linguistic ground.’ Here Toolan attempts
assesses the spread of English
to counter an on-going bias towards L1 norms
● the attempts of ELT professionals them-
in English communication and pedagogy.
selves to counter the perceived dominance
of English
Ahulu: General English A main reason for the shift in discourse about
Like Toolan, Ahulu (1997:17) finds that the English is demographics. As Graddol (1997)
word English is ‘too restrictive a way of refer- has shown, L2 speakers of English outnumber
ring to the language’. He is equally dissatisfied L1 speakers three to one. English is increas-
with the label standard English, which, he ingly used to communicate across international
argues, is associated with only British and boundaries, and is not therefore tied to one

42 ENGLISH TODAY 81 January 2005


place, culture or people. Furthermore, the label Griffler 2002; Mufwene 2002) has painted a
English was previously perceived to be a noun much more complex picture of the spread of
and adjective describing the national language English than the one presented by Phillipson
first of England then of Great Britain, but now and Skutnabb-Kangas, a shift in English peda-
tends to evoke memories of the British colonial gogy is nevertheless crucial.
past and is consequently perceived as too nar- ELT courses must include an element that
row a categorization for a postcolonial, global encourages students to critically analyse the
language. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin role of English in the world and to appropriate
(1989:8), for example, make a distinction the language to suit their own particular
between the language of the erstwhile imperial needs. ELT professionals should foster learn-
centre and the linguistic code which has been ers’ use of the language creatively, effectively
transformed and subverted into several distinc- and successfully. Furthermore, the language
tive varieties throughout the world. should be taught as a means of intercultural
The terminology discussed above is also exchange, so that the language and culture of
deemed necessary because the pioneering learners will be valued alongside English (cf.
work of Kachru et al. (1982 onward) has also Corbett 2003).
resulted in the increasing academic recogni-
tion of the once-radical phrase World Englishes.
Conclusion
Recognizing that English is used in both the
postcolonial context and as a lingua franca, the The theories discussed above by and large pro-
various above-mentioned scholars are all con- mote theoretical platforms in ELT that move
cerned that the language should no longer be away from a conception of English that is dom-
based (only) on British or American norms. For inated by L1 norms. The proponents of these
example, Ahulu (1997) suggests that varia- theories are obviously conscious of postcolo-
tions in English as it is used internationally nial scholarship that explores both the many
should be subsumed under the general concept varieties and the global dominance of English.
standard English. Moreover, as Toolan (1997) They therefore attempt to redress the balance
recommends, L1 and L2 speakers of English within English use and instruction. However,
have to accommodate to one another’s use of the many names of English seem to add unnec-
the language and share responsibility for inter- essary complications to an already complex
cultural communication. discussion. Due to the plethora of terminology,
The opening of standards to postcolonial or there is the danger that the chief result of such
‘outer circle’ Englishes (cf. Kachru 1985) has proposals is a shift in terminology without a
paved the way for Modiano, Seidlhofer and corresponding change in practice.
Jenkins to push the boundaries of standard More important than finding an appropriate
English even further, so as to embrace both the name for English is ensuring that ELT profes-
English of lingua franca communication and sionals around the world move their practice
the ‘expanding circle’ beyond both native and away from an ideology that privileges L1
second-language usage. Corpus work investi- (‘inner circle’) varieties. The language must be
gating lingua franca use (e.g. Durham 2003; taught as a means of intercultural communica-
Jenkins 2000; Mauranen 2003; Prodromou tion, critical analysis and indeed, where neces-
2003; Seidlhofer 2001) will certainly give fur- sary, resistance. 
ther insight into the norms of L2 English.
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44 ENGLISH TODAY 81 January 2005