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The English language and its

teachers: thoughts past present,


and future
John Swales
This paper derives from a talk given last year in London at the IATEFL Silver
Jubilee Seminar. John Swales was among a group of experts invited to
consider developments in ELT over the last twenty-five years and predict

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what might be the issues of the next twenty-five years. His talk focused on
the topic of the English language and its teachers, and ranged across a
number of key issues: English as a world language, non-native users of
English, aspects of language change, developing areas of language study,
and the career concerns of the ELT profession.

Introduction Twenty-five years ago at the founding of IATEFL I was, I recollect,


considering my future. I seemed to be coming to the end of a short-term
involvement in ELT. For five years I had been a vagrant in Europe and
around the Mediterranean, supported by various accumulations of small-
time ESL jobs. My parents were muttering increasingly fiercely about
'settling down' or 'something safe in the City'. But instead, I decided to
get some post-graduate training. It was certainly never my expectation
that I would finish up with 'something safe in the American Midwest'.
Today I get to speak about the English language and its ELT teachers over
the last quarter century and, with my colleagues, I get invited to offer a
few thoughts of what the next twenty-five years might bring. We are here
today for a celebratory event, or as my new friends in Rhetoric would
prefer me to say, an epideictic one, there being in their view little that has
happened in our understanding of communicative events since Aristotle
said it almost all.

English as a world The dual call for both celebration and reflection does, however, present
language the speaker with the problem of aligning two rather different narratives.
There is indeed a story about the irrepressible march of the English
language across the face of the earth; of its happy union with the powerful
new technologies for disseminating information; of the growth of
regional and functional varieties of the language; of the personal and
functional value of being able to communicate in English. Here, for
example, is a short passage, written in 1985, by perhaps the last of the
great classic lexicographers of the English language, Robert Burchfield:
English has also become a lingua franca to the point that any literate,
educated person on the face of the globe is in a very real sense
deprived if he does not know English. Poverty, famine and disease
are instantly recognized as the crudest and least excusable forms of
ELT Journal Volume 4714 October 1993 © Oxford University Press 1993 283
deprivation. Linguistic deprivation is a less easily noticed condition,
but one nevertheless of great significance.
It is this kind of belief that impels many governments, corporations,
institutions, and educational systems to invest heavily in improving the
English skills of their citizens, employees, and students. Per Angliam ad
astral And so the next chapters of this narrative speak eloquently of the equal
march across the face of the earth of the purveyors of the English language:
its publishers, its networks of language schools, its textbook authors, its
teachers and teacher trainers. The story too includes, as well it should, the rise
of the major professional organizations, IATEFL and TESOL, the latter
having grown from 375 members in 1966 to about 20,000 today.

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Non-native users The narrative so far has had a triumphalist air about it, a celebration of
of English ascendancy. If we then wish to celebrate the fact that English, for
whatever reason, has established itself as the world's international
language par excellence, then there is perhaps a small price, but one well
worth paying, for this putative victory. We have to concede the obvious
point that true internationalism favors no nation nor gives any permanent
credit for the length of membership in a global association. Therefore, we
have to concede that it no longer makes any sense to differentiate between
the native speaker and the non-native speaker. As many have argued, such
as Braj Kachru and Edwin Thumboo, this is a sensible, sensitive, and
politically necessary loss of privilege.
Example 1 Nowhere, as many have pointed out, is this non-native appropriation of
English more surprising than among the Japanese, who use English as a
form of play and display, and English phrases as quasi-randomly selected
icons of sophistication. My first personal inklings of this occurred about
ten years ago when we offered our first summer course for Japanese at
Aston University. The group leader gave me a key-ring with this message
on it: 'Love chance in a blue sky'—an enigma to this day!
Example 2 Professor Thumboo has spoken today of non-native speaker uses of
English as a means of cultural salvation. I would like to offer two other
brief illustrations of what the non-native speaker can do with the
language. The first is known to me as 'The famous Arthur Miller Comp'.
We have on the wall of the Testing Office in the English Language
Institute a faded transcript of a composition written as part of the
Michigan English Language Assessment Battery. It was produced as a
thirty-minute impromptu writing task by a non-native speaker of English
applying for university admission. According to our records, the
composition was written in 1983 by a Chinese-language candidate taking
the test in Toronto. The topic chosen by the candidate was 'If you could
spend an afternoon with a living person, whom would you choose and
why?' The composition received a five on a ten-point scale, a score a full
two points below that usually required by university admissions officers.
Here is the famous 'Arthur Miller' composition:
If I were the lucky person who could spend an afternoon with Arthur
Miller, that would be a great moment in my life. He, Arthur Miller, is
284 John Swales
the author of the great drama 'Death of a Salesman'; I like this book
very much, and so as the writer himself.
First, I would ask him about his ideas on modern tragedies. Since he
has stated that tragedies can have happy endings, and tragedies
should entertain more hopes, therefore, I should clarify about those
points. Moreover, there must be difference between old-age tragedy
and modern tragedy; this question has been confused me for a long
time. It's good to be with Arthur Miller.
Next, I believe Arthur Miller is a person with humour. Being with a
friend like him, nothing could stop our conversations. Discussing
about whether the world is round or not, or discussing how many
words of humour can be added to his drama; nearly everything can

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be our topic. It's good to be with Arthur Miller.
Then, we could have a snack at a donut shop. With a cup of coffee,
we could taste it precisely and give commands about it. We start to
fussy about everything: the air conditioning is not cool enough, the
sets are not in proper place etc. Although nobody would listen to
what we complain, who care? It's still good to be with Arthur Miller.
Finally, we don't think time has a limit. An afternoon is easily spent
with Arthur Miller, though!
While the passage has obvious English language flaws, it is my
experience that practically everybody who reads the composition is struck
by it in some way. Some find appeal in its idiot-savant quality, in its
juxtaposition of the bizarre and the banal. Others comment on the sense of
closure achieved by its satisfying structure—a sense, of course, hard to
achieve under severe time pressure. But most people additionally make
some reference to the passage's sustained rhythmic cadence. And
certainly, the repeated refrain at the end of paragraphs two and three ('It's
good to be with Arthur Miller'), the minor variation to close the
penultimate paragraph ('It's still good to be with Arthur Miller'), plus the
limited retention of 'with Arthur Miller' in the final line, creates the kind
of reverberative effect that we normally might associate with, say, the
classic Border Ballad.
I do not know if literature is possible under the circumstances of the
Michigan Test, particularly by an author with limited English proficiency.
But if art is possible, then the 'Arthur Miller Comp' would appear to have
achieved it. Although of course the system can only award it a failing grade.
Example 3 My third celebration of non-native speaker English is very different. It is
the writing of Joyce (not her real name), a Taiwanese who attended my
dissertation writing class a couple of years ago. Joyce got a PhD in
English Literature in four years at the University of Michigan, pretty close
torecordpace. Joyce chose as her dissertation topic 'Sexuality, desire, and
cross-dressing in three Shakespearean comedies'. Not at first sight an
expected topic for a young Taiwanese literature scholar. However, as
might be expected, Shakespeare's plays endure as the most canonical
body of texts in Taiwanese English departments. So by opting for these
texts Joyce can, on the one hand, assure herself of a place in the central
The English language and its teachers 285
hierarchy, and, on the other, adopt a feminist critique as a direct challenge
to conventional literary criticism. Here are just two sentences from
Joyce's dissertation. They show a post-modemist reflecting on the nature
of textual matters:
If to read these three plays either as elaborate patriarchal devices for
containment or as a straightforward celebration of female
transgression is to erase the conflicts and complexities of the
ideological effects of cross-dressing, then I suggest it would be
better to adopt the rhetoric of both/and in place of the rhetoric of
either/or. In order to disclose both the complicitous and contestatory
aspects of the plays, this double gesture will aim at keeping alive the
dynamics of containment and subversion, both preserving the

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possibility of criticizing the plays' essential ideology and
foregrounding the destabilization of gender identity already at work.
Buried within these two substantial sentences is a subtle conjunction of
two unusual adjectives. Complicitous and contestatory indeed. This
pairing has come, for me, to capture magically one of the essential
characteristics of academic work. For aren't we all 'complicitous' in
some of our disciplinary value systems, methods of analysis, modes of
speaking and writing? And yet aren't we all 'contestatory' in others?
Further, aren't the attitudes of the rest of the world to the ascendancy of
English themselves both 'complicitous' and yet 'contestatory'.

The rise and fall On that ascendancy there is doubtless much to say. Those of us who have
of English investigated the place of English in Science, or Agriculture, or Medicine
find many large claims about its overwhelming predominance to be
exaggerated, since they are based on biased and pre-selected data. The
late Peter Strevens could persuasively pile up the evidence for continued
expansion, while Richard Bailey (1992) can produce evidence of an
opposing trend. Bailey can point to low rates of population increase in
countries where English is strong, and high birth rates in countries where
English is weak. And in some countries with high birth rates and a strong
English tradition, evidence of decline is patent as, for example, it is in the
Philippines. Moreover, in the last decade we have witnessed a collapse in
the model of economic development that laid stress on 'missing human
capital' in developing countries. 'Invest in training and use English to do
it' now seems a partial and fragile answer to Africa's many problems.
Meanwhile John Maher (1986) has convincingly argued that languages
rise and fall according to the amount of new information they contain.
And so he traces the linguistic history of medical advance: Sanskrit,
Chinese, Greek, Arabic, Latin, German, and now English. This is
presumably not the end of the line, even though I have heard it argued that
English is now so global that today's situation differs in kind not in degree
to those pertaining to earlier periods, and hence the place of English is
unassailable. Unassailable by breakdown in the international order? By a
climatic disaster? Even by temporary global computer crash? I think not.
English looks close to its apogee.

286 John Swales


Twenty-five years Apart from growth, the last twenty-five years have also seen remarkble
of language changes within the English language, only a few of which I have time to
change fleetingly mention. For one thing, we have seen not so much the greening
Generification of English but its generification. Over the last few decades the
expectations and specifications for many communicative events have,
respectively, sharpened and solidified. Verbal behavior becomes
increasingly a matter of protocols—be it handling complaints,
commenting on teaching, acting as interviewer or as interviewee, writing
job applications, or environmental impact statements. Wherever we look
guidelines, and training for those guidelines, proliferate. Even as I speak,
a fierce debate has broken out in the United States as to the proper form,
ethos, and arrangement of one of the last bastions of freedom, the so-
called scholarly essay! Generification leads, of course, to jargon,

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acronyms, code signals, inner circles, specialized discourse communities
and the like—a trend that has both its supporters and detractors.
Return to Another trend, especially in the United States, has been the return of the
euphemism euphemism, otherwise known as 'Doublespeak'. So, semi-parodically,
the 'short and fat' are now supposed to be described as the 'vertically and
horizontally challenged'. And we see, in these hard economic times, a
plethora of expressions to euphemise losing a job: the old terms like
'fired' or 'dismissed' went long ago to 'laid off', which now is being
replaced by 'pink-slipped', 'repositioned', 'separated from the payroll',
or with that most Crocodilian of phrasal verbs, just plain 'let go'.
Stigmatization of A more dramatic and important phenomenon has been the stigmatization
sexist language of sexist language. At the beginning of IATEFL that distinguished
pioneer in ourfield,John Bright, could observe 'In English grammar, man
embraces woman'. No longer. Although the road to reform for somebody
like myself brought up under the John Bright assumption has been long,
hard, and full of falls from grace, I consider the near-achievement of
gender neutrality in language to be the most remarkable and the most
satisfying development in the use of English in my working lifetime.
Although I regret, of course, that this change has not been accompanied
by comparable equity in promotion, opportunity, or pay, or by full gender
equalization in our ELT teaching materials.
Uses of speech and There is space for one final observation on changes in the English
writing language: the recent phenomenon of further blurring between the forms
and uses of speech and writing. This results partly from the rapid
expansion of such means of communication as electronic mail, and partly
from a host of forces that sees reading and writing as in some way
dialogic, and so recognizes the mirroring of those ghastly question-and-
answer sequences as attention-getting devices. Doubtless you are familiar
with this phenomenon from your junk-mail:
Haven't you always dreamed of a holiday in Hawaii?
And haven't you always said that you could never afford one?
Well, now you can!
And what do you have to do to go on the dream holiday of a lifetime?
All you have to do is . . .
The English language and its teachers 287
Twenty-five years Although the English language continues to evolve and diversify in ways
of language study that most of us find interesting and exciting, these developments pale
somewhat when compared to the changes in the last twenty-five years in
our efforts to understand our language.
Discourse analysis In 1992, it is hard to realize that twenty-five years ago discourse analysis
hardly existed. Now it has become the cuckoo in the nest of language
analysis. It is being used for increasingly diverse purposes: to rewrite the
rules of grammar, to unpack the information structures of text, to expand
the envelope of pragmatics and contract that of semantics, to better
understand social interaction, to increase cross-cultural and cross-gender
understanding, to protect the underclass, to validate performance tests,
and to improve teaching materials. Not all of these equally successfully,

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perhaps especially the last. But there are lots of Brave New Worlds out
there. One of these has been contrastive rhetoric, itself with a twenty-five-
year-old history as Bob Kaplan's original article was also published in
1967. A few comments, mostly sly, on contrastive rhetoric will serve me
as a bridge as I go on to say something about the status and prospects of
teachers of ELT.
Contrastive rhetoric Contrastive rhetoric is a nicely prejudicial expression. Like its probable
progenitor, contrastive analysis, the label predicts a search for difference,
for culture shock, for confusion and trouble at border crossings. It also, of
course, provides an attractive professional interest for those who would
seek a wider analytic horizon than sentence management; and who would
subsequently claim to offer insights of valuable application to translation,
to language teaching, and to cross-cultural training.
The field now offers an eclectic body of work dealing (mostly) with
academic text in a number of languages. For all their differences though,
these studies have at least one thing in common: the other language is
always contrasted with English, typically Academic English. Of course,
Academic English is neither a simple nor a singular phenomenon, for we
know that it is marked by divergence in terms of field, genre, period, and
school. Such variation itself presents no threat to contrastive rhetoric—or
only does so in terms of the generalizability of claims—since variation
can be controlled by using the same 'kinds of texts' in the two languages
being contrasted.
There is another factor though, a 'spanner in the works', which itself may
be of variable significance, again according to different fields, genres,
periods, and schools. This factor is the national provenance of the
anglophone product, most neatly observable in terms of any possible
differences between the rhetoric of American and British academic text.
Even in our own unpretentious field differences are detectable (see
Swales, 1993 for illustrations). Many Americans in ESL and Applied
Linguistics confess to admiring British academic writing, especially for
its stylistic effects, but to admire does not necessarily entail any wish to
imitate. Equally, many British academics admire the transparent
structure, that felt sense of knowing where they are, of American writing.
288 John Swales
However, yet again, that does not mean that they want to commit
themselves to a heavy weight of direct metadiscourse.
I no longer think it sensible to merely conclude with some kind of 'vive la
difference' exhortation. Rather, I see some kind of affectionate
exasperation between two major traditions of ESL investigation,
development, and scholarship; an exasperation that needs tempering by
better mutual understanding as we go into the next twenty-five years of
IATEFL and TESOL.

The English And so, via this excursion into cross-cultural patterns of how we write
language teacher about ELT, we reach the ELT teacher. If the English language has
extended its range, use, and distribution during the last quarter century,

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and become in the process rather unnervingly more of an attribute of
powerful elites and less of a window into the world for the disadvantaged,
then this growth seems modest in comparison to the growth in the number
of ELT teachers. Over this time period, we have moved in consequence
from under-supply to over-supply, and many long-serving professionals,
including personal friends and acquaintances, have been squeezed in this
process.
A year ago I returned after thirty years to Bari in Southern Italy, where I
had my first teaching post as a lettore at the university. At that time I was
the only occupant of such a position; today there are more than twenty-
five lettori and lettrici. As far as I could discover, working conditions,
standard of living, marginal status, sought-out opportunities for second
and third jobs, were almost exactly the same for them in 1992 as they had
been for me in 1962. So I worry for them.

Career structure If there is one area where we have seen little growth, it is in senior
positions. The number of established, regular, and adequately-rewarded
jobs has lagged far behind growth in teaching, in qualifications, and
materials. In the US the number of adults enrolling in ESL classes has
risen 50 per cent over the last four years to an estimate of one and a quarter
million. However, I suspect that the number of tenure-track
professorships and authorized administrative positions has actually
declined during this same period. The part-timer, the adjunct, the visiting
lecturer, are the open positions of today.

Salaries A recent TESOL survey showed that the average annual US salary for an
ESL professional was US$30,000 a year: US$34,000 for men;
US$27,000 for women, who as usual constitute the majority of the
language teaching workforce. These figures are also certainly inflated,
given that the 11 per cent of the TESOL membership who responded are
likely to be drawn disproportionately from the upper ranks. US$30,000
may represent a decent living wage in the smaller towns and citites of the
Midwest, but clearly does not do so in the higher-cost East and West
coasts where much of the employment is concentrated. There is
absolutely no doubt that in the US, university ESL lecturers earn less than
high school teachers of French, Spanish, or German. Interestingly, it is our
The English language and its teachers 289
non-native speaking colleagues in EFL contexts who are often
comparatively, if not absolutely, better off; for in their case the authorities
cannot avoid recognizing the extra effort involved in learning English as a
second language in the first place.

Professionalization Perhaps the greatest growth of all, however, has occurred in textbooks,
teachers' books, journals, papers, conferences, associations, diplomas,
certificates, and degrees. The panoply of professionalization. In 1966, in my
own field of English for Specific Purposes, the international output of
relevant and interesting papers was two or three a year, now it is two or three
a week. I do not think we old hands sufficiently appreciate the difficulties of
those entering the field as they try to sort their way through libraries and

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bookshops of our stuff. Although there are welcome signs that we are giving
more attention to preserving and projecting the story of ESL/ELT for the
benefit of incoming generations, there is more that needs to be done.

Teacher preparation Finally, there is the issue of ELT teacher preparation and qualification. I
have little doubt that in many parts of the world Diploma and Master's
level teacher training courses in ELT are models of what can and should
be done. But I do have an observation to make on the twelve-month MA
and its attractive alternative—modularization across the calendar year.
Twelve months ago, I attended the biennial conference of the British
Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes in
Southampton. Many old friends there are as much involved in putting on
special courses and in teacher-training modules as they are with their
traditional EAP work. As an ex-member of this group and a transatlantic
visitor, I was struck by how exhausting the lives of my ex-colleagues had
become. Throughout the year, it seemed, no sooner were they saying
'goodbye' to one group then they were saying 'hello' to another. I worry
about that too.

Conclusion So, to conclude, we have seen in the last twenty-five years an amazing
growth in ELT as an intellectual, educational, and commercial activity.
We have seen great improvements in the preparation of teachers, both
native and non-native speakers of the language. Our research base and our
insight into teaching and learning processes have grown exponentially,
there have been many landmarks of achievement: my personal list
includes David Wilkins' notional syllabuses, Henry Widdowson's
dichotomies, Christine Nuttall's text-attack skills, Chris Candlin's
unequal encounters, Michael Canale and Merrill Swain's communicative
competencies, Peter Strevens' seaspeak, and John Sinclair's COBUILD.
We have matured as an educational activity. We have not, however,
matured into a recognizable and recognized profession. We have its
panoply, as indeed this seminar iterates, but not its substance. Indeed, that
panoply operates as a palliative, covering up (understandably enough)
weaknesses in career structure, and terms and conditions of employment.
As Robert Kaplan trenchantly commented in a recent EFL Gazette: 'If
we're that wonderful, how come we're not paid better?' Neither quite a
290 John Swales
caring profession nor a cared-for one. Of course, the truly exceptional will
often thrive, but I think in many other occupations the averagely above-
average performers are more likely to find more satisfactory and stable
careers than they do in ours.
So, to finish, I only have a few questions for the next twenty-five years.
Questions, and tentative answers.
1 Will the long-term trend for the use of English around the globe be up
or down? Probably level; possibly down.
2 Will we remain a group of people—at least as far as native speakers are
concerned—largely composed of white females? Very probably yes.
3 Will the supply of able and qualified teachers and the availability of
acceptable jobs even out? No, it will get worse; infiveyears lecturers in

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the US as well as assistant professors will be expected to hold
doctorates.
4 What are the likely relationships between the private and public
sectors? Don't know, but the differences between them are likely to
shrink further.
5 Are there hopes for a more interdisciplinary relationship between
linguistics and language teaching? Not until Chomsky stops asserting
that all questions concerning that relationship are 'trivial' and
'uninteresting'.
6 Will ELT remain attractive to young people? Yes, exceptionally so as a
short-term para-career.
7 Will ELT be able to fully professionalize? See previous answer.
8 Have the last twenty-five years in ELT been personally satisfying to
you? Beyond my wildest hopes.
Received August 1992

Selected references Thumboo, E. 1992. 'Language and Literature.'


Bailey, R. 1992. Images ofEnglish: A cultural history Paper given at the IATEFL Silver Jubilee Seminar,
of the language. Ann Arbor: University of London.
Michigan Press.
Burchfield, R. 1986. The English Language. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Kaplan, R. 1967. 'Contrastive Rhetoric and the
Teaching of Composition.' TESOL Quarterly 1:
10-16.
Kaplan, R. 1972. The Anatomy of Rhetoric: The author
Prologomena to a functional theory of rhetoric. John M. Swales is Professor of Linguistics and
Philadelphia: Center for Curriculum Development. Director of the English Language Institute, The
Kachru, B. B. 1986. The Alchemy of English: the University of Michigan, and has taught at the
spread, functions, and models of non-native universities of Ban, Libya, Leeds, Khartoum, and
Englishes. Oxford: Pergamon Press. Aston. His most recent book is Genre Analysis
Maher, J. 1986. 'The development of English as an (Cambridge University Press, 1990) and he has been
international language of medicine.' Applied co-editor ofthe English for Specific Purposes Journal
Linguistics 7/2. since 1985. With Christine Feak, he is currently
Swales, J. 1993. 'Language and success: lessons to preparing for publication Academic Writing for
and from the United States' in Blue, G. (ed.). Graduate Students: Essential Tasks and Skills
Language and Success. London: Macmillan. (University of Michigan Press, 1994).
The English language and its teachers 291