Whose English(es)?: Naming and Boundary-Drawing as Language-Ideological Processes in the Global English Debate

Andrew SEWELL*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book Chapters | Papers in Conference ProceedingsBook ChapterResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


The field of language education, though often compartmentalized, forms part of the complex relationship between language and society. One would therefore expect it to make some use of the concept of language ideology, described by Park (2009) as a “crucial window through which we can investigate the intersection of language and society” (p. 15). What is taught and tested depends on a number of fundamental beliefs and assumptions about, among other things, the boundaries of the language being taught, the needs of learners and their societies, and the nature of effective communication. If ideology is defined as “the most fundamental belief systems in any social practice” (Mirhosseini, 2018, p. 20), then the study of language ideology aims to reveal and explicate the functioning of these belief systems as they pertain to language practices. They may be implicitly held or dependent upon particular readings of past events and present conditions, and by virtue of being accepted as “common sense” they create a particular view of the enterprise and inhibit change and innovation.

Although an awareness of language ideology would therefore appear to be essential for researchers and practitioners in English language education, the concept is still met with considerable scepticism. The call for them to practise “reflexivity”, for example, by exploring their own beliefs and assumptions, brings unexpected challenges. Wee (2018) observes that “expert” attempts to ‘problematize taken-for-granted assumptions run the risk…of being treated as too esoteric and therefore as having questionable relevance” (p. 50). It is therefore unsurprising that many researchers and practitioners are sceptical towards the concept of language ideology, preferring to leave stable ground beneath their feet and avoid undermining their professional authority.

In this chapter I apply the concept of language ideology to a study of how English language education is being debated by researchers in the era of global English. My concern is thus mainly with professional language ideologies (see Kroskrity, 2000; Gal, 2002), and how these intersect with more widely held beliefs about language and communication. I argue that proposed “new” approaches to language education often reflect similar beliefs and assumptions as the approaches they claim to challenge or supersede, and are based on the same language-ideological practices, in particular boundary-drawing and naming. By considering some of the discourses of language education from a language-ideological perspective, the chapter is thus concerned with both the nature of the ideologies that influence English language education and with the discursive mechanisms by which these ideologies are turned into prescriptions for policy and practice. It also aims to highlight the relevance of language ideology by identifying the ways in which researchers and practitioners can benefit from an awareness of the concept. In asking the question “Whose Englishes?” I am drawing attention to the way in which the territorial claims of the global English debate are based on particular ideologies of language.

The chapter begins with an outline of what are argued to be the language ideological foundations of current approaches to English language education in many parts of the world. It then provides a brief introduction to some recent debates in English language education, focusing on the contributions of research from the English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) paradigm. These contributions are assessed from a language-ideological perspective that compares their assumptions about language and communication with that of the dominant model. The chapter concludes by identifying the main insights of this perspective and discussing the implications for English language education policies and practices.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWorldwide English Language Education Today: Ideologies, Policies and Practices
EditorsAli AL-ISSA, Seyyed-Abdolhamid MIRHOSSEINI
PublisherTaylor and Francis Inc.
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9780429941283
ISBN (Print)9781138599185
Publication statusPublished - 21 Nov 2019

Publication series

NameRoutledge Research in Language Education

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 selection and editorial matter, Ali Al-Issa and Seyyed-Abdolhamid Mirhosseini;.


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