Book review

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed May 26 13:21:23 UTC 2004

Forwarded from Linguist-List, Tue May 25 2004

EDITOR: Tonkin, Humphrey; Reagan, Timothy
TITLE: Language in the Twenty-first Century
SUBTITLE: Selected papers of the millennial conferences of the
Center for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems,
held at the University of Hartford and Yale University
SERIES: Studies in World Language Problems 1
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2003

Svetlana Kurtes, Language Centre, University of Cambridge, UK


The present volume comprises contributions originally presented at the two
conferences discussing the future of language and languages in the 21st
century: at the Center for Research and Documentation on World Language
Problems University of Hartford, Connecticut, in 1998, and the Whitney
Humanities Center at Yale University in 1999. The participants observed
the linguistic implications of the political, economic and technological
changes of the modern world, and, specifically, their significance for the
language situation at the beginning of the new millennium. The series of
questions supplied to the participants included, inter alia, the
following: - Is the maintenance of linguistic diversity in the 21st
century an achievable goal?  - What effect will the globalization of
markets have on language use?  - What is the future of language teaching
and learning and what role will they have in the education system of the
future?  - Is the idea of equality among languages and among speakers of
languages attainable or desirable?  - What is the future of language
rights, the rights of speakers of minority languages, and the right to
mother tongue education?  - What is the effect of the Internet and
advances in language technology on language use, language change and/or
language planning?  - Is the policy of multilingualism in international
organizations sustainable?  - What is the future of languages associated
with former colonial powers or power blocs (e.g. French, Portuguese,
Russian)?  - What is the likely language scenario in the United States?
- What can or should be done to preserve languages in danger of
extinction?  - What role will education have in reducing or stimulating
language diversity?

Selected presentations from participants, expanded for the present volume,
represent a summary of discussions, dialogue and debate ?about issues of
language, language diversity, language policy, and language rights as we
enter the new millennium? (p.5), providing ?a solid foundation for further
dialogue in these important and timely matters? (p.7). There are 12 papers
in total, an introduction by the editors, bibliography, contributors and

Paul Bruthiaux's contribution entitled 'Contexts and trends for English as
a global language' opens the volume. The author examines the role of
English, now being 'the code of choice for encoding information in science
and technology and for transacting economic and cultural exchanges
supranationally' (p.11) vis--vis its potential 'competitors' for a global
role -- Arabic, German, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, French and Chinese.
Although in many cases languages of wider communication 'have been imposed
on unwilling communities through the overt repression' (p.17), a key
condition for their globalization is to be seen in the fact that they must
appeal to a large number of their potential users as a modernizing force,
giving them access to 'a hitherto inaccessible world of knowledge' (p.17).
Bruthiaux concludes that the continued dominance of English, critical mass
being its single most important factor, could only be challenged from
China 'as it increases in economic, military, and political power' (p.21).

'Global English and the non-native speaker: overcoming disadvantage' is
Ulrich Ammon's contributions discussing the implications of English
serving as the preferred language of international communication. The
author starts from Kachru's (1982) classification of English around the
world represented by three concentric circles ('inner circle' of countries
with English as a native or primary language; 'outer' and 'expanding'
circles with English in non-native settings) and adds a possible fourth,
or 'outside', circle of non-English-speaking countries containing over
three quarters of the world population. He then looks more closely into
the consequences of the fact that educated individuals of the outside
circle, specially scientists and scholars, 'find themselves less perfectly
equipped linguistically for such activities as publishing than their
colleagues of the inner circle' (p.25). Correctness judgements are still
governed by US or British standards set for orthography, vocabulary,
grammar, pragmatics, as well as the overall structure of the text, which
particularly differs across languages and cultures (cf. Clyne 1984; 1987)
As a rule, any non-native features found in scholarly literature are
evaluated negatively, even when the reader does not have any serious
difficulties understanding the text. What Ammon sees as a possible
solution is the development of a new form of global English, 'Globalish',
the multinationality of which would incorporate characteristics 'beyond
those of today's English, namely also those of non-native speakers'

John Edwards in his article 'Language and the future: choices and
constraints' defines four different categories of languages and examines
their present and future status: small stateless languages, small state
languages, languages of wider communication and constructed languages. The
author points out that language is not purely an instrumental medium,
since it 'has deep psychological importance; of particular note is the
association with group identity and its continuity. This is why the
struggle between large and small varieties is so vehement, why the
apparently logical steps that improved communication would benefit from
are resisted -- why, in a word, we need always remind ourselves that our
work takes us into heavily mined territories of emotion' (p.45). And that,
Edwards maintains, is unlikely to change in the future.

Mark Fettes discusses the linguistic future of the world in his article 'A
world-centric approach to language policy and planning'. That future
involves 'the dynamic interplay of homogeneity (unilingualism) and
plurality (multilingualism)' (p.52) that will result in an interlingual
world 'characterized by a fluidity of intercourse among many languages'
(ibid).  Interlingualism thus defined can manifest itself in five possible
models (also Pool and Fettes 1998): World English (spreading English as a
second language globally); Esperantism (designing a global auxiliary
language in which fluency can be achieved at low cost); Language Brokers
(expert translation between a wide range of human languages);
Plurilingualism (multilingual competence achieved through modern
instructional technologies); Technologism (technological advances applied
to human communicative tools).

'Development of national languages and management of English in East and
Southeast Asia' is Bjorn H Jernudd's contribution examining national
language planning and language policy in Malaysia. He observes the use of
Bahasa Malaysia, now a fully functioning standard language, vis--vis
English, the use of which has never actually disappeared, even in domains
where it has been particularly discouraged, e.g. education.  An open and
free society, Jernudd concludes, should see the evolution and use of
national languages as an absolute prerequisite for a successful
development. It also 'implies successful accommodation of foreign
languages, foremost among them English. The foreign languages take their
places as varieties in individual multilingual repertoires to enable
communication in complex networks beyond local boundaries' (p.66).

Language obsolescence, maintenance and revitalization and the challenges
the issues pose on scholars are discussed in Luisa Maffi's contribution
'The ''business'' of language endangerment: saving languages or helping
people keep them alive?'. The author focuses on the role of linguistic
scholars and experts in other academic fields or outside academia
concerning the language endangerment crisis, looking also into the
question of their professional ethics.  That in particular should involve
'respect for the human (including cultural and linguistic) rights of the
people among whom scholars conduct research -- especially the more
vulnerable groups such as indigenous people and minorities' (p.78).
Relevant international documents (e.g. the Draft UN Declaration on the
Rights of Indigenous Peoples; the Draft Universal Declaration of
Linguistic Rights, submitted to UNESCO) are beginning to provide a
necessary legal framework, with which the researchers should also be

'Equality, maintenance, globalization: lessons from Canada' is the title
of Jacques Maurais' article in which he looks more closely into the
question how attainable or desirable the idea of language equality
actually is, taking the Canadian experience of symmetrical rights as an
example. He then focuses on the impact of the globalization of markets and
mass consumerism on language use and linguistic domination.  Any analysis
of this issue must observe the role of multinational companies as well.
Maurais points out that, when discussing language protection, a
distinction should first be made between private and public communications
and then also 'between institutional multilingualism -- inherent in a
supranational organization, for example - and individual multilingualism,
that is the knowledge of several languages by an individual' (p.96).

'Maintaining linguodiversity: Africa in the twenty-first century' is the
title of Alamin M Mazrui's conribution. He examines the implications of
Africa's sociolinguistic past and present on the preservation of its
linguistic diversity in the future. The author gives an overview of major
arguments supporting and justifying the imperative of language
conservation that can be found in relevant literature. Elaborating on the
situation in Africa, Mazrui warns that 'even the more powerful local
languages are in danger of atrophy in the long run if they are not
consciously cultivated and made compatible with the present state of
knowledge' (p.  110). What, on the other hand, must be ensured at the
community level, 'with its varied dynamics and counter-dynamics' (ibid.)
is continuity in intergenerational language use.

Teresa Pica in her article 'Language education in the twenty-first
century: a newly informed perspective' proposes new avenues for foreign
language instruction, specifying that it should be 'less method-driven,
and more classroom-focused than its predecessors' (p.115).  She points out
some shortfalls of the communicative approach which dominated the field of
language teaching during the 80s and 90s, saying that the 'communicative
techniques were found to provide uneven outcomes, with their differential
success conditioned by language skill emphases, learner age and ethnicity,
and the types of activities and materials used for their implementation'
(ibid., also Pica and Doughty 1985, etc.). Language education of the 21st
century should be more contextualised and responsive to the individual
learner's needs 'within a more bottom-up, research-based,
classroom-situated perspective' (p.117). Pica supports a newly emerging
approach, called the communicative grammar-based task, specifying that it
'engages language learners in collaboration, decision making, and opinion
exchange in order to complete grammar-focused activities' (p.130; also
Fotos and Ellis 1993).

Timothy Reagan discusses the linguistic future of the United States in his
article 'Language and language education in the United States in the
twenty-first century'. He points out that foreign language and learning in
the US is a very complex problem, 'in which student apathy and even
resistance, compounded by often ill-prepared teachers, outdated teaching
methods and materials, and institutional barriers to effective teaching,
essentially ensure large-scale educational failure' (p.134). He then goes
on to outline two likely scenarios -- 'monolingualism victorious' (or
'English only') and 'the blessings of Babel restored' (or 'English plus'),
maintaining that language learning can not only 'help us understand what
we as human beings have in common, but also assist us in understanding the
diversity which underlines not only our languages, but also our ways of
constructing and organizing knowledge, and the many different realities in
which we all live and interact' (p.142).

The volume finishes with Humphrey Tonkin's contribution 'Why learn foreign
languages: thoughts for a new millennium'. Language learning, Tonkin
points out, is a fundamental element in self-understanding, 'a means by
which we learn to break the wall of silence' (p.150). It is also one of
the basic social skills, and a basic tool of citizenship, helping us
'reach beyond our own social envelopes and appreciate how others are
closed in theirs' (ibid).

Kurt E Muller gives a final overview by highlighting the main points and
arguments made in each article of the volume, hoping that it 'will spawn a
range of discussions that will include the impact of language on various
disciplines, a gap we have yet to explore' (p.157).


'Language in the twenty-first century' is a comprehensive, authoritative,
brilliantly written and path-breaking collection on a range of topics
thematically clustering around the complex question of the linguistic
future of the world. It brings to light the latest developments and
proposes new avenues in the field, offering plenty of examples of language
policy at work worldwide.

The issues discussed -- language rights, equality and diversity and how to
maintain them in an increasingly globalized world - are presented not only
within current relevant theoretical frameworks, but also through personal
experiences of a number of world's leading sociolinguists who discuss some
very controversial issues with utmost tact, impartiality and
open-mindedness. Their dialogue, the essence of which is convincingly
captured in the present volume, is thought-provoking and inspiring and no
doubt provides plenty of guidelines and pointers for further debates and

The volume will be an indispensable reference for language policy makers
and educators as well as theoreticians and practitioners in the fields of
communication theory, applied linguistics, sociology and anthropology of
language, etc. It almost goes without saying that sociolinguists
themselves will warmly welcome the appearance of the book and find it
insightful and eye-opening. It will be hard for them -- regardless of
their theoretical provenance - not to agree with Humphrey Tonkin's witty
final observation -- 'there's a millennium underway: we'll need bottled
water and foreign languages' (p.155)!


Clyne, Michael 1984. 'Wissenschaftliche Texte Englisch- und
Deutschsprachiger: textstructurelle Vergleiche'. Studium Linguistik
15, 92-97.

- --- 1987. 'Cultural differences in the organisation of academic
texts'. Journal of Pragmatics 11, 211-247.

Fotos, Sandra and Rod Ellis 1993. 'Communicating about grammar: a
task-based approach'. TESOL Quarterly 25, 605-628.

Kachru, Braj 1982. 'Models for non-native Englishes'.  In B Kachru
(ed), The other tongue: English across cultures, Pergamon Press,
Oxford, 31-57.

Pica, Teresa and Doughty 1985. 'Input and interaction in the
communicative language classroom: teacher-fronted vs. group
activities'. In S M Gass and C Madden (eds), Input in second language
acquisition, Hewbury House, Rowley, Mass., 115-132.

Pool, Jonathan and Mark Fettes 1998. 'The challenge of
interlingualism: a research invitation'. Esperanto Studies (Autumn),


Svetlana Kurtes holds a BA in English Philology and an MA in
Sociolinguistics from Belgrade University and an MPhil in Applied
Linguistics from Cambridge University. She worked as a Lecturer in
English at Belgrade University and is currently affiliated to
Cambridge University Language Centre. Her research interests involve
contrastive linguistics, sociolinguistics, pragmatics/stylistics,
translation theory and language pedagogy.

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