1.4 Four Dimensions of Monolithism

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Monolithic concepts of English can be challenged on at least four levels

As we have seen, monolithic concepts of English can have both advantages and disadvantages for ELT. But potential problems with monolithic thinking go beyond strictly pedagogical concerns. We can question a monolithic concept of English on many levels, including the following four main dimensions:

    • Ontological: How true is it?
    Ontology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of entities (both concrete and abstract) that can be claimed to exist in the world (see Hall and Wicaksono, 2020). So whether English and other languages actually exist as abstract monolithic systems, with either correct or incorrect forms, is an ontological question.

    • Ethical: How fair is it?
    We can ask to what extent a belief in English as a monolithic object leads to injustices for some groups or individuals who identify or are identified with kinds of English which don’t accord with the monolithic concept. This, of course, includes the Englishes of many non-native users.

    • Socio-economic: How sustainable is it?
    English is a global commodity. To include ‘English speaker’ as part of your identity is an aspiration of billions of speakers of other languages. How sustainable is an insistence on a single correct form of the language in the face of such unprecedented demand?

    • Professional: How helpful is it?
    This dimension is the pedagogical one. We need to evaluate the extent to which a monolithic concept of English can underpin teachers’ efforts to help learners become effective and satisfied communicators in the different contexts they will be using the language.


In Depth

Click on the following links to explore the four dimensions of monolithism in more depth. Each one contains some data in or on English (’data prompts’) that we’ll ask you to react to and reflect on. We recommend that you pay particular attention to the prompts for the dimension(s) you scored a 2 on.

For each prompt, you are asked to do three things:

     NOTICE features of the data
     REACT to them immediately
     REFLECT on their implications for you and your teaching context

At each stage, there is a specific QUESTION we ask you to respond to. We then provide some commentary of our own to provoke further thought.