3.5 Owning a Language (Part 2)

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Concept

You own the English you construct from experience

In the previous unit, Using English, we noted that the association between language and nation is a logical outcome of the monolithic perspective, and that governments are keen to promote this view for the sake of national unity (and economic advantage). But we also pointed out that English is now ‘owned’ by millions of non-native speakers around the world, and we quoted the African writer Chinua Achebe and the British applied linguist Henry Widdowson to drive home the argument.

In his article on the ownership of English, Widdowson also made a link between ownership and proficiency, which connects the international spread of English to the issues of SLA we are dealing with in this unit. He wrote:

    [y]ou are proficient in a language to the extent you possess it, make it your own, bend it to your will, assert yourself through it rather than simply submit to the dictates of its form. [...] So in a way, proficiency only comes with non-conformity [...]. (Widdowson, 2003, p. 42)

Activity

Reflect on what Widdowson is saying.

    ● How do you think he is interpreting the idea of proficiency?
    ● How does what he say relate to the notion we have been exploring, that learners inevitably construct their own English?
    ● When Widdowson talks of users of English ‘submit[ting] to the dictates of its form’, how is ‘form’ being presented here?
    ● To what extent do you agree that ‘proficiency only comes with non-conformity’?

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