Unit 1: Defining English
This unit introduces the idea of alternative monolithic and plurilithic conceptions of English.
- 1.0 Introduction
- 1.1 Monolithic vs Plurilithic Concepts
- 1.1.1 Monolithic Concepts of Language
- 1.1.2 Plurilithic Concepts of Language
- 1.2 ‘Standard English’
- 1.2.1 ‘Standard English’: History
- 1.2.2 ‘Standard English’: Beliefs
- 1.2.3 Advantages and Disadvantages of ‘Standard English’ for ELT
- 1.3 Rules of English
- 1.3.1 The ambiguity of the word rule
- 1.3.2 Rules of English: The Monolithic View
- 1.3.3 Rules of English: The Plurilithic View
- 1.4 Four Dimensions of Monolithism
- 1.5 Check Your Understanding
- 1.6 Reflect and Discuss
Unit 2: Using English
This unit explores the plurilithic usage of English in diverse global settings.
- Unit 2: Using English
- 2.1 Introducing Lingua Franca Usage
- 2.2.1 Native speaker Variation
- 2.2.2 Native speakers: Accommodation
- 2.3 Englishes in the British Isles
- 2.4 World Englishes
- 2.4.1 Englishes in Your Part of The World
- 2.4.2 Owning a language (Part 1)
- 2.5 ELF
- 2.5.1 Intelligibility
- 2.5.2 ELF in Your Part of The World
- 2.6 Translanguaging with English
- 2.7 Check Your Understanding
- 2.8 Reflect and Discuss
Unit 3: Learning English
This unit discusses how English is learned as a first or additional language.
- Unit 3: Learning English
- 3.1 First Language Acquisition
- 3.2 Back to Rules
- 3.2.1 Rules as Patterns in the Mind (Part 1)
- 3.2.2 Rules as Social Markers
- 3.2.3 Rules as Mental Representations
- 3.2.4 Rules in Schools
- 3.2.5 Rules as Patterns in the Mind (2)
- 3.3 Models and Targets
- 3.4 Learning Contexts
- 3.5 Owning a Language (Part 2)
- 3.6 Learners and Users
- 3.7 Check Your Understanding
- 3.8 Reflect and Discuss
Unit 4: Teaching English
This unit examines the teaching implications of plurilithic conceptions of English.
Unit 5: Changing English
This unit suggests ways to share your learning on the course with others.
- Unit 5: Changing English
- 5.1 The Challenge
- 5.2 Changing Learners’ Beliefs About English
- 5.3 Changing Teaching Colleagues’ Beliefs About English
- 5.4 Changing Policy-Makers’ Beliefs About English
- 5.5 Changing the Public’s Beliefs About English
- 5.6 Check Your Understanding
- 5.7 Reflect and Discuss
- Course Finish
1.2.1 ‘Standard English’: History
Monolithic concepts of English are associated with the rise of ‘Standard English’
So where did the monolithic concept of languages come from?
Let’s now focus in on English. English as it is now used in the UK, the USA, and around the world is the plurilithic outcome of the kinds of natural processes we have been discussing: distribution, change and hybridisation across many individuals and groups of users. But most of its users still conceptualise it as a monolithic system that exists externally to them, and to which they have greater or lesser access.
A typical assumption is that the language has an abstract, perhaps ideal form which is detached from any particular socioeconomic class or region, and is independent of contexts of use. This ‘ideal form’ is often conceived of as underlying the so-called ‘standard’ version of the language used in formal writing and by ‘educated’ users. Here (translated from the original Mandarin) is an extract from an interview conducted by colleagues in China with ‘Ms F’, a university teacher of English (see Hall et al., 2017):
Ms F: I believe in the existence of Standard English, perhaps it’s some idealistic existence. There should be standards.
Int: Ok. So you think there is Standard English and there should be standards.
Ms F: Yes. Maybe it doesn’t really exist in reality. When we speak, the language is never standard.
Int: Is that because we are non-native speakers? Can native speakers speak Standard English?
Ms F: Even native speakers can’t speak Standard English – the idealistic, perfect, Standard English.
The belief in an ideal ‘idealistic, perfect’ version of English—the ‘standard variety’—is the result of the identification of languages as symbols of national identity and, within the national group, of education and power.
Figure 1.3: William Caxton demonstrating his printing press
Source: public domain
The seeds of ‘Standard English’ are comparatively recent. Before William Caxton’s introduction of the printing press to Britain in the late 1400s, the many widely differing versions of English spoken in the British Isles were not seen as marked by different levels of prestige, and none were seen as more ‘correct’ or ‘standard’ than any other. Due to ultimately quite random sociohistorical factors, the earliest printers selected the variable English spoken between London, Oxford, and Cambridge to fix into a more or less stable and enduring form. It thus gained a social status that distinguished it from other unprinted or under-printed dialects. With the rise of the concept of the nation state during the Renaissance period, this newly prestigious form of English began to be viewed as the ‘National Language’ and so was subject to further codification (e.g. in dictionaries), mythologisation (e.g. regarding its purity and logic), and, in the 18th century, a doctrine of correctness.