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
1.3.3 Rules of English: The Plurilithic View
Rules can be seen as ‘regularities’ describing ‘actual’ usage
From the perspective of linguistics, which describes language as it actually is rather than how some people want it to be, rules are the regular patterns which are found: (a) in the ‘communal’ usage of specific groups of people (e.g. in dialects); and (b) in the minds of individual users (part of their idiolects). Thus, according to a plurilithic view of English, there are different rules for different users and uses.
Let’s take the expression of negation on English verbs. In ‘Standard English’ and some other varieties, the regularity is that the particle not (regularly contracted to n’t) is added to an auxiliary verb, or have and be as main verbs; quantifying words and phrases using any often follow. For example:
- 1. I haven’t been anywhere.
- 2. I don’t have anything.
In some unstandardised varieties of English, the regularity is that negation is expressed through the particle not and a second negative marker (with no instead of any) in quantifier position:
- 3. I haven’t been nowhere.
- 4. I don’t have nothing.
This rule is called negative concord, and it occurs across the USA (especially in African American English: Howe, 2005) and Great Britain (although it’s less common in the North than the South: Anderwald, 2005).
So there are two rules which capture the regularities of negation in communities of English users: one in which a single negative marker is used (e.g. in ‘Standard English’) and one in which negation is marked twice (e.g. in African American English). According to a ‘rules-as-regulation’ orientation, the second rule is ‘incorrect’ because it is ‘illogical’ (everyone knows that ‘two negatives equal a positive’!). This argument has been repeated for centuries, and is still made today, e.g. on the engVid website, which offers free English lessons: see Fig. 1.7. According to the engVid teacher Ronnie:
- As an English learner it is important to understand slang, but you shouldn’t try to use incorrect grammar, especially in cases like this where it can make people think you mean the opposite of what you want to say! I’ll show you examples of some of the most common double negatives that English learners and native speakers use. You’ll learn how to correct these mistakes so that your English is clear and correct.
Figure 1.7 Ronnie teaches negation
Notice how use of the negative concord rule is identified by Ronnie in the video as ‘stupid’ and ‘without class’ and viewers are told not to use it: this is quintessential regulation. Yet in many other languages, negative concord is the custom (in the ‘standard’ variety too). Take Spanish, for example:
- 5. No he estado en ningúna parte (the translation of  and  above).
- 6. No tengo nada (the translation of  and  above).
When the King of Spain, Jennifer López, Pope Francis and other Spanish native speakers say sentences like these, no-one would think to call them ‘stupid’, ‘without class’ or users of ‘incorrect grammar’. Furthermore, the negative concord rule was the norm in Old English (over a thousand years ago) and into Middle English, when the poet Chaucer could write sentences like the following, with four negative markers!
- 7. He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde in al his lyf unto no maner wight
- ‘In his whole life he has never said anything wicked to anyone’
We all use grammatical rules, following the regularities we hear in the usage around us. Some rules have more social prestige than others, but to call those with less prestige ‘incorrect’ or ‘stupid’ is to impose a value judgement based on (stereotypes about) the user, rather than on logic or linguistic science.
In Unit 3 we’ll return to the different senses of rule as ‘regulation’ and ‘regularity’ and see how misunderstanding of the difference has led to a mismatch between the rules teachers teach for tests and the rules learners learn for use.
The beliefs about ‘correct English’ challenged in this section are very strongly held by many people. The resilience of these beliefs makes it hard to appreciate that what is generally thought of as ‘incorrect’ usage may just be the use of alternative rules.
Reflect on how convincing you find the linguistic view of ‘correctness’ and let us know what you think here.