Course Introduction
Unit 1: Defining English
Unit 2: Using English
Unit 3: Learning English
Unit 4: Teaching English
Unit 5: Changing English
End of Course

1.1 Monolithic vs plurilithic concepts

Concept: English is more like a galaxy than a rock

Terrestrial planets like Venus and Earth are essentially big lumps of rock, and so might be called monolithic objects (from the Ancient Greek mono- ‘one, single’ and lithos ‘rock’). Galaxies like the Milky Way, on the other hand, are massive collections of stars, gas, dust and dark matter that coalesce together through gravitational force. Galaxies might then be termed plurilithic (using the Latin prefix pluri- ‘many’) to indicate that they are systems made up of many smaller entities. 

English is without doubt a plurilithic entity, more like a galaxy than a rock. (By the way, the analogy is not a new one: in 1981 the applied linguist Larry Smith suggested that “it may be helpful to think of English as being a galaxy rather than a star” [1981, p. xxi].)


This course aims to raise awareness of the plurilithic nature of English and explore its consequences for learning and teaching. But before we get started, use the self-assessment tool below to check your own levels of awareness and belief regarding Monolithic vs Plurilithic concepts of English.

Self-Assessment Tool: the OEQ (Orientations to English Questionnaire; Hall et al., 2022)

Here is a PDF version (PDF, 0.6MB) in case you want to use it offline.