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

1.4 Four dimensions of monolithism

Concept: Monolithic concepts of English can be challenged on at least four levels: ontological, ethical, socio-economic, and pedagogical

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 the monolithic conceptualisation of English?

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 the monolithic conceptualisation of English?

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. Also, does the monolithic view unfairly privilege certain uses and contexts of English over others (e.g. writing over speech; hymns over hip-hop)?

  • Socio-economic: How sustainable is the monolithic conceptualisation of English?

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?

  • Pedagogical: How helpful is the monolithic conceptualisation of English?

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.

More…

Activity

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.

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.

  • Ontological data prompt
  • Ethical data prompt
  • Socio-economic data prompt
  • Pedagogical data prompt

Ontological Data Prompt

Ontological Data Prompt

This is a series of extracts from a personal blog about free web applications.

Read the text, paying attention to the different ways the blogger (Young), and two commenters (Swookiee and Mani) write.

Free nuts: top 10 free proxy softwares

Young: To visit YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and some other websites that are blocked in China, sometimes I use free online proxy tools, but most of the time, I like using free proxy softwares, since they are faster and free of ADs. Among those free proxy softwares, below 10 are the most popular...

[...]

Swookie: [...] the problem with most of them is that the client login is being blocked, the cyberghost forum suggests a workaround for their software with hotspot, the thing about hotspot is that the are not that fast, and use deep package scanning to past you website with ADs, not really cool, cg on the other hand is waaay faster since they have a premium servers in Germany. You have to turn on hotspot log on to cyberghost then turf off hotspot and logon to the cyberghost server. you definitely can just try an connect to cyberghost straight ahead mybe thall work, it's a bit difficult for me to be testin it since im not in china

[...]

Mani: tnx. Iran as like China have limited the Internet but now a days world just like a littel village. It's very good feeling that i can help from someone that who far a way thousends kilometers. maybe someday humans live in FREEDOM. Goodluck my Brother.

Notice

Question
What different features of the three bloggers’ use of English caught your attention? Make a note of features where the writers used English (a) appropriately and effectively, showing complex knowledge, and (b) in ways which differed from ‘Standard’ native-speaker norms.


React

Question
How do you react to the different ways these three short blog extracts are written? What do the differences suggest to you about the nature of English?


Reflect

Question
What are the implications of this for you as a teacher?

Ethical Data Prompt

More...(additional content)

Ethical Data Prompt

image38
[Source: World Economic Forum]

This is an extract from an interview with Ban Ki-Moon, the former United Nations Secretary General, conducted by the Russian news agency, RIA Novosti.

The Secretary General is talking about a meeting in Russia of the Diplomatic Quartet (the United Nations, the US, the European Union and Russia) to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Read the text, paying attention to the English Ban Ki-Moon uses. (The transcript reproduced below, is incomplete and, at times, inaccurate.)

"How do you feel about the prospects for restarting the indirect talks between the Palestine and Israel after the last Arab league decision to allow such negotiations and the positive response from Israeli government? What is your overall assessment of the situation in the Middle East on the eve of the Quartet meeting in Moscow? What do you think about the role of Russia in the Middle East peace process?

I appreciate, first of all, and highly commend the initiative and leadership of Russian government to host the Quartet meeting at this time. This is crucially important timing for the peace process in the Middle East. The overall atmosphere has not been favorable. Now, with the proximity talks now being facilitating by the United States, it is very opportune timing for the principles of the Quartet to express their support and encourage further, try to find out what kind of role the Quartet can play. I'm quite convinced that this time the Quartet leaders will be able to play a significant role. I'm very much encouraged by this. At the same time I would really hope that Israeli government should fully cooperate so that this proximity talks which has been very difficultly arranged and facilitated by the United States, and by the United Nations, and many other parties will not derail because of settlement policies. I have strongly condemned this settlement policy which goes counter to the peace process mood.

Do you have any concrete proposals to the Quartet to submit them to Israel in order to stop the settlement activity?

The Quartet will issue a strong statement. First of all, the Quartet has already issued a strong statement condemning this settlement. And I'm sure that this will be reaffirmed by the Quartet meeting. However, we will discuss overall situation in the Middle East, including how to facilitate and encourage proximity talks. I believe that this proximity talk should eventually lead to direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinian authorities."
(Sputnik International, 2010)

Notice

Question
What features of Ban Ki-Moon's use of English caught your attention?


React

Question
How do you react to Ban Ki-Moon's combination of sophisticated English usage with various 'non-native' features? Do you react favourably or unfavourably? Note down your immediate response?


Reflect

Question
What are the implications of this for you as a teacher?

Socio-economic Data Prompt

Socio-economic Data Prompt

image45
Countries where English is the/a dominant language
[Source: Taifarious1]

Here are some numbers relating to speakers and learners of English worldwide:.

image22
[Sources: Worldometer; Crystal (2018); British Council; Marr and English, 2019]

Notice

Question
As a teacher, what do these numbers suggest to you about the size and distribution of your profession?


React

Question
Given that there are so many learners of English in so many countries around the world, how sustainable is a ‘native speaker’-oriented industry? Note down your immediate response.


Reflect

Question
What are the implications of this for you as a teacher? Make a note of your ideas.

 

Pedagogical Data Prompt

Pedagogical Data Prompt

  1. “Many nouns can be counted—one friend, two friends, for example. […] Other nouns cannot be counted—air, wind, and pollution, for example. They have no plural forms, are used with singular verbs, and are called “noncount” nouns. But noncount nouns can also be things that we can count! First, there are those that it would take a lifetime to count, so we call them by a more general noncount noun, such as hair, sugar, or flour. And then there are those that we categorize into general groups that are named by noncount nouns, such as furniture, mail, silverware, and china. Of course, we can count chairs, tables, or beds, but the general category furniture is never made plural. The noncount noun mail includes the letters and cards that we can count. English has a lot of these words.”
  2. “At ellona, we make it a priority to adapt ourselves to the needs of each of our customers. Contact one of our air quality experts for more information and personalized advice.”
  3. “We have bought a house in [place X]. [Y] and [Z] were recommended as sales representatives for this area by friends. They were very helpful providing information about houses and their neighborhood, and also advice on local contacts regarding furniture, redecorating the garden, etc. They are skilled people and very easy to talk to and very friendly. We recommend them highly.”

The paragraph in (1) is from the first page of English Vocabulary for Beginning ESL Learners, part of McGraw Hill’s ‘Practice Makes Perfect’ series, of which over two million books have been sold.

The passage in (2) is from the contact page of the website of ellona, a French air quality specialist, and the comment in (3) is from the testimonial page of a Norwegian real estate company specialising in Spanish properties.

Notice

Question
What does the use in (1) of can(not), we, and never reveal about the perspective on English grammar being presented there? How is this perspective challenged by the way nouns are actually being used in (2) and (3)?


React

Question
Question: As a teacher, how do you feel about the pluralisation of non-count nouns in (2) and (3)?


Reflect

Question
What are the implications of this for you as a teacher? Make a note of your ideas.

Discussion Section

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