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Abstract

The global enterprise of English language teaching (ELT) ought to present the possibility of bringing millions of people into the global traffic of meaning. Yet it does not do so because global ELT is paradoxically viewed as a monolingual enterprise. Both the pedagogy that underpins much of this spread and the ways in which the global spread of English has been described and resisted emphasize English as a language that operates only in its own presence. Overlooked are the ways in which English always needs to be seen in the context of other languages, as a language always in translation. Yet if we wish to take global diversity seriously, we would do well to focus on semiodiversity (the diversity of meanings) as much as glossodiversity (the diversity of languages), and to do so by taking up a project of translingual activism as part of ELT. If students are to enter the global traffic of meaning, translation needs to become central to what we do.
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ENGLISH AS A LANGUAGE ALWAYS IN
TRANSLATION
Alastair Pennycook
Online Publication Date: 01 April 2008
To cite this Article: Pennycook, Alastair (2008) 'ENGLISH AS A LANGUAGE
ALWAYS IN TRANSLATION', European Journal of English Studies, 12:1, 33 - 47
To link to this article: DOI: 10.1080/13825570801900521
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Alastair Pennycook
ENGLISH AS A LANGUAGE ALWAYS IN
TRANSLATION
The global enterprise of English language teaching (ELT) ought to present the
possibility of bringing millions of people into the global traffic of meaning. Yet it does
not do so because global ELT is paradoxically viewed as a monolingual enterprise. Both
the pedagogy that underpins much of this spread and the ways in which the global
spread of English has been described and resisted emphasize English as a language that
operates only in its own presence. Overlooked are the ways in which English always
needs to be seen in the context of other languages, as a language always in translation.
Yet if we wish to take global diversity seriously, we would do well to focus on
semiodiversity (the diversity of meanings) as much as glossodiversity (the diversity of
languages), and to do so by taking up a project of translingual activism as part of
ELT. If students are to enter the global traffic of meaning, translation needs to become
central to what we do.
Keywords English; globalization; translation; traffic of meaning;
semiodiversity; ELT; pedagogy
The pretensions to self-sufficiency, the refusal to allow the foreign mediate, have
secretly nourished numerous linguistic ethnocentrisms, and more seriously,
numerous pretensions to the same cultural hegemony that we have been able to
observe in relation to Latin, from late antiquity to the end of the Middle Ages and
even beyond the Renaissance, in relation to French in the classical era, and in
relation to English today.
(Ricœur, 2006: 4 – 5)
The traffic of meaning
‘When you translate’, asserts Probal Dasgupta (2005: 42) ‘you are part of the
traffic’. And this traffic, this constant coming and going of people, bicycles,
rickshaws, cars, trucks, ferries, tuk-tuks, ships, aeroplanes, trains, is a traffic in
meaning, a passing to and fro of ideas, concepts, symbols, discourses. For Claire
Kramsch (2006: 103) this traffic in meaning is precisely what language teaching
should be about, so that language competence should be measured not as the
capacity to perform in one language in a specific domain, but rather as ‘the ability
European Journal of English Studies Vol. 12, No. 1, April 2008, pp. 33 47
ISSN 1382-5577 print/ISSN 1744-4243 online ª2008 Taylor & Francis
http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/13825570801900521
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to translate, transpose and critically reflect on social, cultural and historical
meanings conveyed by the grammar and lexicon’. The role of the language teacher
from this perspective, therefore, is ‘to diversify meanings, point to the meanings
not chosen, and bring to light other possible meanings that have been forgotten by
history or covered up by politics’. Language teaching is indelibly tied to
translation and the diversity of meanings. When we learn a language, we enter the
traffic.
The massive global enterprise of English language teaching (ELT) – in other
words, the global spread of English language teaching to speakers of languages other
than English – ought to present just such a possibility: bringing millions of people
into the global traffic of meaning. And yet, it does not. A central problem with the
way in which global English is understood by the nations responsible for managing
its export is that it is seen, paradoxically, as a monolingual enterprise. Overlooked
are the ways in which English always needs to be seen in the context of other
languages, or, as I shall argue here, as a language always in translation. While this is
profoundly obvious to those in countries where English has arrived as a language
among many (see for example, Ramanathan, 2006a), the vast English export
industry purveys the language as if it were an entity on its own, as if the main
context of its use were only in its own presence. While discussion of English as an
international language draws distinctions between different contexts of spread
and use, with the fact that the majority of users are now non-native speakers
of English frequently reiterated (for example, Kachru, 2005), the implications of
this for understanding English as a language always in translation are often
disregarded.
This is not to suggest that the use of English always implies a process of
translation – the version of translation that has come down to us in the reductive
histories of ELT – but rather that English is always a language in translation, a
language of translingual use. The central issue here is one of how we understand
diversity. The struggles over diversity in the face of the global spread of English tend
to be presented in terms of diversity as numerical plurality – multiple languages or
multiple Englishes. This focus on glossodiversity at the expense of semiodiversity
(Halliday, 2002; Kramsch, 2006) obscures the potential role of language education in
the production of diversity. And it is the blindness to the role that translation plays at
the heart of ELT that constantly obscures this vision. As V. Ramanathan suggests,
the Applied Linguistics field has not yet grappled with tensions around the politics
of translations across spaces, times, ideologies and cultures, and the implications
of these not just for writing/texts in the discipline, but for our collective
knowledge construction at large.
(Ramanathan, 2006b: 224)
There are two main trajectories that have brought this about. The first has to do with
the economic and political agendas that underpin particular aspects of global English
pedagogy. The second has to do with various ways in which the global spread of
English has been described and resisted. Despite the very different takes on this, they
have all tended to posit an English core that does not allow for a more varied vision
for the role of English. I shall deal with each of these briefly below.
34 EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF ENGLISH STUDIES
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Translation as pariah
A central strand of twentieth-century ELT ideology as it has been purveyed in the
dominant discourses of applied linguistics has been the strange and insistent eschewal of
translation. Although translation has always, for very obvious reasons, been part of
language teaching, the canon of ELT theory that developed in the twentieth century
turned translation into a pariah. As Louis Kelly (1969: 217) notes in his wide-ranging
history of language teaching, ‘The mid-twentieth century is probably the only period
since the Middle Ages in which translation was relegated to an advanced stage in
language learning’. Why should this be? Several different intellectual and ideological
concerns brought this about. Theories and practices of language learning and teaching –
from the development of audiolingual methodologies based on structuralist and
behaviourist accounts of language and psychology, to the development of
communicative and task-based approaches based on humanist, cognitivist and neo-
structuralist accounts of learning and language – all emphasized the singular importance
of using English and only English in the classroom. As Elsa Auerbach (1993) argues,
however, while such pedagogical dictates were justified with educational and
psychological arguments, they cannot be viewed without also considering the broader
political goals they supported: if not a monolingual English-speaking world, then at
least a world in which the languages othered by English were downplayed, and English
was promoted as a monolingual and separate entity. As Kelly (1969: 407) remarks,
‘[t]hat the expert in language teaching acts with the purity of motive and design
expected from a scientist is demonstrably untrue. Discoveries are filtered by social and
educational needs, and what suits the circumstances is what is considered proved’.
Meanwhile, as English language teaching became increasingly big business, with
vast sums of money to be made through textbook sales, the promotion of an English-
only methodology became commercially expedient. Histories of language teaching
were written with new, modern and English-only methodologies at the apex of
modernity, and traditional approaches that used translation relegated to the dungeons
of language teaching history. Perhaps the most insidious aspect of this self-interested
historicizing was the construction of ‘grammar-translation’ – that catch-all concept
designed to describe and denigrate all forms of teaching and learning that taught
grammar or brought other languages into the classroom. This label, as Anthony
Howatt (1984: 131) points out, is misleading: ‘Coined by its opponents, it draws
attention to two of the less significant features of the approach.’ Quite bizarrely,
however, the world was split into two, with the vast majority still mired in
unproductive, old-fashioned, premodern, monolithic grammar-translation teaching,
while a small, enlightened modern coterie engaged in the principled practices of
English-only communicative language teaching. Local practices were denigrated and
despised, dismissed as dinosaurs. Native speaker English teachers travelled the world,
able to market their monolingual skills above their bilingual counterparts; book
publishers set up their stalls at conferences, and sang the benefits of their glossy,
international, monolingual products; teacher educators were flown around the world
to run seminars, to advise on how to shed outmoded uses of other (outmoded)
languages, and to teach using only English; and applied linguists colluded, developing
theories, writing books, showing how English was the only language the world needed
to teach English.
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Of course, in spite of these efforts, translation has always nevertheless remained
part of ELT in several ways. Hidden behind the focus on functional uses of English,
the stress on communication and pragmatics, there remains a host of English language
teachers around the world who have learned English as a language in translation, and
who still allow these corrupting influences to creep into their classrooms. In their
daily practices, the majority of teachers in the world have long used whatever
languages in their classes get the job done, and have done so in far richer and more
productive ways than their monolingual counterparts. Take, for example, this from a
classroom in Sydney, where the students – all speakers of either Cantonese or
Putonghua – are discussing with the teacher suitable food for pregnant mothers:
Here we see ‘real communication’ in progress: the students are giving advice on
good food for a pregnant mother, drawing on their own cultural and linguistic
knowledge. Both the teacher and students are comfortable using the different
languages at their disposal (English, Cantonese and Putonghua) to ensure that
meanings carry reasonably well across the languages. And there is a good chance that
in such interchanges a fair amount of language learning is going on.
None of this is to suggest that we should encourage those deadening practices
of bad pedagogy where translation is a punitive exercise, a means to fill an hour of
classroom time, a means of showing superior teacher knowledge, or a chance to
reduce languages to mere equivalents of each other. But it does suggest that when we
think of translation in an uneven world (cf. Radhakrishnan, 2005), we need to
consider not only that uneven global linguistic field on which translation has to play,
but also that pedagogical field from which it has already been given a red card, sent
off, dismissed to scowl on the sidelines. As far as ‘best practice’ is concerned in ELT,
translation is history. And as far as having a chance to enter the traffic of meaning
through English, the road is blocked.
Language fortresses, lingua francas and local foci
Current thinking about the global spread of English has also fallen into the trap of
becoming over-obsessed with English as a language unto itself, rather than focusing on
S1 Eat oranges. Oranges is good,
specially the sweet oranges
The class is engaged in an open and relevant
discussion in English
T Yes, egg is good for the baby T adds more info
S1 Bone. Drink bone soup, Gu tou a Here S1 adds a gloss in Putonghua to explain
‘it’s bone’
T bone T repeats back bone in English
S1 Bou do di bone soup. Bou tsung koi zet.
Koi zet jing men dim gong a?
S1 switches to Cantonese: Cook more bone soup.
To supplement the calcium. How do you say
calcium in English?
T Calcium T supplies the English term
Adapted from Leung (2005).
36 EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF ENGLISH STUDIES
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the ways in which English is always a language in translation. Debates over the role of
English in Europe are caught between several competing positions. First, is the concern
that the spread of English is threatening other European languages: ‘If inaction on
language policy in Europe continues, at the national and supranational levels’, Robert
Phillipson (2003: 192) warns, ‘we may be heading for an American-English only
Europe.’ The perceived threat of English to European languages and cultures may,
from this point of view, be countered by safeguarding diversity through the support of
other European languages. As Claude Hage`ge (2006: 37) argues in Combat pour le
Franc¸ais, drawing on the work of Phillipson (2005), greater support for French is a
crucial part of support for cultural and linguistic diversity more broadly: ‘de´fendre une
culture, c’est aussi de´fendre la langue dans laquelle elle s’exprime’ [to defend a culture
is also to defend the language in which it is expressed]. In the current context, Hage`ge
argues, it is ‘la langue anglaise et la culture ame´ricaine qui sont, a` l’heure actuelle, les
be´ne´ficiaires de la mondialisation’ (105 [the English language and American culture that
are at present the beneficiaries of globalization]) and, ‘Il s’agit, en re´alite´, de prendre la
mesure du territoire de l’anglais dans le monde, et singulie`rement en Europe, oule
milieu anglophone des affaires est a l’origine du processus par lequel le domaine des
langues europe´ennes, de´ja` ampute´, est menace´desere´duire plus encore dans l’avenir’
(118 [in reality it is a question of sizing up the territory of English in the world, and
particularly in Europe, where the Anglophone context of business is the start of the
process by which the domain of European languages, already amputated, is threatened
with even greater reduction in the future]).
Second, is a concern that the use of English across Europe is leading to ‘a
simplified, pidginized but unstable ‘‘Euro-English’’ that inhibits creativity and
expressiveness, whether English is used as a mother tongue or as a foreign language, a
language that is spoken with so much imprecision that communication difficulties and
breakdowns multiply’ (Phillipson, 2003: 176). From a different point of view, but
striking a similar chord, Jennifer Jenkins has also warned that
if a policy of pluricentricity is pursued unchecked, in effect a situation of
‘‘anything goes’’, with each Expanding Circle
1
L1 group developing its own
English pronunciation norms, there is a danger that their accents will move
further and further apart until a stage is reached where pronunciation presents a
serious problem to lingua franca communication.
(Jenkins, 2006: 36)
While for Phillipson the solution lies more in the support for other European
languages against the tide of English use, for Jenkins the way to ‘safeguard mutual
phonological intelligibility’ is to establish a core of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF)
pronunciation – or a lexicogrammatical core in the work of Barbara Seidlhofer
(2001) – based on the actual negotiated use of non-native speakers of English.
While on one level usefully countering the potential damage wrought by incessant
English language use, or reining in the centrifugal forces of divergence, both
propositions raise several concerns. On the one hand, if defence against English is to
be carried out through a new nationalism (the defence of diversity is the defence of
national languages and cultures), we are left only with a model of diversity guaranteed
by language fortification. Such a focus on diversite´ rather than the more dynamic
ENGLISH AS A LANGUAGE ALWAYS IN TRANSLATION 37
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processes of diversalite´ (a term coined by creolist scholars) lacks an appreciation of the
paradox at its heart: To defend diversity through a focus on language fortresses is to
reinforce a vision of national languages that have been instrumental in the denial of
diversity: ‘La cre´olite´ est une annihilation de la fausse universalite´, du monolinguisme
et de la purete´’ (Bernabe´, Chamoiseau and Confiant, 1993: 28 [cre´olite´isan
annihilation of false universality, monolingualism and purity]). As Rapha¨el Confiant
argues, ‘la mondialisation cre´ole valorise la ‘‘diversalite´’’ c’est-a`-dire le me´lange, le
partage des anceˆtres et des identite´s, le non-cloisonnement des imaginaires’ (2006
[creole globalization valorizes diversalite´, that is to say mixing, the sharing of ancestors
and identities, the non-partitioning of the imaginary]). Put another way, while an
argument for diversity through greater emphasis on European languages other than
English may on one level take us beyond the threat of English monolingualism, it may
also reinforce the same language ideologies if it does no more than pluralize the object
from within the same epistemology. As Selma Sonntag (2003: 25) argues, ‘the
willingness to use the language of human rights on the global level to frame local
linguistic demands vis-a`-vis global English may merely be affirming the global vision
projected by American liberal democracy’.
On the other hand, if English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) work focuses always on
the core of English, we are left with yet another centripetal model. As Rani Rubdy
and Mario Saraceni put it:
In the end, the validity of the EIL/ELF proposal will probably depend upon whether
or not it chooses to embrace a polymodel approach to the teaching of English or a
monolithic one, whether it leads to the establishing and promoting of a single (or a
limited form of) Lingua Franca Core for common use among speakers in the Outer
and Expanding Circles, possibly stripped of any cultural influences, or whether it will
be flexible enough to manifestthe cultural normsof all those who use it along with the
rich tapestry of linguistic variation in which they are embedded.
(Rubdy and Saraceni, 2006: 13)
At the heart of these current debates, then, is the question of whether a focus on
English as a lingua franca, with its interest in commonalities across different uses of
English, represents a pull towards the centre – albeit a new centre waiting to be
described, rather than the old centres of inner circle (British or American, and so on)
English – or whether it can be seen in terms of English divergence as ‘postcolonial
speakers of English creatively negotiate the place of English in their lives’
(Canagarajah, 2006: 200).
The other corner of this triangular debate between different ways of defending
diversity has been through a World Englishes (WE) focus. Proponents of this
framework have often taken exception to what they claim to be the normativity of an
ELF approach. Kachru and Nelson, for example, juxtapose World Englishes with
terms such as ‘world English’ (Brutt Griffler, 2002), ‘English as an International
Language’ (Jenkins, 2000), and ‘English as a Lingua Franca’ (Seidlhofer, 2001) which
‘idealize a monolithic entity called ‘‘English’’ and neglect the inclusive and plural
character of the world-wide phenomenon’ (Kachru and Nelson, 2006: 2). And yet,
while the World Englishes perspective has always sought to describe diversity and the
centrifugal forces of English spread though local foci on variety, it also, paradoxically,
38 EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF ENGLISH STUDIES
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becomes ensnared in the same frameworks of language diversity that it needs to
escape. As Paul Bruthiaux (2003: 161) points out, the descriptive and analytic
inconsistency of the concentric circle model gives it little explanatory power, and its
use of inconsistent criteria to categorize so-called varieties of English is confounded by
a ‘primarily nation-based model’. Thus it overlooks difference within regions and
ascribes variety based on postcolonial political history: where a nation state was
created, so a variety emerged. Ultimately, concludes Bruthiaux (2003: 161), ‘the
Three Circles model is a twentieth-century construct that has outlived its usefulness’.
The World Englishes framework, therefore, while attempting to focus centrally
on diversity of Englishes, does so along national lines (for example, Indian, Malaysian,
Singaporean Englishes) and thus, like the language fortress defence, reproduces part of
the framework it needs to avoid.
While at one level, there may be an important distinction between a WE
approach, with its centrifugal focus on local variation, and an ELF approach with its
centripetal focus on the development of regional varieties (European and Asian
English), at another level, this is a matter only of relative scale. While studies of
Indian English, for example, would fall into the first camp, it is also clear that Indian
English is more chimerical than this terminology allows. As N. Krishnaswamy and
Archana Burde observe ‘Like Indian nationalism, ‘‘Indian English’’ is ‘‘fundamentally
insecure’’ since the notion ‘‘nation-India’’ is insecure’ (1998: 63). Given the diversity
of Indian languages and regions and the need to see India not so much as an imagined
community but rather as an unimaginable community, it is unclear why Indian English
itself should not be viewed as a lingua franca. And to discuss an entity called South
Asian English, which comprises varieties across India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and
Bangladesh, is to talk in terms of a monolithic lingua franca English. While Kachru and
others have long acknowledged the diversity within the supposed entities, this misses
the point that the castigation of others for promoting monolithic English rather than
diversity has to be done in more complex ways than mere pluralization. Thus, when
Braj Kachru (2005: 39) focuses on ‘educated South Asian English’ rather than ‘Broken
English’, he is surely open to the same critiques that he levels at the purveyors of ELF.
As Arjuna Parakrama (1995: 25 – 6) argues: ‘The smoothing out of struggle within
and without language is replicated in the homogenizing of the varieties of English on
the basis of ‘‘upper-class’’ forms. Kachru is thus able to theorize on the nature of a
monolithic Indian English.’ Similarly, Canagarajah observes that in Kachru’s
attempt to systematize the periphery variants, he has to standardize the language
himself, leaving out many eccentric, hybrid forms of local Englishes as too
unsystematic. In this, the Kachruvian paradigm follows the logic of the
prescriptive and elitist tendencies of the center linguists.
(Canagarajah, 1999: 180)
Looked at together, these three ways of approaching diversity in the face of the
global spread of English – the linguistic fortress defence of other languages, the lingua
franca attempt to describe English as used in negotiated contexts, and the local foci on
Englishes that have become nativized in different parts of the world – we see several
shared features. All three focus largely on form rather than meaning, and all three
posit a core to English that is more or less stable. By assuming that the defence of
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diversity can best be carried out by defending national languages, the linguistic
fortress position works with a vision of hermetic languages that are inherently tied to
national cultures, with diversity lying in the separate cores of language diversity
(English, French, Greek, Japanese, and so on). By attempting to describe what is
common to communication among non-native speakers of English, the ELF approach
aims at the re-creation of a different core, decentred from the former loci of
correctness but re-centred in new canons of intelligible usage. By using a strategy of
pluralization, the World Englishes perspective simultaneously posits a core entity that
is English while excluding any other possibilities that destabilize this vision of many
Englishes. The central concern that the debates between these rival conceptualizations
leave uncontested is how we can understand diversity outside those very frameworks
that are part of the problem. Neither a defence of national languages and cultures, nor
a description of a core of English as a lingua franca, nor even a focus on plural
Englishes adequately addresses the questions of a diversity of meanings. All tend to
focus on English in its own presence, on English as a language with a core. While each
approach provides useful grounds for dealing with English, we are also lacking here a
means to provincialize English (cf. Chakrabarty, 2000), to look at English as a
language in translation.
Translation in an uneven world
There is neither space nor reason here to address translation in all its necessity and
impossibility (cf. Spivak, 2005), so I shall dwell only on some key concerns.
Translation as I am interested in it here is concerned not so much with questions of
literary translation as with concerns about what R. Radhakrishnan (2005) terms
‘translatability in an uneven world’ (p.12). Translation from this point of view is not
so much a method of language teaching or an aspect of comparative literature but
rather is a fundamental player on the global stage. As Spivak (1993: 179) remarks,
drawing on a discussion with Michele Barrett, ‘the politics of translation takes on a
massive life of its own if you see language as the process of meaning-construction’.
From this perspective, it is possible to view all language use as a process of translation,
thus questioning the assumption that translation is a mapping of items from one code
to another. According to George Steiner (1975: 47), ‘inside or between languages,
human communication equals translation. A study of translation is a study of
language’. That is to say that communication between languages presents not so much
the central process of translation but rather a special case: all communication involves
translation. This renders translation as not the peripheral area it has been to much of
applied linguistics, but rather the key to understanding communication. It also
suggests that this boundary we set up between languages, making translation an issue
when we speak ‘different languages’ but not when we speak the ‘same language’ is a
distinction that is hard to maintain.
For Dipesh Chakrabarty (2000: 17), the ‘problem of capitalist modernity cannot
any longer be seen simply as a sociological problem of historical transition . . . but as a
problem of translation, as well’. What Chakrabarty is pointing to here is that we need
to consider very seriously that translation produces ‘neither an absence of relationship
between dominant and dominating forms of knowledge nor equivalents that
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successfully mediate between differences, but precisely the partly opaque relationship
we call ‘‘difference’’’ (p.17). Walter Mignolo (2000: 205) describes Chakrabarty’s
position as signalling ‘the death of history and the beginning of translation as a new
form of knowledge that displaces the hegemonic and subaltern locations of disciplinary
knowledge’. Thus ‘knowledge works as translation and translation works as knowledge, that
is trans- rather than interdisciplinary, undermining disciplinary foundations of
knowledge’ (Mignolo, 2000: 208; original emphasis). As one element of what I
have elsewhere called transgressive theory (Pennycook, 2007) therefore, translation, like
transculturation (rather than the intercultural), makes difference and the need for
boundary transgression central. As Ramanathan (2006b: 229) puts it: ‘Translations of
texts from other languages make us re-think the assemblage of connectedness that we
have assumed as ‘‘natural’’ and ‘‘appropriate’’ in the field, connections that have
become heavily sedimented’.
This way of thinking about translation transgresses rather than maintains
distinctions between languages (see Makoni and Pennycook, 2007). Translation is not
so much a subordinate term to describe a practice between languages or within
classrooms but rather a central aspect of social and global life that challenges the very
notion of languages and their discrete operations. As Spivak suggests with respect to
relations between languages for Indigenous Australians:
Given the rupture between the many languages of Aboriginality and the waves of
migration and colonial adventure clustered around the Industrial Revolution
narrative, demands for multilingual education here become risible. All we have is
bilingualism, bilateral arrangements between idioms understood as essentially or
historically private, on the one side, and English on the other, understood as the
semiotic as such. This is the political violence of translation as transcoding, the
contemporary translation industry about which many of us write.
(Spivak, 2005: 241)
Understanding that we are dealing always with theory and translation in an
uneven world (Radhakrishnan, 2003), that talk of bilingualism or multilingualism in
such contexts is to overlook the vast disparities between languages, is crucial if we are
to see how translation in relation to English can be anything other than transcoding.
If we acknowledge the problem of the dominance of English as ‘the semiotic as
such’, as well as the problem of talking about bi- and multi-lingualism as if these were
the sole answer to issues of diversity, we are left with the question: how else in the
face of English can we pursue diversity? In the same way that we need to move
beyond a focus on linguistic fortresses, lingua francas and local foci, so we also need to
see that a focus on heritage languages, multilingualism or foreign language learning
may not take us far enough. As Kramsch (2006) warns, we need to ask what meanings
are being borne by languages, what cultural politics underlie the learning and use of
different languages. It is not enough to assume that more is better – multilingualism,
multilingual language policies, more foreign language education – in simple numerical
terms (Makoni and Pennycook, 2007). As Radhakrishnan argues:
If colonial modernity at the height of its hubris dreamed of one world, based on
dominance without hegemony’, then a post-modern and post-colonial condition
ENGLISH AS A LANGUAGE ALWAYS IN TRANSLATION 41
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based on the deconstructive truths of a world that is nothing but translation is
indeed well positioned not just to read modernity against its much vaunted
monolingualism, but go well beyond to imagine non binary possibilities regarding
the One and Many (emphasis in original).
(Radhakrishnan, 2005: 21 – 2)
Once again, as with the example of classroom multilingualism above, this flow of
languages in and out of each other is the norm across the world. It is English language
teaching that has sought to prevent this flow (Pennycook, 2005). To take the domain
of hip-hop, for example, it is common to find languages mixed together and used in
complex relations of translation. Whether mixing French, English, Haitian Creole
and Spanish in Montreal (Sarkar and Allen, 2007), Chavacano, Tagalog, Visaya, and
English in Mindanao in the Philippines (Pennycook, 2007), or simply Japanese and
English in Japan, languages are both mixed and dependent on translation for meaning.
Take, for example these lyrics from Japanese D J Tonk (2004) (Move on) where the
English word ‘listen’, written in katakana (rissun), followed by 2 (meaning ‘to’); and
‘our blues moonlight’ (in katakana: buruusu muunraito) is juxtaposed with the
traditional-sounding Japanese (in kanji) ‘under the moonlight’ (tsukiakari no shita).
Here, then, we have the old and the new, English and Japanese, contrasted, mixed
and combined in a way that makes them hard to disentangle.
Conclusion: ELT as translingual activism
Kramsch (2006) points out that while monolingualism should indeed be seen as a
handicap, we should also be wary of an assumption that a language implies an easy
relationship with a culture. Monolingualism, she argues, is the name not only for a
linguistic handicap, but for a dangerously monolithic traffic in meaning. Here, then,
is an argument, following Michael Halliday (2002), that we need to take
semiodiversity as seriously as glossodiversity, the possibility of a multiplicity of meanings
within a language as seriously as a multiplicity of languages (Pennycook, 2004).
This argument urges us to question the epistemologies or linguistic ideologies on
which support for diversity may be based. Thus a rights-based approach to support
for linguistic diversity and opposition to the English-Only movement in the USA, as
Sonntag (2003: 25) points out, ‘has not fundamentally altered the American
projection of its vision of global English . . . because a rights-based approach
to promoting linguistic diversity reinforces the dominant liberal democratic
Lyrics
Transliteration
Translation
rissun
two oretachino
buruusu muunraito
tsukiakari no shita
Listen to our blues
moonlight under the
moonlight.
42 EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF ENGLISH STUDIES
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project rather than dismantling it’. If oppositional strategies are conducted from
within the same framework as that which they oppose, they run the danger of
reproducing those same positions. As I suggested above, this is the trap into which
the language fortress, lingua franca and World Englishes frameworks fall. They
reproduce precisely those ways of thinking about language that they need to get
beyond.
For us as educators, this argument opens up the potential to see our work as
contributing to diversity not only in terms of increasing the number of people
using languages or the number of languages being used, but also in terms of the
breadth of meanings available within a language. This is where the emphasis on
translation is crucial. It is one of the great crimes of the global hegemony of
communicative language teaching over the last few decades that not only did it
promote a monolingual, native-speaker-norm-based, and educationally shallow
version of English (or other languages), but it eschewed the complexity and depth
of understanding language education as a project of translation. Translation, argues
Michael Cronin (2003: 133), plays a crucial role within globalization, since one of
its primary functions is ‘to replenish the intertextual resources of a culture’.
While the responsibility of the translator is conventionally thought of in terms of
giving a fair and accurate representation of a source text, such ‘textual
scrupulousness’ only addresses part of the contemporary responsibility of the
translator, since there must also be ‘an activist dimension to translation which
involves an engagement with the cultural politics of society at national and
international levels’ (134).
This notion of activist translation links to Lawrence Venuti’s (1998)
translingualism, which aims to disrupt the assimilationary and domesticating
tendencies that eradicate difference through translation. Indeed, Venuti’s approach
to translation takes the position that to
shake the regime of English, a translator must be strategic both in selecting
foreign texts and in developing discourses to translate them. Foreign texts can be
chosen to redress patterns of unequal cultural exchange and to restore foreign
literatures excluded by the standard dialect, by literary canons, or by ethnic
stereotypes.
(Venuti, 1998: 10 – 11)
It is important to understand translation here neither in terms of the reductive and
pejorative role it has been given within language teaching (so-called grammar-
translation), nor only as the activity conducted by those who work to translate a text
in one language into another. Rather, it is part of a much broader traffic in meaning. If
language education can see itself not as a functionalist enterprise always in the service
of other agendas (specific purposes) but rather as a practice of translingual activism,
the traffic of meanings would be far better served.
The notion of English as a language in translation (ELT)
2
may sit usefully
alongside the more common use of ELT since it draws attention to the urgency of
dealing with English as always in relation to other languages. There are several
dimensions to this view of ELT as translingual activism. First, is a broad vision of the
global traffic of meaning. When you translate, you enter the traffic, and with the role
ENGLISH AS A LANGUAGE ALWAYS IN TRANSLATION 43
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that English now plays in the world, this is a congested highway. In order to
unsettle the role that English plays in the world, as language educators we need to
bring translation as a broad cultural practice fully into the centre of our practice.
Second, therefore, is the reincorporation of translation into ELT practice, the
recognition that English is always a language in translation. Here we might start to
think in terms of what James Clifford (1997: 39) calls ‘translation terms’ for
opening up questions of difference: ‘a word of apparently general application used
for comparison in a strategic and contingent way. ‘‘Travel’’ has an inextinguishable
taint of location by class, gender, race, and a certain literariness.’ Translation in and
out of English in this uneven world needs a focus on such terms which get us some
distance and fall apart, concepts which in their supposed commonality and globality
may conceal levels of difference that need to be opened up. Finally then, the focus
on activism draws attention to the point that this is not a question of methodology,
of more efficient language use in the classroom, of revelling in difference and the
fascinations of cultural incommensurability; rather, this is a question of unsettling
common relations, not only of entering the traffic but of disrupting the traffic. ELT
as translingual activism is about increasing the possible meanings available to those
we teach.
To take the two terms – translation and activism – as central to the English
language teaching enterprise is to contest current pedagogical discourses in a number
of ways. It is to disregard the long history of translation eschewal, where the use of
languages other than English is denigrated as old-fashioned, as causing interlingual
interference, as the strategy of the non-native teacher who knows no better, as
indelibly tied to the chalk-and-talk methodologies that focus on grammar. It is to
oppose the many interests and complicities that have supported the use of English and
only English in classrooms, where English has been seen as a language that operates
only in its own presence. It is to reintroduce translation in all its complexity into
English language teaching, to open up and explore the many possible meanings that
can start to flow in and out of languages in relation to English. In its focus on activism,
it is to see this as political action, as a way of confronting the possible threats to
diversity posed by English. It is to do so not through the defence of other language
fortresses, or a focus on a new core of English or a plurality of Englishes, bur rather
through a focus on the traffic of meaning. Translingual activism for a language always
in translation such as English presents many challenges but also many possibilities for
the English language teacher.
Notes
1 A reference to Kachru’s 3-circle model, where the expanding circle refers to all those
countries where English is learned and used as a ‘foreign’ (rather than a ‘second’ or
‘native’) language.
2 This is a form of discursive disruption in relation to the overly stable acronyms of the
ELT world. I have similarly proposed (Pennycook, 2001) that Languages other than
English (LOTE) might be replaced by LOBE, languages othered by English, or that
the ‘F’ in TEFL might be better considered as ‘feral’ rather than foreign (Pennycook,
2004): Teaching English as a Feral Language.
44 EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF ENGLISH STUDIES
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46 EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF ENGLISH STUDIES
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Alastair Pennycook is concerned with how we understand language in relation to
globalization, colonial history, identity, popular culture and pedagogy. He has been
involved in English language teaching for many years and worked as an English teacher
in England, Germany, Japan, China, Canada and Hong Kong. Publications include The
Cultural Politics of English as an International Language (Longman, 1994), English and the
Discourses of Colonialism (Routledge, 1998), Critical Applied Linguistics: A Critical
Introduction (Lawrence Erlbaum, 2001) and Global Englishes and Transcultural Flows
(Routledge, 2007). He is Professor of Language in Education at the University of
Technology Sydney. Address: City Campus, 235 Jones Street Ultimo, 15 Broadway,
Ultimo, NSW 2007, Australia. [email: Alastair.Pennycook@uts.edu.au]
ENGLISH AS A LANGUAGE ALWAYS IN TRANSLATION 47
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