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A Global Language without a Global Culture: From Basic English to Global English



The idea that people should have a common language has long been an ideal. Moreover, the heated discussions that have been taking place with regard to globalization have led to some speculations on the existence of a global culture, which may be accompanied by a global language. By comparing the Basic English movement in the first half of the twentieth century with the rise of global English over the last two decades, this paper argues that a global language alone will not lead to a global culture. The argument is supported by two main rationales: first, English functions as a value-stripped instrument, and second, a multilingual reality has emerged in recent years. Instead of leading to a global culture, English as a global language and tool expresses and constitutes a part of various local cultures which appropriate the use of English according to their own purposes. The majority of people will continue to think in a language other than English, while still being aware of its hegemonic power. While a rootless, neutral language could never become a common language, a language with numerous roots around the world may be able to achieve the status of a global lingua franca. However, these cultural roots force the language to constantly change, instilling new cultural elements. Thus English as a global language implies fluid, dynamic and often fragmented language use, nested in a multilingual landscape, very different from what is usually conceived of as a common world language.
1 Associate Professor, Department of Foreign Languages and Applied Linguistics, Yuan Ze
University, Taiwan.
Corresponding author, E-mail:
A Global Language without a Global Culture:
From Basic English to Global English
I-Chung Ke1
The idea that people should have a common language has long been an
ideal. Moreover, the heated discussions that have been taking place with regard to
globalization have led to some speculations on the existence of a global culture,
which may be accompanied by a global language. By comparing the Basic English
movement in the rst half of the twentieth century with the rise of global English
over the last two decades, this paper argues that a global language alone will not
lead to a global culture. e argument is supported by two main rationales: rst,
English functions as a value-stripped instrument, and second, a multilingual
reality has emerged in recent years. Instead of leading to a global culture, English
as a global language and tool expresses and constitutes a part of various local
cultures which appropriate the use of English according to their own purposes.
e majority of people will continue to think in a language other than English,
while still being aware of its hegemonic power. While a rootless, neutral language
could never become a common language, a language with numerous roots around
the world may be able to achieve the status of a global lingua franca. However,
these cultural roots force the language to constantly change, instilling new cultural
elements. Thus English as a global language implies fluid, dynamic and often
fragmented language use, nested in a multilingual landscape, very dierent from
what is usually conceived of as a common world language.
Keywords: globalization; global English; English as an international language
(EIL); lingua franca
English as a Global Language Education (EaGLE) Journal: Vol. 1 No.1 (2015) 65-87
© Foreign Language Center, National Cheng Kung University & Airiti Press Inc.
EaGLE Journal 1(1), 2015
1. Introduction
It seems natural for human beings to aspire to a common world
language, as this is expected to prevent miscommunication among people
who otherwise speak different languages. This goal has been voiced with
particular urgency during ethnic or national conicts, such as the Second
World War. This is because a common language was thought to be a
solution to the development of tensions and animosity between groups
of people speaking dierent languages. Britains Secretary of the National
Council on Commercial Education, J. H. Bennetton, expressed this view
clearly in 1944:
Is it really a fact that the existence of so many media for verbal
expression indicate a backward condition in the progress of
humanity? Is the world forever to remain supine to the conflict
of tongues? Should not the peoples of the world have access to
each other by some general language? Will not such a thing tend
towards a unification of views and aims among all peoples,
with the consequent lessening of the liability of wars? (Bennetton,
1944, p. 99)
A common language was thus believed to symbolize progress and unity,
as well as a way to avoid conflicts. This belief in a lingua franca may be
traced to the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, in which God punished
the ambition to build a tower that could reach Heaven by breaking up the
existing common language into many dierent ones. e fact that dierent
groups of people speak dierent languages was thus not explained by their
different cultural traditions and environments, but rather due to divine
intervention that sought to delay Mans evolution towards divinity.
A common world language thus became a symbol of progress, and
considerable eorts were made to create and promote a global lingua franca.
e pursuit of progress and justice were two goals of the Enlightenment, the
foundation of western civilization. With the dominance of the West in the
last few centuries, such a worldview that stresses the value of progress and
justice has been overwhelming the rest of the world, and some American
A Global Language without a Global Culture: From Basic English to Global English
scholars even refer to this as a “world culture” (see Lechner & Boli, 2005).
In recent decades, as globalization has intensied, the spread of a so-called
world culture, or a worldview based on scientic rationality and individual
human rights, has also widened. More and more young people now take
the idea of progress for granted. Meanwhile, they also come to assume that
a common world language means progress, a better world, and a global
culture (see Inkeles, 1998). e debate on the topic of “global culture” has
been lively among social scientists and anthropologists (e.g., Anderson-
Levitt, 2004; Robertson, 1992; Van Der Bly, 2007), and this discourse
continues to be inuential in the twenty-rst century.
From an Asian perspective, the Tower of Babel is a myth and an
unfortunate legacy for the West, and illustrates the Western mentality of
wanting to conquer Mother Nature. A common language thus functions as
a necessary step towards the ultimate goal, which is to become God, control
the world, and manipulate nature. It is supposed that if all people share a
common language, they can achieve more. But what should they achieve?
In whose interests are such achievements? e linguist Robert Phillipson
(1992) regards the efforts to promote English as a global language as a
form of imperialism. Moreover, the global spread of English has often
been blamed for the death of other languages, and thus English is seen
as a predator in the linguistic ecology (see Mühlhäusler, 1994; Skutnabb-
Kangas, 1998), though many other scholars (e.g., Crystal, 2004; Saraceni,
2009) posit that national languages should shoulder more of the blame for
this. However, much deliberate work has been carried out to make English
a lingua franca (e.g., by the British Council), and this has indeed beneted
the world in certain respects, while also having negative consequences. Still,
the development of English as a global language is gradually evolving into
something dierent from the vision of a common world language.
The argument is that a global language
in a narrow sense, the
linguistic system functioning at the global level
functions more as a tool
than as a cultural symbol. People speaking the same language, particularly
a global language, increasingly have different cultural experiences and
values. Language dierences used to be blamed as the cause of intercultural
EaGLE Journal 1(1), 2015
conflicts, but conflicts also come from differences in values, beliefs,
worldviews, and people’s interpretation of the meaning of life. As Nettle
and Romaine (2000) argue, “Disputes involving language are not really
about language, but instead about fundamental inequalities between groups
who happen to speak dierent languages” (p. 19). In short, it is “culture,
not language, that matters more in terms of conicts around the world. So
it would be too optimistic to assume the rise of a harmonious global culture
as a result of the emergence of English as a global lingua franca. e course
of the “clash of civilizations” (Huntington, 1996), in which major cultural
blocks in the world (e.g., Christian, Islamic, and Chinese) run into conicts
with each other, would probably continue, even despite the emergence of a
common language.
2. Thesis of the Paper
Various artificial auxiliary languages, such as Esperanto and Ido,
seemed promising a century ago, but later proved to be futile. Recently, the
rise of English as a global language has revived the ideal underlying these
earlier eorts, but this paper argues that a global language alone will not
lead to a global culture. is is because language functions as one of several
communication channels. English as a global language will thus not create
a global culture, and, for the foreseeable future, the world will remain
fragmented, even if most people will be able to use English to communicate
with each other.
This argument is supported first by a comparison between the
movement of Basic English before and after the Second World War, and
the current phenomenon of “global English” (with English becoming
the world’s lingua franca). The story of Basic English and the current
conditions of global English are briefly delineated, highlighting the main
issues of concern to this paper. This comparison intends to demonstrate
that language as a human tool spreads in accordance with human needs
and evolves with human culture. Moreover, the environment plays a more
important role than language in nurturing a global culture. A global
language may thus be an element of a global culture, but it will not lead to a
A Global Language without a Global Culture: From Basic English to Global English
global culture.
en two main rationales that support the main thesis are as follows.
e rst is related to the instrumental role of global English, and the second
concerns the implications of a multilingual world.
3. Basic English vs. Global English
Basic English represents an intentional effort to spread English as a
world lingua franca by simplifying and regularizing the standard form of
the language. Due to the impact of the two world wars in the rst half of
the twentieth century, the Basic English movement was born from the idea
that a common language might help eliminate miscommunications and
thus misunderstandings, leading to world peace. While Basic English failed
to achieve its goal of becoming a lingua franca, decades later the English
language has quietly established itself as the de facto global language. Why
did Basic English fail? And why could English spread so widely decades
later? Comparing the stories of these two language reveals some important
3.1 Basic English
Due to the myth of the Tower of Babel and the chaotic global situation
in the nineteenth century, many Western linguists and non-linguists
alike envisioned the creation of international auxiliary languages (IALs)
to serve as a common world language. Most IALs, including the more
popular Esperanto and Ido, were based on European languages. IALs were
created because it was thought that using an existing language as a lingua
franca would unequally favor the people who already spoke it as their rst
language, and would cause resistance from and discomfort for speakers
of other languages. Neutrality was thus the biggest advantage of IALs, in
addition to the regular rules which made them easier to learn than natural
But IALs remained scholarly creations, not the useful communication
tools that they were planned to be. One main criticism was that they were
EaGLE Journal 1(1), 2015
dead languages, only skeletons (forms) without flesh (culture) (Harrison,
1997; Kamman, 1942). A language without cultural foundations can not
exist on its own. Language users make a language come alive. Building
the cultural base for IALs proved to be a much more difficult project
than creating IALs. Moreover, though IALs claim to be neutral, they are,
however, still founded on some elements in natural languages. Indeed, IALs
cannot be totally unrelated to any language, as if this were the case then
people would not be able to use their own linguistic repertoires to learn
any of them. So the advantages of neutrality and the ease with which an
IAL may be learned are in fact conicting. e more neutral an IAL is, the
less easy it is to learn. As a result, IALs remain academic projects of little
practical use.
Realizing the problems with IALs, Charles Kay Ogden, a linguist at
Cambridge University, proposed a compromise between an IAL and a
natural language in the form of Basic English, which is simplied English
with 850 core words and regularized grammar (Ogden, 1930). The idea
came from a belief that the First World War was a consequence of a lack of
rational communication, which was attributed to the lack of a lingua franca.
Basic English started as an instructional tool for beginners, and since
Ogden envisioned it to be a global lingua franca, it evolved into a semi-IAL.
Ogden’s close friend and colleague, Ivor Armstrong Richards, experimented
with Basic English in China. He was invited to be a visiting professor at
Tsing Hua University in 1929, spending several years using Basic English
to teach Chinese students in the foreign-languages department during the
1930s. As Koeneke (2004, pp. 2-9) documents, Richards saw Basic English
as a useful tool to bring Western culture to China, thus facilitating the
country’s modernization. The Basic English movement failed when the
Communists seized many parts of the world, while newly independent
nations revealed their discomfort about using a language based on that
of a former empire (Britain) and a potential new empire (the U.S.). An
endorsement by Winston Churchill further amplified the concerns from
non-English-speaking countries. By the late 1960s Basic English as a semi-
IAL was mostly forgotten. Its remaining value rested in functioning as
A Global Language without a Global Culture: From Basic English to Global English
a simplified form of English to assist beginners. Even though websites
in Basic English that are maintained by the organization which Ogden
established, as well as its aliates, still exist, few people know about Basic
English and its regularized rules.
Before the end of the Second World War, critiques of Basic English
had already pointed out possible reasons for its failure. Reynolds (1944)
speaking for Rotary International, the world’s first international service
club organization, oered no support for Basic English, stating “Basic won’t
remain static very long where it is in contact with regular English.” He
It becomes clear, therefore, that Basic, instead of being a
universal language, is merely a useful introduction to the
English language. That being the case, we may expect non-
English-speaking peoples to look upon Basic as an effort to
promote the use of the English language. (p. 173)
A compromised IAL, or a regularized natural language, would disintegrate
when it comes into contact with its mother language. So real English used
by real people would “irregularize” Basic English and make it similar to
just another variety of English. Language is always changing, and this
process is dynamic, but IALs failed to take language contact and change
into consideration. e evaluation of Basic English as a tool for beginners
turned out to be closer to reality than its inventors may have supposed.
Other nations were skeptical about eorts to promote Basic English as an
IAL, and, judging from Richards’ intention to package Western cultures
into Basic English (Koeneke, 2004), their doubts were legitimate. However,
this is a critical obstacle for all IALs, and how global English has overcome
it will be discussed later.
Being neutral also turned out to be a problem, not a solution. A
language without culture has no purpose in the real world, and IALs proved
merely to be experimental constructs used only by a small group of IAL
fans. A language grows and lives with its users, not its creators:
EaGLE Journal 1(1), 2015
The trouble with all the “universal” languages is that the juices
of life are simply not in them. They are the creations of scholars
drowning in murky oceans of dead prefixes and suffixes, and
so they fail to meet the needs of a highly human world. People
do not yearn for a generalized articulateness; what they want
is the capacity to communicate with definite other people.
(Mencken, 1944, p. 36)
So Basic English fell into disuse, and now we turn to the present situation
to evaluate the current spread of English as a world lingua franca. After
a brief description of the current situation, a comparison between Basic
English and global English will focus on why the latter has achieved what
the former could not.
3.2 Global English
e term “Global English” comes from David Graddol’s (2006) report
on the situation of English at a global level, and David Crystal’s famous
book English as a Global Language (2003). Most people know that English
serves as an international or global language used in communication
among people from different nations, languages, or cultures. But what
many people are not aware of is that gradually English is also being used
by people who share another common language other than English, and
sometimes even the same mother tongue, on certain occasions. These
people have the option to use a lingua franca other than English or their
own mother language, but instead they use English for various reasons.
Global English implies more than English as a world lingua franca. It
implies English is used on various occasions at local, national, regional, and
international levels to the extent that its penetration reaches a global scale.
English is the language of science, technology, academia, youth culture,
mass media, and business, to name a few of the most common fields.
Scientists use English to write their research reports and present their
work, even if most of the audience shares the authors’ mother language or
there exists another lingua franca that may convey the authors’ ideas better.
New technology developed by non-English speakers is now usually named,
A Global Language without a Global Culture: From Basic English to Global English
explained, and its manuals written in English. More and more universities
around the world offer courses or even programs taught in English.
In Taiwan the phenomenon of using professional textbooks written in
English at the tertiary level has been around for decades, and students are
increasingly not only required to read in English, but also listen to English
explanations, turn in assignments and exams written in English, and make
presentations in English, even though the class, including the teacher, has
the option of using their mother tongue or common language (Mandarin)
to communicate better with each other.
The invasion of English in youth culture and mass media is more
subtle and usually in hybrid forms. English words become part of youth
culture, and because most new ideas and products are conveyed through
English (the result of English as the working language of science and
academia), local media are forced to use some English words or phrases to
relay the information. Moreover, the dominance of global mass media that
use mostly English in their programs and products further reies it role as
a global language.
In business, as globalization intensifies, English is growing into
something more than a lingua franca, almost similar to what has happened
in science and academia. The process is on-going, and since many
businesses may remain regional instead of global, it still seems possible
that other major languages, such as Chinese or Spanish, will continue to be
used in this context. But the trend is clear, and Nickerson (2007) showed
that more and more companies require employees to obtain a certain level
of English proficiency. Similarly, Harzing and Pudelko (2013) found that
most multinational corporations (MNCs) outside of Asia use English as
an official language, and while most MNCs in Asia still use their local
languages, although that has been an increase in the adoption of English as
the company language (at 41% of the Asian companies surveyed) in order
to be compatible with MNCs in other regions of the world.
e fact that the spread of English has accelerated in the last decade or
two may also be attributed to “network eects,” a term used in business to
describe the phenomenon that the greater the number of users, the greater
EaGLE Journal 1(1), 2015
value a service or technology has, and this in turn attracts more users. e
growth in the number of users follows a curve: at the beginning there are
few users, and the growth is slow, but once the number of users passes a
certain threshold (or “critical mass,” a term used by the network scholars
Michael Katz and Carl Shapiro [1994]), making the focal technology much
more valuable, this user network then expands exponentially. The effect
is exemplied by communication tools such as the telephone, cell phone,
internet, and, more recently, social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
When half of your friends and contacts use a certain communication tool,
you are almost forced to adopt it if you need or wish to communicate with
In the case of English, if it is perceived as a communication tool,
then it global spread shows some resemblances to that of other such tools.
When more and more people in your community adopt English, you have
to learn it to communicate with them. The reason why more people in
our “contact circle” may use English is because this circle has expanded
with globalization. Globalization has also transformed how business is
conducted, with global supply chains and MNCs now the norm.
At present the continued spread of English seems inevitable, but many
scholars, such as Crystal and Graddol, are well aware of the possibility of
the emergence of another global language, in particular considering the
rapid advances in communication technology, which should speed up the
related network eects. New communication tools may thus replace older
ones in a shorter period of time.
Like other communication tools, English, if adopted worldwide, has
huge implications for people’s daily lives, although these may be even
greater, for a number of reasons. One of these concerns identity. The
relationship between what language you use and who you are is much
closer than the connection between what mobile phone you use and your
identity. Joseph (2004) asserts that “identity is a linguistic phenomenon
(p. 11), so identity issues are important in the discourse of global English.
While the concept of identity mostly involves how individuals see and
define themselves, at a collective level this belongs to the broad topic of
A Global Language without a Global Culture: From Basic English to Global English
culture. Traditionally language and culture are linked together, with the
latter seen as the esh of a language. To learn a language, you must know its
But global English transcends this connection, because the relationship
between English users and the English language falls outside the traditional
paradigm. Moreover, new English users, as opposed to native speakers,
bring new constituents into the language. e issue of ownership, namely,
who owns English, has also surfaced as a crucial topic (Widdowson, 1994).
Some studies (Bokhorst-Heng, Alsago, McKay, & Rubdy, 2007; Ke, 2010;
Matsuda, 2003) show that the emancipative idea that learners can gain
ownership of English remains an ideal, since most non-native learners and
users still appear to be norm-dependent. Although Ha (2009) stated that
Asian international students in ailand did achieve a sense of ownership
of English, very few studies have reported similar results. It seems more
likely that they would develop a unique relationship with English located
somewhere between being an owner and a total stranger (Ke, 2012).
In addition to identity, culture, and ownership, one thing that
distinguishes English from other communication tools is that it takes a
relatively a long time to adopt. While it may take a few weeks or at most
several months to learn how to use new communication tools, English can
take years. e reason why teaching English is more lucrative than teaching
computer skills lies in the difficulty involved in acquiring it. The English
language teaching (ELT) industry creates millions of jobs worldwide, and is
still growing. When English is redened as mainly a communication tool,
this new role prompts calls for a new paradigm for worldwide ELT (Saraceni,
2009). In the elds of applied linguistics and ELT, one major controversy
concerns the implications of the global spread of English for ELT (see
Seidlhofer, 2003). Such discussions center on the extent to which English
should be decoupled from its first-language speech communities and
cultures, since English is no longer a national language, but an international
or global one. is paradigm shi (see Pakir, 2009) has great implications
for the ELT industry, which has generally recognized global English as a
real phenomenon.
EaGLE Journal 1(1), 2015
3.3 Failure as the mother of success: Comparing
basic English and global English
It may be argued that the world evolved from “modernization” to
globalization” over the last century. Modernization is associated with
nationalism; consequently in the phase of nation-building, establishing
a national language outweighed the need for a global lingua franca.
The United States had already established itself as the most powerful
nation in the world after its victory in the Second World War, and as a
result its people developed the idea of promoting a lingua franca for the
sake of world peace. The golden years of IALs coincided with the peak
of nationalism in Europe, and this indicates that the need for national
identity helped create the need for IALs. e neutrality of IALs makes them
appealing to nationalists, and the fact that Basic English was a derivative
of a natural language did not quell worries about linguistic imperialism.
Most nations during periods of nationalism focused on developing their
own national languages. ey thus oen construed eorts to promote Basic
English as a lingua franca as a means for the United States and England to
exert their dominance on the world stage.
Another reason for the failure of Basic English was that the
environment during the period when it was rst promoted did not provide
the conditions required for a global lingua franca. ere must be literacy
first before the need for such a language arises. If people have limited
linguistic knowledge in any language, the idea of a lingua franca appears
unrealistic. A developed infrastructure and good social organizations are
thus prerequisites for a global lingua franca, and modernization over the
past half century paved the foundation for global English. Literacy in the
national language helps establish national identity. When national identity
is not in doubt, English as a lingua franca seems less threatening. Speaking
English should not aect national identity, since most citizens have much
better competence in the national language than English, which plays an
auxiliary role.
Of course, the end of the Cold War has something to do with the
spread of English. Language has always been and will continue to be a
A Global Language without a Global Culture: From Basic English to Global English
political tool. Aer the 1990s, global economic integration increased, thus
creating a greater need for a global lingua franca. Practical needs instead
of a vision of world peace based on progressive values (global culture)
are what made English a world lingua franca. e contrast between Basic
English and global English illustrates one of the main arguments of this
paper: a global lingua franca is just a communication tool, and should
not be associated with a global culture. A global language serves the
needs of people around the world, who appropriate their usage of this
communication tool for their own purposes. Two rationales in support of
the argument above are elaborated below.
4. Global English as an Instrument
Putting the controversy of the definitions of native and non-native
speakers aside, it has become clear in recent years that there are more
multilingual English speakers in the world compared with the number
of monolingual English native speakers. For monolingual English native
speakers, English is more than a language tool, as it is an essential part of
their lives. However, for multilingual English speakers, who have several
options when deciding which languages to use, English may be regarded as
just one of their communication tools. When speakers have only one tool
to use for their whole life, this often becomes part of the family, is given
a name, or occupies a special place in their minds. If people have several
similar tools to use, the meanings associated with one of them will be
dierent from when there is only one such tool available. Moreover, if the
tool is a new one acquired aer another is already been in ones repertoire,
then the feelings attached to the new tool tend to be distant and it may be
seen as dispensable. For the majority of English users, English is a new
communication tool they have acquired to help them survive. ey learn
English to communicate with the world, to have access to their professional
fields, and in some cases to better equip themselves to achieve their
goals, even though they may not have to use it. Knowledge of American
or British cultures may be helpful when they need to communicate
with native speakers, but increasingly their interactions are with other
EaGLE Journal 1(1), 2015
multilingual speakers, whose number and power continue to grow, forcing
native speakers to adjust their use of English from a cultural language to
a practical communication tool. Idioms and cultural expressions, either
based on inner-circle or other cultural norms, may become communication
barriers when English is used in international or global settings. Its role
as a communication tool is strengthened with the increasing number of
multilingual speakers who use it on intercultural occasions.
e argument is not that English can only be a tool and nothing else,
but rather its function as a tool corresponds to its role as a global language.
A global language exists mostly for the practical needs of communication
and (less so) standardization. It can be seen as one of the standardizing
infrastructures that modern science and scientific thinking helped create
to rationalize the world. This is an argument that neo-institutionalists in
sociology have posited for decades (for more details on neo-instutionalism,
see Drori, Meyer, Ramirez, & Schofer, 2003; Lechner & Boli, 2005). Global
English is evolving into one of the converging means to achieve diverging
ends (Ke & Wu, 2007). As an instrument, English serves various purposes
with diverse values. So if culture means the values, beliefs, and worldviews
of a group of people, global English will not lead to a global culture, because
it will be used to promote different values, beliefs, and worldviews.
The use of this communication tool seems to polarize between
simple daily use and professional use. Many (non-native) English users
have a limited proficiency level which allows them to engage in daily
communications but not exchange abstract ideas or carry out deeper
interactions. Instead, they use simple English to achieve their immediate
goals. On the other end of the spectrum, professional English users have
special usages in their own elds. It may thus be common that they have
sufficient linguistic knowledge in their own field, but not in other ones,
as they use English for specific purposes, in specific situations, and with
specic interlocutors. In both cases, English serves as a tool, an instrument
to meet their practical needs. In simple English, most cultural contents
are universal, like daily routines or general information. Thus it may be
argued that simple English is “culture-free.” On the other hand, in the
A Global Language without a Global Culture: From Basic English to Global English
case of English for specific purposes, the cultural contents are mostly
based on professional knowledge and communities, not associated with,
and different from, a specific national culture. There are certain values,
beliefs, and worldviews in these professional elds, but they are more like
professional cultures rather than anything close to something that could be
called “English” culture.
Global English may also interact with other communication tools,
and may be used as a semiotic tool. Just as Arabic numbers have become
part of many languages, many English terms may become embedded in
other languages and cultures. That is, language users would not see such
terms as foreign, but instead as part of their own languages and cultures.
As Pennycook (2007) argues, English users appropriate English, turning
it into something that fits their needs. “Customization” is the new trend
in business, meaning that even though a product may come in a standard
form, individuals can adjust its features to better suit their needs. In a
similar way, English users may “customize” their communication tool to t
their particular contexts and needs.
When global English serves as a global tool, it will not lead to a global
culture. Instead, it helps create diverse cultures. It facilitates cultural mixing
and hybridization by providing a communication and semiotic tool (see
examples in popular culture [Lee & Moody, 2012], pop music [Chan, 2009],
and TV programs [Lee, 2014]). As semiotic representations, English terms
may be included in local, national, and regional cultures. If a global culture
should develop, English would thus be an important part of it. Indeed, this
argument does not posit that there will be no such global culture, but only
that global English will not lead to it. Other forces may cause the birth
of a global culture, and English may be an instrument used by these to
achieve their goals. But what leads to a global culture are these forces, and
not global English itself. Moreover, when these forces do not exist, global
English cannot bring about a global culture on its own.
A comparison between the English language and the US dollar further
illustrates the instrumentality of global English. During the 1990s, the US
dollar was widely used in many parts of the world as a “common currency,
EaGLE Journal 1(1), 2015
especially in black markets. This was because there was a need for a
common currency that people could convert it to any other, and the US
dollar was adopted not only because of Americas political power but also
users’ needs. The US did not and could not force black markets to adopt
the US dollar as a common currency. Instead, there was a need, and the US
happened to have the most reliable currency. Similarly, English became
a world lingua franca for the same reasons. The US dollar as a common
currency brought benets as well as problems to the US, as so does English
as a lingua franca to English-speaking countries. Calls for other currencies
to function as the foreign exchange reserve in addition to the US dollar
have emerged with the rise of the European Union and the BRICs (Brazil,
Russia, India, and China) as major economies. Similarly, other major
languages may challenge Englishs hegemony in the global “language
market” when new situations develop.
Differences in values, beliefs, and worldviews will not disappear
because people understand these dierences with the assistance of a lingua
franca. Indeed, such understandings may further increase the dierences. It
is humans that use the tool, not the tool that changes humans, although the
tool may inuence its users.
5. A Multilingual World
e shi from monolingual-nationalism to multilingual-globalization
has enabled English to achieve its status as a world lingua franca. But
people growing up in the era of nationalism may still perceive the world
through a monolingual lens, associating language directly with culture and
identity. What multilingualism brings are complex relationships between
language on the one hand and culture and identity on the other. Several
new terms have been used to describe this emergent multilingual reality:
metrolingualism (Otsuji & Pennycook, 2010), plurilingualism (Piccardo,
2013), and translingualism (Canagarajah, 2013). In all the discussions
on this new reality, the hybrid and fluid nature of the concept “culture”
suggests a fuzzy picture with regard to the relationship between English
and culture.
A Global Language without a Global Culture: From Basic English to Global English
English as a global language plays a different role from that of a
common world language described in the Biblical story of the Tower of
Babel. Global English is not the main “soware” of the mind for its users,
who may have another language or a combination of several languages
playing this role. Sometimes knowledge in English only functions
symbolically to assist to other languages. In other cases it is critical for
heavy users. There is a great variety of English usage in the multilingual
landscape. is multilingual picture contrasts with the common language
projection in which all people have sucient linguistic competence to fully
communicate with each other, as if they shared the culture of the common
Examples that illustrate the shi from monolingualism-nationalization
to multilingualism-globalization abound. In mass media, it has become
quite common to witness the use of more than one language, at least the
national language and English, as can be seen in ai mass media (Snodin,
2014), Korean television (Lee, 2014), and Hong Kong popular music (Chan,
2009). Multilingual online users also switch between different languages
to perform different local and global identities (Barton & Lee, 2013). In
linguistic landscapes such as street signs and public posts, multilingual
display has also been on the rise (Gorter & Shohamy, 2009). In Taiwan’s
night markets, bilingual menus are not uncommon (Ke & Kuo, 2013).
When language is perceived and used as a tool, people would wish to
have as many as possible. With the advancement of science and technology,
it seems reasonable that the threshold of learning a new language will
lower. Brain-scientists have informed us that human beings only use a
small portion of the brain, and human beings have great potentials to learn
more. Learning several languages is not only possible, but also desired,
particularly for non-English speakers (Kramsch, 2009), while less so for
native English speakers (Demont-Heinrich, 2010).
With the global spread of English, nowadays most schools in non-
English-speaking countries offer more than one language (at least the
national language and English) starting from the primary level (Cha, 2007).
The majority of the world population would have a linguistic repertoire
EaGLE Journal 1(1), 2015
based on more than one language. Multilingual people have multiple lenses
to perceive and interpret the world, using dierent languages based on their
own needs and purposes. Code-mixing and code-switching become normal
and usual. New technologies and lifestyles prompt more frequent language
contacts, propelling the speed of language change.
However, multilingualism does not imply increasing linguistic
diversity. People become multilingual because they want to have as many
valuable language tools as possible. As a result, less useful language tools
are abandoned, and valuable tools gain more popularity. Small languages
keep dying while strong languages thrive along with English. Strong
languages are the languages of powerful nations or regional languages. e
multilingual world is not as diverse as a multicultural world. As Dor (2004)
claims, globalization implies “imposed multilingualism,” suggesting that
language learners would converge their choices to a few major languages,
which would then provide the linguistic foundations for diverse cultures.
Language plays an important role in a culture, but as the boundaries
between cultures break down, increasingly it is culture that shapes the
evolution of a language. How language users use the language determines
how the language evolves. In a monolingual society in which people have
only one language tool, they are more likely (often forced) to use what
is given. Languages change slowly and rarely, while the environment has
changed so dramatically that wielding several language tools is no longer
a privilege of linguists or translators. If culture shapes the development
of a language, then English as a global language would be molded by the
dierent cultures of its users, instead of leading to a global culture.
6. Conclusion
Global English provides people with a common linguistic tool to
create meanings and to express their cultures. It serves as an additional
language to the national language, which constitutes the major linguistic
foundation for most people in the world. The lesson from the failure of
Basic English is that it shows that when a common language is advocated to
A Global Language without a Global Culture: From Basic English to Global English
promote certain values (world peace from the Western perspective) without
decoupling from its embedded culture, speakers of other languages would
not share similar visions and values, and may not be interested in using it.
e prevalence of global English is based on the premise that it facilitates
cultural ows and allows for appropriation and hybridization by its users.
e addition of English into a speaker’s linguistic repertoire does not mean
that the speaker becomes part of the English speech community (which is
associated with English-speaking countries) (Pennycook, 2010). e nature
of global English lies in its being a local practice utilized as a local linguistic
and semiotic tool. erefore global English does not necessarily reinforce
the dominance of Anglo-American culture, nor induce a mélange global
culture. e world may witness the emergence of a common lingua franca,
but conicts and struggles among dierent groups of people will continue
to persist.
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This book explores the development, content, and impact of world culture. Combining several of the most fruitful theoretical perspectives on world culture, including the world polity approach and globalization theory, the book gives a historical treatment of the development of world culture and assesses the complex impact of world culture on people, organizations, and societies. This is a provocative, synthetic, and grounded interpretation of world culture that is essential for any student or scholar of globalization and world affairs. Traces world culture back from the mid-19th century to the present day Includes numerous illustrations of key issues and empirical research Written in lively, accessible language for the student and general scholar.
Language as a Local Practice addresses the questions of language, locality and practice as a way of moving forward in our understanding of how language operates as an integrated social and spatial activity. By taking each of these three elements - language, locality and practice - and exploring how they relate to each other, Language as a Local Practice opens up new ways of thinking about language. It questions assumptions about languages as systems or as countable entities, and suggests instead that language emerges from the activities it performs. To look at language as a practice is to view language as an activity rather than a structure, as something we do rather than a system we draw on, as a material part of social and cultural life rather than an abstract entity. Language as a Local Practice draws on a variety of contexts of language use, from bank machines to postcards, Indian newspaper articles to fish-naming in the Philippines, urban graffiti to mission statements, suggesting that rather than thinking in terms of language use in context, we need to consider how language, space and place are related, how language creates the contexts where it is used, how languages are the products of socially located activities and how they are part of the action. Language as a Local Practice will be of interest to students on advanced undergraduate and post graduate courses in Applied Linguistics, Language Education, TESOL, Literacy and Cultural Studies.
The English language is spreading across the world, and so too is hip-hop culture: both are being altered, developed, reinterpreted, reclaimed. This timely book explores the relationship between global Englishes (the spread and use of diverse forms of English within processes of globalization) and transcultural flows (the movements, changes and reuses of cultural forms in disparate contexts). This wide-ranging study focuses on the ways English is embedded in other linguistic contexts, including those of East Asia, Australia, West Africa and the Pacific Islands. Drawing on transgressive and performative theory, Pennycook looks at how global Englishes, transcultural flows and pedagogy are interconnected in ways that oblige us to rethink language and culture within the contemporary world. Global Englishes and Transcultural Flows is a valuable resource to applied linguists, sociolinguists, and students on cultural studies, English language studies, TEFL and TESOL courses.
Translingual Practice: Global Englishes and Cosmopolitan Relations introduces a new way of looking at the use of English within a global context. Challenging traditional approaches in second language acquisition and English language teaching, this book incorporates recent advances in multilingual studies, sociolinguistics, and new literacy studies to articulate a new perspective on this area. Canagarajah argues that multilinguals merge their own languages and values into English, which opens up various negotiation strategies that help them decode other unique varieties of English and construct new norms. Incisive and groundbreaking, this will be essential reading for anyone interested in multilingualism, world Englishes and intercultural communication.