Book 2: Chapter 6
English and other languages
Kay McCormick
Dr. Amel Salah
• 6.1 Introduction
• As you know from earlier chapters, English has coexisted throughout its history with other languages
across nations, institutions and communities. Earlier
chapters have discussed how contact with other
languages has affected the development of English
— from the influence of Scandinavian languages and
Norman French on Old and Middle English (Chapter
2) to the distinctive features of New Englishes in
several parts of the world (Chapters 3 and 5). This
chapter continues the discussion of language
contact, focusing on the status and use of English
alongside other languages in contemporary
multilingual contexts.
• Bilingual individuals and communities
commonly deploy their languages in
complementary ways, using one language for
some functions and others for other
functions. The selections are often made
unconsciously, being based in habitual
patterns. The patterns, in turn, are shaped by
the circumstances under which English came
considerations, and by qualities associated
with each language. As a result, people may
be very ambivalent about a language.
• For example, they may value it because they
see it as giving access to certain economic
benefits and upward social mobility, but also
dislike it because it is the mother tongue of
people -who oppress (ed) them. English has
been and still is the subject of this kind of
ambivalence, particularly in former British
colonies. Thus, as we will see in this chapter,
the spread of English among speakers of other
languages receives both support and
• A note on terminology:
• Most of the phenomena discussed here occur in
both bilingual and multilingual communities.
sometimes the terms 'bilingual' and 'bilingualism‘
are used as general terms to avoid awkward
repetition of 'bilingual and multilingual', or
'bilingualism and multilingualism'.
• By home language(s), the writer means the
language(s) habitually used in a home and acquired
by its children. The scope of the term is similar to
'first language', but it allows for the fact that in
some homes it isn't clear that one language is 'first'
in the sense of being acquired first or in the sense of
• Sometimes the writer refers to people who use
English, rather than to people who speak English,
for two reasons. First, the term reminds us that in
the contemporary world, there are many people
who frequently read English (on the internet) but
seldom speak it. Second, it is an appropriate way
of referring to people who use some of the
resources of the English language for limited
purposes, but don't have sufficient proficiency in
it to be seen by themselves or by others as
'English speakers'.
• 6.2 Encounters with English
• In countries where it is a foreign language, such as
those in Kachru's 'Expanding Circle' (Kachru, 1992),
the school classroom is the main site where speakers
of other languages meet up with, learn and use
English. Where opportunities for face-to-face
teaching and learning in English are very limited,
people might still be able to gain some ability to read
and write the language through a combination of
self-instruction manuals, CDs and DVDs. Their main
use of it may be for accessing the English language
radio and television programmes, available through
satellite technology. Formal teaching and learning
favours standard Englishes, whereas radio, television
and the internet are more hospitable to other
varieties of English.
• As you saw in Chapter 4, English is the
language most widely used on the internet.
People do not need to have an excellent
command of the language as a whole in order
to navigate and participate in the virtual
worlds of the internet. Starting with basic
vocabulary and grammar, they can pick up the
style appropriate to the domains they enter.
communication may be all that many people
will use English for — they may never need to
speak it. The rest of their lives can be carried
on in their other languages.
• Although informal access to English is becoming
easier, pressure to have access to classes where
English is taught systematically and intensively to
adults is on the increase throughout the world. The
British Council and hundreds of TESOL (Teaching
English to Speakers of Other Languages) and TEFL
(Teaching English as a Foreign Language) language
schools provide resources and classes which cater for
the needs of adults who want to interact with
business, professional or academic colleagues
internationally. As has been discussed in earlier
chapters, English is very widely used as a lingua
franca for communication between people who do
not speak one another's home languages.
• 6.3 Regulating English: policy and planning
• Obviously, English could not be the practical
lingua franca that it is in international
communication if it were not already a prominent
language in a large number of countries. As you
saw in earlier chapters, in Kachru's 'Inner Circle'
countries English has a high profile because it is
now the mother tongue of the numerical
majority, who are also the most powerful group
politically and economically.
• National language policy and planning in
multilingual countries
• Language policy is the set of broad goals political, social, economic, linguistic - that
policy developers hope to achieve by focusing
on aspects of the use of languages in
particular countries or institutions. Language
planning identifies the processes of policy
• English has a long history of serving as an official
language or a language of education in many
countries. As a result, its corpus is highly
developed for those functions. This has put it in a
position of advantage over many other languages
in situations where new language policies are
being considered. However — and this is very
important - it has not automatically ensured that
English is accorded high official status in
multilingual countries, nor even that it is retained
as an official language in countries where it once
had an established presence.
• As we will see in the examples below, pragmatic
considerations are not the only ones that shape
language policy: perceptions of historical legacy
and desired national identity are also taken into
• After they gained independence, many former
British colonies initially retained English in key
domains. In some countries there was little or no
organised resistance to the retention of English,
but in others there was. Two former colonies
where the status of English was challenged are
Pakistan and Tanzania.
• During the period of British control, English was
the main language of administration and it
became fairly widely known through formal
education. Also during that period, several other
languages of the region were used as identity
symbols for various ethno-nationalist and
religious movements. Because English had not
been associated with any of these movements it
could be seen as neutral in relation to them. This
was ideologically useful to the post-independence
government of Pakistan, which was trying to unify
a newly established political entity while at the
same time carrying on the day-to-day tasks of
education and administration
• These factors favoured keeping English as an
official language. However, its retention was
strongly opposed by religious parties 'who felt
that maintaining the status of English
symbolized a new form of colonization'
(Mahboob and Ahmar, 2008, p. 245). They
wanted an Islamic state which used a local
language spoken by Muslim communities. Of
the possible contenders, Urdu received the
strongest support.
• The East African country, Tanzania, gained its
independence from Britain in 1961. Although
it had been under British colonial rule for far
less time than Pakistan — only forty years —
English was already firmly established as the
language of colonial government. The postindependence government wanted to turn
away from Western capitalist models and build
a classless society based on Ujamaa, an African
form of socialism and self-reliance. The
unifying linguistic vehicle for this was to be an
African language, Swahili, rather than English.
• Recognising the need for more political and
economic interaction with Britain and other
countries of the West, the government put
measures in place to facilitate this. In 1974, as
part of the process of political and economic
liberalisation, President Nyerere advocated
equalising the status of English and Swahili.
Since then 'English has regained its pre-1967
prestige, while Swahili has attained an
unprecedented level of spread and importance
in use' (Blommaert, 1999, p. 98). This is not
surprisingsince both languages had been and
still are used in modernisation.
• Former British colonies are not the only
multilingual countries where English has been
elevated to the status of official language. This
has been done in Rwanda, Madagascar and
Namibia, none of which had ever been part of
the British Empire.
• In these accounts of the changing status of English
in Pakistan, Tanzania and Namibia, some general
points about the positioning of English in a
multilingual country can be derived. For instance,
we noted that there may be pressures between
ideological and pragmatic forces which can cause
mismatches — if not contradictions — between
policy and practice, and may even prompt (rapid,
quick) a series of policy decisions and reversals. We
also saw that, in the contemporary world, national
language policies in multilingual countries should
take account of both the country's internal situation
and the wider regional and global contexts within
which it is located.
• 6.4
English and other languages in
communities and families
• Language policies may influence but they
certainly do not determine how people will use
languages and the resources that come with
them. Communities and families are key sites
where relationships between languages are
established and challenged. Thus, we turn now
to an exploration of the ways in which English
may be incorporated into the linguistic
repertoires of communities and families which
also use one or more other languages.
• Stable bilingual or multilingual communities
which use English but do not neglect their own
languages are to be found not only in
predominantly English-speaking countries and
former British colonies such as India, but also in
countries which have no history of control by
Britain. Scandinavian countries and the
Netherlands are examples of the latter. Members
of such communities learn and use English for
some purposes (such as access to ideas spread
primarily in English) but not for others. They
move comfortably within the English-speaking
world without wanting to identify with it at the
expense of their own.
• The movement of English into the home domain is
often facilitated by children. It is more likely to
occur when they don't just study it as a subject, but
have all of their schooling in English. In such cases,
children often speak English to their siblings and
friends in the playground, and out of habit, they
continue to use English with their siblings at home
when talking about things associated with life
outside the home. If their parents can also speak
English, it is possible for 'home topics' to be spoken
of in English. In this way English becomes a home
language. This process is occurring in Singapore,
South Africa and many other parts of the world,
particularly among urban middle-class families.
• Where communities' own languages seem to have
little currency in the wider world, younger people
may not want to continue using them. In a
community, language shift may take several
generations to run its course. In Wales, for example,
efforts to stop the shift to English and to revive the
use of Welsh have met with noticeable success
during the past three decades. Cooperation between
strong civil society organisations and the Welsh
Assembly Government has been a key element in this
success. The process of revival is complex and is
affected by political and economic factors, and by
differing perceptions of the connection between the
Welsh language and Welsh identity (Coupland and
Aldridge, 2009; Williams, 2009).
• Some people regard the revival of the Welsh
language primarily as part of a long process of
resisting political and economic domination by
English speakers. Others do not see English as
an outsider language since many people
whose families have lived in Wales for
generations are English-speaking and speak
very little Welsh, while regarding themselves
as Welsh. Williams's interviewees express a
range of views on the centrality of the Welsh
language to a sense of Welsh identity.
• In the United States, the shift from indigenous
languages to English seems to be ongoing in
communities whose language of origin has not
already died out. However, some Native American
communities are trying to prevent their languages
from dying out. The Linguistics Department at the
University of New Mexico offers assistance to such
communities by working with community members
to develop descriptions of the languages and
dictionaries. These involvements alone, however,
are not enough to stop or reverse language shift —
that would require wider and more intensive
community involvement and extensive state
support — but they can provide resources for those
who want to learn the languages.
• Families isolated through migration often
undergo language shift in as little as three
generations. This is the time frame seen in
many immigrant families who settle in Englishspeaking countries and live in neighbourhoods
where their home language is not known. A
typical pattern in such cases is that, if they do
not already know English, the adult immigrants
speak their language of origin at home and try
to learn as much English as they need for their
daily lives outside the home.
• Children born in the new country speak the
language(s) of their parents, but also have to
learn and use English for educational and
social purposes. When they in turn have
children they may choose to use English in
interactions with them at home, so that they
will settle easily at school and integrate with
local English-speaking children. It is in the
second generation that decisions are taken
which lead to language maintenance or
language shift in a family.
• Although across the globe there is evidence
that English is in high demand, it is not seen
only as the bringer of advantages. There are
also concerns about its effects on other
languages and the cultures with which they
are associated. In recent decades the
promotion and rapid spread of English
throughout the world has lead to a fear that it
will inevitably result in the eventual death of
the languages with which it comes into
• This fear has been strongly expressed in
metaphors of war such as the 'invasion' by
English into the territories of other languages;
English has been labelled a 'killer language', and
its effect on other languages has been seen as a
form of 'linguicide' (Skutnabb-Kangas and
Phillipson, 2001). It is important to note that
while the contemporary spread of English is
threatening the survival of other languages in
some places, it does not always have this effect.
Even where English is accorded high status
nationally, it may not precipitate language shift
towards English, as we see in Tanzania, for
• 6.5 Speaking bilingually: switching between
English and other languages
• Bilinguals do not always have to choose only
one language for a conversation — they may
switch between their languages within one
alternation between languages is termed
codeswitching, where 'code' may refer to a
distinct language or language variety: for
example, a dialect, or accent.
• A speaker may switch from one code to
another for just one phrase, or for much
longer. Switches may occur within sentences
as well as between them. Codeswitching may
be planned or unplanned, conscious or
unconscious. There is evidence to indicate
that bilinguals are not always aware of which
language they are speaking, or of when they
are switching.
• You can read the rest of this section where the
writer explores different forms and functions
of switching between English and other
languages pp.264-273.
• 6.6 Conclusion
• In the early twenty-first century most speakers of
English in the world have another language as their
first language: language contact phenomena are,
then, common rather than exceptional in the lives of
people who speak English today. In the many
multilingual countries where English is an official
language, it is usually also the main language of
post-primary education and is thus perceived as the
language of access to higher education, to well-paid
employment and to the wider world. While there
are fears that such positive associations will lead to
neglect or loss of a community's other languages,
this is not necessarily the case.
• For instance, local languages may be regarded
as the only appropriate languages for
important cultural domains. In contact
situations, speakers may also frequently, even
routinely, draw on English alongside other
languages, switching between these in
everyday conversation to a range of stylistic
and interpersonal effects.