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Review of  Language in the Twenty-First Century

Reviewer: Svetlana Kurteš
Book Title: Language in the Twenty-First Century
Book Author: Humphrey Tonkin Timothy G. Reagan
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 15.1651

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Date: Tue, 25 May 2004 02:59:01 -0700 (PDT)
From: Svetlana Kurtes
Subject: Language in the Twenty-first Century

EDITOR: Tonkin, Humphrey; Reagan, Timothy
TITLE: Language in the Twenty-first Century
SUBTITLE: Selected papers of the millennial conferences of the
Center for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems,
held at the University of Hartford and Yale University
SERIES: Studies in World Language Problems 1
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2003

Svetlana Kurtes, Language Centre, University of Cambridge, UK


The present volume comprises contributions originally
presented at the two conferences discussing the future
of language and languages in the 21st century: at the
Center for Research and Documentation on World
Language Problems University of Hartford, Connecticut,
in 1998, and the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale
University in 1999. The participants observed the
linguistic implications of the political, economic and
technological changes of the modern world, and,
specifically, their significance for the language
situation at the beginning of the new millennium. The
series of questions supplied to the participants
included, inter alia, the following:
- Is the maintenance of linguistic diversity in the
21st century an achievable goal?
- What effect will the globalization of markets have
on language use?
- What is the future of language teaching and learning
and what role will they have in the education system
of the future?
- Is the idea of equality among languages and among
speakers of languages attainable or desirable?
- What is the future of language rights, the rights of
speakers of minority languages, and the right to
mother tongue education?
- What is the effect of the Internet and advances in
language technology on language use, language change
and/or language planning?
- Is the policy of multilingualism in international
organizations sustainable?
- What is the future of languages associated with
former colonial powers or power blocs (e.g. French,
Portuguese, Russian)?
- What is the likely language scenario in the United
- What can or should be done to preserve languages in
danger of extinction?
- What role will education have in reducing or
stimulating language diversity?

Selected presentations from participants, expanded for
the present volume, represent a summary of
discussions, dialogue and debate ‘about issues of
language, language diversity, language policy, and
language rights as we enter the new millennium’ (p.5),
providing ‘a solid foundation for further dialogue in
these important and timely matters’ (p.7). There are
12 papers in total, an introduction by the editors,
bibliography, contributors and index.

Paul Bruthiaux's contribution entitled 'Contexts and
trends for English as a global language' opens the
volume. The author examines the role of English, now
being 'the code of choice for encoding information in
science and technology and for transacting economic
and cultural exchanges supranationally' (p.11)
vis-à-vis its potential 'competitors' for a global
role -- Arabic, German, Japanese, Russian, Spanish,
French and Chinese. Although in many cases languages
of wider communication 'have been imposed on unwilling
communities through the overt repression' (p.17), a
key condition for their globalization is to be seen in
the fact that they must appeal to a large number of
their potential users as a modernizing force, giving
them access to 'a hitherto inaccessible world of
knowledge' (p.17). Bruthiaux concludes that the
continued dominance of English, critical mass being
its single most important factor, could only be
challenged from China 'as it increases in economic,
military, and political power' (p.21).

'Global English and the non-native speaker: overcoming
disadvantage' is Ulrich Ammon's contributions
discussing the implications of English serving as the
preferred language of international communication. The
author starts from Kachru's (1982) classification of
English around the world represented by three
concentric circles ('inner circle' of countries with
English as a native or primary language; 'outer' and
'expanding' circles with English in non-native
settings) and adds a possible fourth, or 'outside',
circle of non-English-speaking countries containing
over three quarters of the world population. He then
looks more closely into the consequences of the fact
that educated individuals of the outside circle,
specially scientists and scholars, 'find themselves
less perfectly equipped linguistically for such
activities as publishing than their colleagues of the
inner circle' (p.25). Correctness judgements are still
governed by US or British standards set for
orthography, vocabulary, grammar, pragmatics, as well
as the overall structure of the text, which
particularly differs across languages and cultures
(cf. Clyne 1984; 1987) As a rule, any non-native
features found in scholarly literature are evaluated
negatively, even when the reader does not have any
serious difficulties understanding the text. What
Ammon sees as a possible solution is the development
of a new form of global English, 'Globalish', the
multinationality of which would incorporate
characteristics 'beyond those of today's English,
namely also those of non-native speakers' (p.34).

John Edwards in his article 'Language and the future:
choices and constraints' defines four different
categories of languages and examines their present and
future status: small stateless languages, small state
languages, languages of wider communication and
constructed languages. The author points out that
language is not purely an instrumental medium, since
it 'has deep psychological importance; of particular
note is the association with group identity and its
continuity. This is why the struggle between large and
small varieties is so vehement, why the apparently
logical steps that improved communication would
benefit from are resisted -- why, in a word, we need
always remind ourselves that our work takes us into
heavily mined territories of emotion' (p.45). And
that, Edwards maintains, is unlikely to change in the

Mark Fettes discusses the linguistic future of the
world in his article 'A world-centric approach to
language policy and planning'. That future involves
'the dynamic interplay of homogeneity (unilingualism)
and plurality (multilingualism)' (p.52) that will
result in an interlingual world 'characterized by a
fluidity of intercourse among many languages' (ibid).
Interlingualism thus defined can manifest itself in
five possible models (also Pool and Fettes 1998):
World English (spreading English as a second language
globally); Esperantism (designing a global auxiliary
language in which fluency can be achieved at low
cost); Language Brokers (expert translation between a
wide range of human languages); Plurilingualism
(multilingual competence achieved through modern
instructional technologies); Technologism
(technological advances applied to human communicative

'Development of national languages and management of
English in East and Southeast Asia' is Bjorn H
Jernudd's contribution examining national language
planning and language policy in Malaysia. He observes
the use of Bahasa Malaysia, now a fully functioning
standard language, vis-à-vis English, the use of which
has never actually disappeared, even in domains where
it has been particularly discouraged, e.g. education.
An open and free society, Jernudd concludes, should
see the evolution and use of national languages as an
absolute prerequisite for a successful development. It
also 'implies successful accommodation of foreign
languages, foremost among them English. The foreign
languages take their places as varieties in individual
multilingual repertoires to enable communication in
complex networks beyond local boundaries' (p.66).

Language obsolescence, maintenance and revitalization
and the challenges the issues pose on scholars are
discussed in Luisa Maffi's contribution 'The
''business'' of language endangerment: saving languages
or helping people keep them alive?'. The author
focuses on the role of linguistic scholars and experts
in other academic fields or outside academia
concerning the language endangerment crisis, looking
also into the question of their professional ethics.
That in particular should involve 'respect for the
human (including cultural and linguistic) rights of
the people among whom scholars conduct research --
especially the more vulnerable groups such as
indigenous people and minorities' (p.78). Relevant
international documents (e.g. the Draft UN Declaration
on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; the Draft
Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights, submitted
to UNESCO) are beginning to provide a necessary legal
framework, with which the researchers should also be

'Equality, maintenance, globalization: lessons from
Canada' is the title of Jacques Maurais' article in
which he looks more closely into the question how
attainable or desirable the idea of language equality
actually is, taking the Canadian experience of
symmetrical rights as an example. He then focuses on
the impact of the globalization of markets and mass
consumerism on language use and linguistic domination.
Any analysis of this issue must observe the role of
multinational companies as well. Maurais points out
that, when discussing language protection, a
distinction should first be made between private and
public communications and then also 'between
institutional multilingualism -- inherent in a
supranational organization, for example - and
individual multilingualism, that is the knowledge of
several languages by an individual' (p.96).

'Maintaining linguodiversity: Africa in the
twenty-first century' is the title of Alamin M
Mazrui's conribution. He examines the implications of
Africa's sociolinguistic past and present on the
preservation of its linguistic diversity in the
future. The author gives an overview of major
arguments supporting and justifying the imperative of
language conservation that can be found in relevant
literature. Elaborating on the situation in Africa,
Mazrui warns that 'even the more powerful local
languages are in danger of atrophy in the long run if
they are not consciously cultivated and made
compatible with the present state of knowledge' (p.
110). What, on the other hand, must be ensured at the
community level, 'with its varied dynamics and
counter-dynamics' (ibid.) is continuity in
intergenerational language use.

Teresa Pica in her article 'Language education in the
twenty-first century: a newly informed perspective'
proposes new avenues for foreign language instruction,
specifying that it should be 'less method-driven, and
more classroom-focused than its predecessors' (p.115).
She points out some shortfalls of the communicative
approach which dominated the field of language
teaching during the 80s and 90s, saying that the
'communicative techniques were found to provide uneven
outcomes, with their differential success conditioned
by language skill emphases, learner age and ethnicity,
and the types of activities and materials used for
their implementation' (ibid., also Pica and Doughty
1985, etc.). Language education of the 21st century
should be more contextualised and responsive to the
individual learner's needs 'within a more bottom-up,
research-based, classroom-situated perspective'
(p.117). Pica supports a newly emerging approach,
called the communicative grammar-based task,
specifying that it 'engages language learners in
collaboration, decision making, and opinion exchange
in order to complete grammar-focused activities'
(p.130; also Fotos and Ellis 1993).

Timothy Reagan discusses the linguistic future of the
United States in his article 'Language and language
education in the United States in the twenty-first
century'. He points out that foreign language and
learning in the US is a very complex problem, 'in
which student apathy and even resistance, compounded
by often ill-prepared teachers, outdated teaching
methods and materials, and institutional barriers to
effective teaching, essentially ensure large-scale
educational failure' (p.134). He then goes on to
outline two likely scenarios -- 'monolingualism
victorious' (or 'English only') and 'the blessings of
Babel restored' (or 'English plus'), maintaining that
language learning can not only 'help us understand
what we as human beings have in common, but also
assist us in understanding the diversity which
underlines not only our languages, but also our ways
of constructing and organizing knowledge, and the many
different realities in which we all live and interact'

The volume finishes with Humphrey Tonkin's
contribution 'Why learn foreign languages: thoughts
for a new millennium'. Language learning, Tonkin
points out, is a fundamental element in
self-understanding, 'a means by which we learn to
break the wall of silence' (p.150). It is also one of
the basic social skills, and a basic tool of
citizenship, helping us 'reach beyond our own social
envelopes and appreciate how others are closed in
theirs' (ibid).

Kurt E Muller gives a final overview by highlighting
the main points and arguments made in each article of
the volume, hoping that it 'will spawn a range of
discussions that will include the impact of language
on various disciplines, a gap we have yet to explore'


'Language in the twenty-first century' is a
comprehensive, authoritative, brilliantly written and
path-breaking collection on a range of topics
thematically clustering around the complex question of
the linguistic future of the world. It brings to light
the latest developments and proposes new avenues in
the field, offering plenty of examples of language
policy at work worldwide.

The issues discussed -- language rights, equality and
diversity and how to maintain them in an increasingly
globalized world - are presented not only within
current relevant theoretical frameworks, but also
through personal experiences of a number of world's
leading sociolinguists who discuss some very
controversial issues with utmost tact, impartiality
and open-mindedness. Their dialogue, the essence of
which is convincingly captured in the present volume,
is thought-provoking and inspiring and no doubt
provides plenty of guidelines and pointers for further
debates and research.

The volume will be an indispensable reference for
language policy makers and educators as well as
theoreticians and practitioners in the fields of
communication theory, applied linguistics, sociology
and anthropology of language, etc. It almost goes
without saying that sociolinguists themselves will
warmly welcome the appearance of the book and find it
insightful and eye-opening. It will be hard for them --
regardless of their theoretical provenance - not to
agree with Humphrey Tonkin's witty final observation --
'there's a millennium underway: we'll need bottled
water and foreign languages' (p.155)!


Clyne, Michael 1984. 'Wissenschaftliche Texte
Englisch- und Deutschsprachiger: textstructurelle
Vergleiche'. Studium Linguistik 15, 92-97.

----- 1987. 'Cultural differences in the organisation
of academic texts'. Journal of Pragmatics 11, 211-247.

Fotos, Sandra and Rod Ellis 1993. 'Communicating about
grammar: a task-based approach'. TESOL Quarterly 25,

Kachru, Braj 1982. 'Models for non-native Englishes'.
In B Kachru (ed), The other tongue: English across
cultures, Pergamon Press, Oxford, 31-57.

Pica, Teresa and Doughty 1985. 'Input and interaction
in the communicative language classroom:
teacher-fronted vs. group activities'. In S M Gass and
C Madden (eds), Input in second language acquisition,
Hewbury House, Rowley, Mass., 115-132.

Pool, Jonathan and Mark Fettes 1998. 'The challenge of
interlingualism: a research invitation'. Esperanto
Studies (Autumn), 1-3.

Svetlana Kurtes holds a BA in English Philology and an
MA in Sociolinguistics from Belgrade University and an
MPhil in Applied Linguistics from Cambridge
University. She worked as a Lecturer in English at
Belgrade University and is currently affiliated to
Cambridge University Language Centre. Her research
interests involve contrastive linguistics,
sociolinguistics, pragmatics/stylistics, translation
theory and language pedagogy.