English and multilingualism

A contested history

Authored by: Ofelia García , Angel M. Y. Lin

The Routledge Handbook of English Language Studies

Print publication date:  June  2018
Online publication date:  July  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138913455
eBook ISBN: 9781351001724
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter tells the contested history of what we today name English, as well as we today call multilingualism. The chapter makes the point that both English and multilingualism are constructed concepts that need to be interrogated. And it proposes that these constructions have served the English-speaking elite well, both in the past and in the present. We first tell the story of how English was consolidated into the language of the greatest Empire in the world. Our brief history takes the point of view not of “English,” but of its construction. We explore how bilingualism and multilingualism have been constructed in relationship to English; first in the Imperial stage, as a reason for the minoritization of non-white colonized speakers, and today, as ways of ensuring that English keeps its dominance. What has been called in the present the multilingual turn (Conteh & Meier, 2014; May, 2013) would not exist if it weren’t for both the imperial origins of English, as well as the interest that it continues to hold in the imagination of many. We argue here that it is the economically-driven pursuit of English in today’s global and neoliberal economy which has created the interest in multilingualism. And yet, this multilingualism continues to leave out precisely those who are multilingual, minoritized speakers whose language practices differ from those legitimized in dominant societies and schools. We show here that the construction of the English language and multilingualism have been mutually constitutive and have served a purpose of domination and control.

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