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In our introductory chapter, we argued that applied linguistics must be more explicit about the ways in which English is conceptualised in and for the domains of language learning, teaching, and assessment. Now, after eighteen chapters that uncover, advocate, and contest beliefs about the nature of ‘English’ in a range of contexts and from a range of perspectives, we take stock of the project and consider its uses. We don’t have the space here to reference all the arguments and evidence put forward by the authors of these chapters, but we will emphasise those points that we feel have helped to meet the aims of the book. Naturally, we give particular consideration to Pennycook’s companion commentary in the previous chapter.
What is there in the world that we refer to as ‘the English language’? Is it more than one thing? If so, how many? And what is their ontological status? For those of us engaged in researching and teaching what we call English, these are fundamental questions, yet they are seldom posed. In addressing them explicitly here, I aim to provide academics, teachers, and policy makers with some conceptual tools and arguments for a deeper reflection on the nature of English, with a view to ultimately benefiting learners and users.
This book is about the ways in which English is conceptualised in and for the domains of language learning, teaching, and assessment. Examining and being explicit about what we, as applied linguists, think English is – our ontologies of English – and how these ontologies underpin our educational ideologies and professional practices, should be an essential component of research in the discipline. Yet the nature of the ‘EL’ in ELT does not feature anywhere nearly as much as the ‘T’, and how English is conceptualised in schools tends to be debated more by educationalists than applied linguists. Teachers, learners, policy makers, and other stakeholders do have strong beliefs about what counts as English, who it belongs to, and how it should be taught, learned, and tested. In research we conducted with colleagues at a university in China (Hall et al., 2017), English teachers told us about the ways they conceptualised English as a global language and, more narrowly, as the subject they taught to undergraduate students.
In applied linguistics, being explicit about ontologies of English, and how they underpin educational ideologies and professional practices, is essential. For the first time, this volume presents a critical examination of the ways in which English is conceptualised for learning, teaching, and assessment, from both social and cognitive perspectives. Written by a team of leading scholars, it considers the language in a range of contexts and domains, including: models and targets for EFL, ESL and EAL teaching and testing, and the contested dominance of native-speaker 'standard' varieties; English as a school subject, using England's educational system as an example; English as a lingua franca, where typically several languages and cultures are in contact; and English as broader social practice in a world characterised by unprecedented mobility and destabilisation. Readers are provided with a balanced set of perspectives on ontologies of English and a valuable resource for educational research and practice.