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In and Out of English: For Better, For Worse?

reviewed by Gail E. Wolfe - 2006

coverTitle: In and Out of English: For Better, For Worse?
Author(s): Gunilla Anderman and Margaret Rogers (Eds.)
Publisher: Multilingual Matters, Clevedon
ISBN: 1853597872, Pages: 303, Year: 2005
Search for book at Amazon.com

Where languages collide, creative language play abounds.  As an American national and avid Francophile studying in France in the mid-1990s, I witnessed firsthand the generative potential of the interplay between French and English.  The phrase je dois speeder (I need to hurry), uttered casually by a French teenager to his grandfather, immediately comes to mind as an exemplar of the language play that I saw and heard throughout my sojourn in France.  In this particular instance, the linguistic jeu consisted in transforming the English noun speed into a French infinitive through the addition of the suffix er.  While playful and imaginative in the microcosm of interpersonal interaction, the interplay of French and English takes on a weightier significance when considered within the broader economic, political, and sociocultural context of an increasingly globalized world.  In its growing capacity as a global lingua franca, what impact does English have on the languages with which it comes into contact?  The 19 contributions that comprise In and Out of English: For Better, For Worse? present multiple perspectives on this crucial question as it relates to the languages of the European Union.  The collection of articles addresses a wide range of topics, from linguistic imperialism to the changing face of professional translation and FL pedagogy, providing the reader with a fascinating glimpse into the highly-charged debate over the affordances and constraints of English as the de facto lingua franca of the EU.

While their positions often diverge, the contributing scholars seem to speak in a unified voice about the necessity of reconceptualizing the interaction between English and the languages of Europe.  Campbell argues that the conventional framework of language parity, with its assumption of interacting languages as replaceable codes of equal value (p. 27), fails to capture the disparity of power between English and the languages of Europe.  Rollason adds that the predominance of English and its impact on other languages must be understood as a reflection of the economic, military and mass-cultural power of the US (p. 52).  

Much of the content of In and Out of English examines the multiple ways in which (American) English, as a hegemonic linguistic and cultural force, disrupts and transforms the languages of Europe.  Several authors note the easily identifiable impact of Anglicisms on the lexica of European languages, particularly in the areas of business, science, information technology, trade and tourism, sports, and entertainment.  Disagreement emerges, however, around just how and why Anglicisms have become such prominent features of the European linguistic landscape.  While Gottlieb characterizes Anglicisms as offspring of other languages voluntary intercourse with English (p. 162), Rollason identifies the same phenomenon as a manifestation, on an unconscious or semi-conscious level, of . . . submission to US mass-cultural hegemony (p. 43).  Campbell argues that the introduction, via English, of new lexical items where an equivalent does not exist in the receiving language transforms not only the linguistic, but also the conceptual framework of the receiving community.  Gellerstam stresses that the influence of English extends well beyond the lexis, triggering deeper, subtler shifts in the grammar, syntax, and rhetorical structure of the receiving language.

How does the increasing predominance of English in Europe impact the fields of professional translation and FL education?  Adab, Thelen, Rogers, and Wagner call for a revision of the sacrosanct mother tongue principle, which proscribes translation out of ones native tongue into a second language.  They assert that two-way translation, necessitated by an increasing demand for translation into English, can become an efficacious professional practice with the proper training, tools, and support.  Within the domain of FL pedagogy, Ife points to the importance of cultivating both pragmatic competence and intercultural awareness in the language learner.  Moreover, she urges everyone to study a second language as a means to enhance cross-cultural communication, arguing that [u]nless individuals have attempted to articulate, or recode, their own perception of reality in terms of another language, they will never truly understand the experience of someone who is having to do just that (p. 295296).

In addition to highlighting some of the practical implications of English as the de facto lingua franca of the EU, several authors weigh in on the complex theoretical issue of the nature of language.  Antonio Gramsci described language as at the same time a living thing and a museum of fossils of life and civilisations (Hoare & Smith, 1971, p. 450).  Gramscis juxtaposition of language qua living thing with language qua museum of fossils captures a tension that recurs throughout In and Out of English.  On one side of the theoretical divide, Munday posits languages as fluid and living organisms (p. 67) that expand and evolve in the face of new linguistic and conceptual inputs.  Moore and Varantola seem to echo Mundays position in their depiction of the assimilation of Anglicisms into Finnish as normal developments in language contact (p. 150).  In contrast, other authors frame the interface between English and European languages in terms of cross-linguistic contamination (p. 39), invasion (p. 61), taint by Anglicisms (p. 131), and the battle against the English lexical onslaught (p. 198).  The discourse of contamination seems to imply that languages are pure, stable, tightly bounded entities, analogous to Gramscis museum of fossils of life and civilisations.  Unfortunately, the authors who adopt the latter position do not identify whose linguistic practices a purified language actually represents; nor do they examine the assumptions and exclusions inherent in exalting a particular version of a national language as the pure (and thus prescribed) form.  

In and Out of English also contributes significantly to the debate about the attributes and operation of a lingua franca at the beginning of the 21st century.  What is the relationship between Standard English (an admittedly nebulous concept) and the global varieties of English that are developing throughout the world?  Does English constitute an instrument of U.S. hegemony or a corporate tool wielded by increasingly transnational capitalist economic blocs?  To whom does English belong?  What are the implications, particularly for Inner Circle speakers, of the assertion that English does not belong to anyone but is everyones property (p. 147)?  Finally, how does the changing landscape of language use destabilize and reshape conventional distinctions between native and second language speakers?

The multiplicity of voices, language communities, and positions represented in In and Out of English gives the reader insight into the complexity and contestation surrounding both the problems and the potential inherent in English as the lingua franca of the European Union.  This collection of articles will certainly deliver on the editors stated desire to generate further discussion of this important European (as well as global) linguistic and cultural development.


Hoare, Q., & Smith, G.N. (Eds.). (1971). Selections from the prison notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. New York: International Publishers.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 108 Number 8, 2006, p. 1603-1606
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12202, Date Accessed: 10/24/2021 5:58:26 PM

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About the Author
  • Gail Wolfe
    Washington University in Saint Louis
    E-mail Author
    GAIL E. WOLFE is a doctoral student in the Department of Education at Washington University in Saint Louis. Before beginning her doctoral studies, Gail earned a Master’s degree in French from Penn State and taught French and Spanish for three years at the secondary level. The focus of Gail’s Ph.D. coursework is threefold, encompassing issues in urban education, educational policy, and women and gender studies.
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