English as a weapon of power : a double-edged sword

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This mini-dissertation explores the effects of the growth of English as an international and an intranational lingua franca with a focus on the South African debate about language and socio-economic empowerment. This exploration is carried out through an extended review of some of the theories that have challenged the notion that the spread of English is empowering for the majority of the world's population. I refer to these theories as the "critical discourse" about the power of English and argue that within this discourse there is a tendency to be exceedingly dismissive of the idea that the spread of English can in any way empower native speakers of other languages. I refer to this tendency as the "critical model" for looking at the power of English and analyze three metaphors that are often used as tropes to exclude from the "critical discourse" arguments that can be made for using English as a weapon of empowerment. These metaphors characterize English as a "linguistic poacher" that threatens endangered language species with extinction, as a "gatekeeper" that excludes the masses from socio-economic mobility, and as a "colonizer of the mind," or a mechanism that imposes Western-centric values. I argue that while it is important to be aware of these negative effects, the critics of English should not rely too heavily on negative constructions of this language, lest they create theories that are marred by epistemological fallacies that have negative pedagogical and political consequences. Epistemologically, sealing the border of a discourse can lead to tautological arguments that rely excessively on determinism and essentialism. Pedagogically, being exceedingly critical of the power of English can create obstacles in finding ways to teach this language effectively.

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 94-99).