Donaldo Macedo, Bessie Dendrinos, Panayota Gounari, The Hegemony of English. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2003.
The title of this exciting volume depicts its innovative, interdisciplinary, and thoroughly critical perspective. Challenging the naïve perceptions that sustain an (Augustinian) view of language as a neutral medium taught and acquired irrespective of the wider social and political context - a view that still informs both the common doxa in our societies and dominant models of positivist social science - this book aims at revealing the close interrelation between language and power. By bringing together a political and a linguistic focus it highlights the ideological dimensions regulating the dominant discourses in language analysis, dimensions which are largely masked within the current post-political milieu. Discussing in depth important issues, ranging from bilingual education to the relevant policies of the European Union, the authors claim that 'the present attempt to champion English in world affairs cannot be reduced simply to issues of language, but rests on a full comprehension of the ideological elements that generate and sustain linguistic, cultural, and racial discrimination …It is an eminently political phenomenon, and it must be analyzed in the context of a theory of power relations and with an understanding of social and cultural reproduction and production' (pp. 13-14). Throughout the book a plurality of topical interventions in political and cultural theory - associated with the proper names of Bourdieu, Foucault, Bauman, Bhabha, Castoriadis and others, and with intellectual projects such as critical discourse analysis and deconstruction - are utilized to develop further the Gramscian logic of hegemony in order to show its relevance for a rigorous analysis of the power struggles and the ideological plays behind the current 'supremacy' attributed to English.
Chapters I ('The Politics of Intolerance: US Language Policy in Process') and III ('The Colonialism of English Only') deal with the attacks on bilingual education - mainly in the US - and with the widespread idea that English is a new global lingua franca, which not only constitutes the most viable and pedagogically suitable language internationally available, but also the only one able to guarantee personal and collective success in our technological age of neoliberal globalization. Contrary to the hegemonic view, all these are not simple technical issues since language is not merely reflective, but always-already invested with cultural and ideological significance. In that sense, the debate over bilingual education has to be seen as a debate related to issues of economic and socio-political control as well as of cultural domination. Furthermore, the agenda of the English-only movement cannot be evaluated without recourse to its latent political and cultural dimensions: its attempt to 'reorganize a ''cultural hegemony'', as evidenced by the unrelenting attack of conservative educators on multicultural education and curriculum diversity' (p. 38). A thorough evaluation of the supposedly empirical basis of the English-only argument takes place in chapter III, by situating it within its broader ideological, cultural and racial context. The authors conclude that empirical studies emanating from a positivist de-politicized perspective largely ignore the socio-cultural reality and the hierarchical structures within which education operates, and thus are bound to produce misleading conclusions.
Chapters II ('European Discourses of Homogenization in the Discourse of Language Planning') and IV ('Linguoracism in European Foreign Language Education Discourse') examine from a similar angle the ways in which English monolingualism is also hegemonizing the European debate regarding language planning to the extent that linguistic and cultural homogeneity are consciously or unconsciously prioritized over diversity and heterogeneity within the European Union. In chapter IV, in particular, the authors develop a distinct analytical and conceptual apparatus permitting a rigorous understanding of the obstacles in promoting true diversity in European language policy. The argumentation centers around the concept of 'linguoracism', which is proposed as a suitable tool for the investigation of evaluative language-related practices. Here, linguoracism 'most accurately names the insidious racism involved in all forms of linguistic imperialism. ... it entails discursive practices that first construe some languages and communicative behaviors (not necessarily one's own) as superior to all others and then assert that linguistic and cultural purity are a prerequisite for the development and even the survival of a culture. Linguistic hybridity, pluralism, and difference are portrayed as dangerous' (pp. 91-93). In Europe, a monolingual linguoracist ethos prevails due to the importance historically attributed to language in nation-building: the idea that only a single language can guarantee the purity of ethnic and cultural identity and that national and linguistic borders have to coincide constitutes a legacy that processes of European integration have failed to address successfully. The result is that today linguoracist elements are evident in both official language and curriculum planning in various European states - and the Union as a whole due to its supposedly conflicting aspirations to enhance integration without sacrificing diversity - but also, paradoxically, in discourses resisting the hegemony of English: by sticking to the strict identification between nation, culture and language, the struggle for equal linguistic rights and an alternative distribution of linguistic and cultural power ends up reproducing the same linguoracist logic. This is an important point since it registers the complexity of hegemonic struggles and attests to the sophistication of the approach articulated in the volume, which moves beyond simplistic oppositions between 'good and bad guys' in order to reveal the centrality of certain logics that influence the discursive practices of both domination and resistance, sustaining thus a particular type of hegemonic order.
It becomes clear that there are no easy solutions to these problems. Besides, the main aim of the book seems to be to articulate a diagnosis - the first important step before a proper cure is proposed - and to set the agenda for a real discussion that takes into account the hegemonic and ideological context of language, the irreducible interrelation between language and politics. This is all the more essential and necessary within the current meta-political environment cultivated by neoliberal hegemony. As the authors persuasively argue in the concluding chapter of the book ('Reclaiming the Language of Possibility: Beyond the Cynicism of Neoliberalism'), neoliberalism has largely managed to present and institute itself as a quasi-natural order, which is often accepted as an inescapable and inevitable reality that cannot be questioned and contested - an ideological myth that puts democracy in grave danger, clearly pushing our societies into a de-politicized, post-democratic direction. The hegemony of English cannot be properly analyzed without a thorough understanding of this hegemony of neoliberalism: the two phenomena constitute a mutually reinforcing double. Most important, a radical critique of the hegemony of English presupposes the opening of a debate and a re-politicization which needs to displace and move beyond the neoliberal boundaries. This well-argued and truly critical volume constitutes a crucial step in this direction. It deserves to be widely read and discussed.
University of Essex