English in Europe today

English in Europe today: Sociocultural and educational perspectives. By Annick De Hower and Antje Wilton. (AILA applied linguistics series 8.) Amsterdam: John Benajmins, 2011.  Pp. xi, 170. ISBN 9789027205247. $128 (Hb).

Reviewed by I. M. Laversuch Nick, University of Cologne

The work under review is the eighth volume in the AILA applied linguistic series, AILA being the acronym for the International Association of Applied Linguistics. The goal of this series, as stated in the series description, is to ‘break new ground and stimulate further research in applied linguistics’.  This collection was published in honor of Karlfried Knapp upon his retirement from the University of Erfurt in 2011. In certain respects, this dedication is the strongest tie that binds together the articles in this rather eclectic collection of works. The diverse array of contributions, however, can be divided into two basic groups.

The first group is comprised of contributions which provide a general, broad-based discussion of the many roles that English plays in the European ‘linguascape’ today. Two excellent examples here can be found in Ch. 1, ‘The dynamics of English in a multilingual Europe’, and in Barbara Seidhofer’s contribution ‘Conceptualizing “English” for a multilingual Europe’. Taken together, these chapters discuss the supranational advantages and disadvantages that may accompany the use of English as Europe’s unofficial lingua franca.

Such macro-investigations provide an interesting contrast to the second group of articles in the book, namely, small-scale case studies investigating the impact that English has had upon Europe’s ‘linguacultural heterogeneity’ (138). For example, in Ch. 6 (95–112), Li Wei explores the acquisition of English as an additional language (EAL) among three Chinese-born immigrant children in Britain. Despite the exceedingly small sample size, this investigation successfully highlights the importance of social networks in negotiating the tightrope between acquiring English and maintaining a heritage language. The other end of the age spectrum is found in Ch. 4, ‘When comprehension is crucial” (51–70). Contributed by Annelie Knapp, this chapter examines English-medium instruction discourse in university-level natural science courses. Although native speakers may well wince at the grammatical gaffes produced by the instructors that are featured, the lesson which ultimately emerges is that linguistic proficiency is just one of many factors determining successful communication.

It is questionable, however, whether the reader wants to go so far as Kurt Kohn in the assertion that ‘communication comes before form’ (77) and ‘the entire heterogeneous range of non-native speaker manifestations of English, including ELF manifestations by speakers with an EFL background’ (79) is to be embraced. While this position is open to debate, it can be readily agreed that the question of linguistic ownership is central to the future of English in Europe. This fact is brought into sharp yet humorous relief in Ch. 3, where Susan M. Gass and Daniel Reed describe how cultural clashes affected the bi-national implementation and promotion of an English language test in Greece. This chapter is one of the few which focuses on a country outside of Western Europe. This imbalance is unfortunate. If the scope of this book included a greater geographical diversity, its overall value would be far greater.