Master of Arts Interdisciplinary Studies (MAIS) 618

English in Question: Critical Reflections on the Rise of a Global Language (Revision 2)

Permanently closed, effective December 22, 2016.

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Delivery Mode: Grouped study

Credits: 3

Faculty: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Program: Master of Arts Interdisciplinary Studies

**Note: Students in Group Study courses are advised that this syllabus may vary in key details in each instance of the course. Always refer to the Moodle site for the most up-to-date details on texts, assignment structure, and grading.**


Today, English, in its many varieties worldwide, enjoys a seemingly unrivalled position within the global language hierarchy. This situation did not arise overnight, however. Indeed, decades ago, experts in the fields of applied linguistics, sociology of language, and language policy and planning studies had already begun to systematically analyze and evaluate key aspects of this complex ascendance.

Recently, concern has begun to mount about the impact of the spread of a language as dominant as English. As a result, what began as a dialogue between a few academic specialists has now grown into a dynamic debate involving most of the social sciences, the humanities, and a number of other disciplines including international relations, political science, human-rights law, philosophy, globalization studies, and ethnobiology.

In The Oxford Guide to World English, published in 2003, noted British linguist Tom McArthur explains the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of this debate as follows: "It is not simply that all such matters impinge one on another and onlanguage: they saturate language, and language in turn animates them."

In this course we will survey and critically evaluate the worldwide spread of English and its geographic, economic, cultural, institutional, and environmental impact. Students will have the opportunity to pursue their own research interests in a number of areas.

  • Geographic regions considered may include the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, and the Middle East.
  • Cultural and economic issues considered may include the linguistic rights of minorities, the impact on national and local languages of regional economic integration (NAFTA), and debates over standards in and varieties of English.
  • Institutional issues considered may include the practical and theoretical implications of global English for ESL/EFL teaching and learning, the status of non-native English teachers, and the role of linguistics and applied linguistics in the spread of English.
  • Environmental issues considered may include relations between cultural and biological diversity, links between the growth of English and declining biodiversity, and the death of indigenous languages and the related loss of botanical, medical, and other forms of "ecological" knowledge.

Course Structure

MAIS 618: English in Question consists of four parts (divided into fifteen units)

  • Part I: English as a Global Language
  • Part II: Linguistic Imperialism
  • Part III: The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language
  • Part IV: Selected Topics in Language Spread

Course Objectives

This course provides you with the opportunity to

  1. survey key historical factors underlying the rise of English as a global language.
  2. identify and discuss factors involved in the continuing spread of English today.
  3. go beyond merely describing English as a global language to form a critical understanding of the subject.
  4. apply this critical understanding to a problem or issue relating to the past, present, or future impact (positive, negative, or both) of English in a specific local (that is, national, geographic, cultural, ethnic, linguistic, or other community) context.

Please note: The fourth course objective expresses the fact that while the reach of the English language in our era has become truly global, its impact is always felt in one or another local context. In successfully completing your major paper, you will be required to incorporate course objective 4 into your assignment. This means that whatever topic you pursue in the major paper, both the analytical and critical components of the assignment must be applied to at least one specific local context. (For more information on this requirement, refer to the "Assignment File" near the end of the Course Guide.)

Student Evaluation

To receive credit for this course, students must participate in the online activities, successfully complete the assignments, and achieve a final mark of at least 60 per cent. Students should be familiar with the Master of Arts—Interdisciplinary Studies grading system. Please note that it is students' responsibility to maintain their program status. Any student who receives a grade of "F" in one course, or a grade of "C" in more than one course, may be required to withdraw from the program.

The following table summarizes the evaluation activities and the credit weights associated with them.

Activity Weighting
Online Participation 25%
Two reaction papers and associated moderation of online activities 20%
Literature review 15%
Major paper 40%
Total 100%

Course Materials

The course materials for MAIS 618: English in Question: Critical Reflections on the Rise of a Global Language include the items listed below. If you find that any items are missing from your course package, please contact the Course Materials Production department at Athabasca University as soon as possible. You may call Athabasca University, toll-free, from anywhere in Canada or the United States at 1-800-788-9041 and ask to speak to someone in Course Materials Production (ext. 6366). Students in the Edmonton and Calgary dialling areas are asked to call the Learning Centres to connect with the automated attendant, and then dial the four-digit extension. You may send e-mail to, or write to Course Materials Production at Tim Byrne Centre, 4001 Hwy 2 South, Athabasca AB T9S 1A4.


  • Crystal, David. English as a Global Language. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Pennycook, Alastair. The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language. Boston: Addison-Wesley, 1996.
  • Phillipson, Robert. Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Athabasca University Online Materials

Course Home Page: You will find your assignments and links to submit your work to your professor on the course home page.

Course Guide: Course Guide contains the course introduction, objectives, commentary, reading assignments, online activities, assignments, and other information that you will need to complete the course successfully. The "Study Schedule" identifies the course activities and assignments that you are to complete each week.

Reading File: The assigned readings, with the exception of any articles that can be found online, are included in the Reading File.

Athabasca University Library: Students are encouraged to browse the Library's Web site to review the Library collection of journal databases, electronic journals, and digital reference tools:

Athabasca University reserves the right to amend course outlines occasionally and without notice. Courses offered by other delivery methods may vary from their individualized-study counterparts.

Opened in Revision 2, January 1, 2008.