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Education and the language of (dis-)empowerment

Ahmar Mahboob

Plenary Speaker



This presentation explores the relationship between the language used in educational contexts and its potential impact on students’ futures. In addition to exploring this issue from the perspective of medium-of-instruction debate, we will also discuss how issues of language variation can influence educational outcomes for students coming from different backgrounds. To do this, I will consolidate findings and draw examples from a number of projects that I have recently been involved in in Brazil, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Grounded primarily on linguistic analyses of published teaching/learning material, we will explore how the linguistic choices made in the development (and use) of instructional material can potentially impact what the students learn. We will consider how these language and literacy skills might (or might not) enable students to access different opportunities in life, education and work. Finally, we will evaluate the socio-economic impact of such practices on individual and national development.







From World Englishes to Unequal Englishes:  Focus on the ‘unequal’

Ruanni Tupas




The spread of English around the world has resulted in the development and the flourishing of different varieties of the language. In Southeast Asia, local identities, cultures and languages have impinged on the structural and functional development of English. Through globalization, English may have travelled across the world, bringing speakers of different languages together in ‘lingua franca’ (or international) contexts, but speakers of English bring along with them their unique identities, as well as ideologies and linguistic repertoires, every time they are engaged in conversations in the language. In other words, whether in lingua franca or intra-national communication contexts, users of English deploy different Englishes for communicative and symbolic purposes. Consequently, because speakers of Englishes are rooted in their own identities, ideologies and social positionings, these Englishes are unequally valued, with some more powerful than others. The pluralization of English is a sociolinguistic reality that should be acknowledged and celebrated, but there is a need to temper such celebration with critical questions, including, “Are all Englishes really equal?” Thus, “a stronger focus on ‘unequal Englishes’” (Dovchin, Sultana & Pennycook, 2016, p. 4) is needed in “new pluralist approaches towards English” (p. 1).



Paper 1

Unequal Englishes in multilingual classrooms

Maria Luz Elena N. Canilao

Ateneo de Manila University

Filipino ilustrados who belonged to the elite and rich educated class in the late nineteenth century were the first ones in the Philippines to gain access to English which they saw as a potential global language (Gonzalez, 2004). Deprived of formal instruction during the three hundred-year reign of Spain over the country, Filipinos welcomed free education provided by their American colonizers in the 1900s. They embraced English, the language of learning, and it eventually became a symbol of prestige and privilege, building a divider between the upper classes and the marginalized sectors of society (Brigham & Castillo, 1999). Since then, Englishes have evolved in the Philippines and around the world, but these Englishes are not created equal, and therefore, only a few are recognized and all the others are ignored. Those that are recognized are quite reachable by the ones who hold the power; those that are ignored are often shunned even by the ones who use them. Thus, even with the recent implementation of the Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education (MTBMLE) Policy in the Philippines, the position of local languages in the academic domain has been elevated, linguistic inequalities remain. This presentation uses the lens of unequal Englishes (Tupas & Rubdy, 2015) and adopts the framework of Discourses (Gee, 1999) in exposing the linguistic demarcations that exist in public elementary schools in the Philippines. It reveals the socio-economic realities and other vital factors that help shape English language teaching (ELT) and learning, and at the same time, it unearths the wealth of multilingual classrooms that may be used in promoting linguistic and cultural diversity. Other related issues and complexities in ELT are uncovered and possible steps that may be taken in the areas of language policy, curriculum development, and teacher training to reduce the gap among Englishes are offered.



Paper 2

When to Singlish?: Unequal Englishes in Singapore

Yeo Wan Ting

National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University

The importance that the Singapore government places on the English Language is evidenced in its declaration of English as its official language and its implementation of an English-knowing bilingual education policy. The Singapore government saw English as the perfect lingua franca for inter-ethnic communications as it did not favour any one ethnic group. Additionally, given that Singapore is dependent on foreign investments, the Singapore government saw great economic value in having an English-speaking population. Consequently, English in Singapore serves the purposes of maintaining social cohesion, upholding the ideology of meritocracy and creating the possibility of upward socio-economic mobility (Wee, 2010). As the educational institutes improved the standard of English, Singapore Colloquial English, or Singlish, simultaneously flourished outside of the classrooms. By 1990s, the Singapore government was increasingly concerned about the popularity of Singlish (Wee, 2010) and accorded it little political legitimacy by referring to it as “a corrupted form of English that is not understood by others” and the reason Singapore “will lose a competitive edge” in the global economy (Goh, 2000). Yet, tensions arise when the Singapore government is increasingly confronted with the social legitimacy that Singlish has come to acquire. Supporters of Singlish have become increasingly vocal about its role as an identity marker unique to Singaporeans (Wee, 2010). Further tensions arise when in recent years, the Singapore government pushed specific political agendas using Singlish as a means of informalization. This presentation reflects on this apparent contradiction and resulting tensions between Singlish and the standard variety of English through the lens of Unequal Englishes.



Paper 3

Pop culture and the consumer: Unequal Englishes as commodity

Paolo Niño M. Valdez

De La Salle University, Manila


Recent studies have posited several important points concerning multilingualism and world Englishes. First, multilingualism is deemed as a resource (Bernardo, 2005) and that world Englishes celebrates diversity of cultures as the English language is appropriated for purposes specific to a given culture (Kachru, 1986). Second, while the positive merits of recognizing multilingualism and world Englishes are fully recognized in scholarly discussions, domains such as business, education and government remain firm on their stance that standard English remains to be the “premium” language that deserves recognition and prestige. While the recent addition of Unequal Englishes adds a more nuanced character to the ideological and material consequences of bilingualism and world Englishes (Tupas, 2015), I argue that the positioning of the user of varieties of English (especially those that possess the non-standard variety) as portrayed in pop culture products appears to counter earlier ideas that unequal Englishes remain static in a hierarchy of Englishes. Further, this paper argues that while previous investigations on Philippines Englishes are confined to educated varieties, this paper examines how unequal Englishes in the Philippines is appropriated in novel ways to challenge existing dichotomies of standard and non-standard varieties. Specifically, this investigation examines the use of Philippine English in pop culture products such as T-shirts and novelty items. Through a linguistic and multimodal analysis, it proceeds with establishing patterns that suggest the positioning of Unequal Englishes as a commodity. Moreover, it seeks to investigate on the portrayal of the users of non-standard Philippine English to a wider market that of consumers.


Paper 4

Translingual Englishes in Indonesia: A case of teacher-student classroom interaction

Setiono Sugiharto

Atma Jaya Catholic University

While concerns over inequalities of multilingualism – a real phenomenon in multilingual countries due to the positive attitudes toward English as a global language – should not be overlooked, there are occasions especially in a classroom context where multilingual speakers defy the exclusive use of English, and instead creatively mix the English language with their own mother tongues, resulting in translingual Englishes (Dovchin, Sultana & Pennycook, 2016). In this talk, I will show that despite the strict imposition of the English-only-policy in schools in Indonesia – a source of inequalities in learning and teaching in the country – both students and teachers manage to surreptitiously translanguage their interactions using varied linguistic codes for achieving successful communication in a class interaction. I see their translingual Englishes as a strategic practice initiated by the teachers to not only open up a space for them to reveal their real multilingual identities, but also to legitimate these identities. Finally, in teacher-dominated classrooms where students often keep silent and are unwilling to initiate a conversation and to argue over a controversial issue, such an act is a pedagogically useful practice for encouraging students to negotiate tensions that might occur in their efforts to grapple with their learning of English. Thus, a focus on the ‘unequal’ in the classroom also leads to uncovering translingual spaces where efficient teaching and learning are facilitated and multilingual identities affirmed.




Bernardo, A. (2005). Bilingual code switching as a resource for learning and teaching: Alternative reflections on the language and education issue in the Philippines. In D. Dayag & S. Quakenbush (Eds.). Linguistics and language education in Philippines and beyond: A festschrift in honor of Ma. Lourdes Bautista. (pp. 151-170). Manila: Linguistic Society of the Philippines.


Brigham, S., & Castillo, E. (1999). Language policy for education in the Philippines. Technical background paper, no. 6, Philippines Education for the 21st Century—the 1998 Philippines Education Sector Study. Manila: Asia Development Bank and World Bank.


Dovchin, S., Sultana, S. & Pennycook, A. (2016). Unequal translingual Englishes in the Asian Peripheries. Asian Englishes, 18(2), 92-108.


Gee, J. (1999). An introduction to discourse analysis: Theory and method. London: Routledge.


Goh, C.T. (2000). Speech by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong at the launch of the Speak Good English Movement. Singapore: Ministry of Information and the Arts.


Gonzalez, A. (2004). The social dimensions of Philippine English. World Englishes, 23, 7-16.


Kachru, B. (1986). The alchemy of English: The spread, functions and models of non-native Englishes. Oxford, U.K.: Pergamon Press.


Tupas, R. (ed.) (2015). Unequal Englishes: The politics of Englishes today. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave MacMillan.


Tupas, R., & Rubdy, R. (2015). Introduction: From world Englishes to unequal Englishes. In R. Tupas (ed.), Unequal Englishes: The politics of Englishes today (pp. 1–17). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 


Wee, L. (2011). Metadiscursive convergence in the Singlish debate. Language & Communication,31(1), 75-85.




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