Lingua Francas as Language Ideologies

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English as an International Language in Asia: Implications for Language Education, 2012, 1, pp. 137 - 154
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Common truisms about English as the most widely spoken lingua franca and Chinese as the most widely spoken mother tongue stand on very thin ground. The vast disparity between figures of speakers for both of these languages suggests not only that such figures are hard to produce accurately but also, more importantly, that they rest on highly questionable definitions of languages, second languages, native speakers and lingua francas. When it is claimed that English is the great lingua franca of the world and Chinese the great mother tongue, or when it is conceded that Chinese is the great lingua franca and English only comes second, we are dealing not only with incommensurable objects but also staking out very particular ideological ground. What counts as a language, a mother tongue, or a lingua franca, is a question of language ideology, not countability. If we argue that Chinese exists only as an ideological construct (it is a unifying language only by the will for it to be so, not by actual practice), we need to reflect on the fact that this also applies to English: English or Chinese as a lingua franca are not so much linguistic systems as ideological constructs. It is crucial that we grasp such ideologies in order to engage with common and insidious claims about language, communication and the world.
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