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ENGL6075 - The Politics of English
Tutor & Guest Lecturer: Dr Jennifer Eagleton
2020-2021 Second Semester
Contact Hours per week
Form of Assessment
100% coursework
Monday , 6:30 pm - 8:20 pm , LE1

In this course, we examine how language use is tied to the politics of identity, and how relationships between individuals and groups are sometimes negotiated through choice of words. We will discuss the role of language not only in the expression but also the reproduction of class, gender, and racial relations, and consider both the language of politics and the politics of language, especially some of the current debates around the role and status of English in the world. We explore "language ideologies" that underlie people's perception and choice of language, and the effect of government intervention in such ideologies. We address critically such notion as the "standard," "correctness," and "native speaker" in order to tease out a link between linguistic variation and social stratification.

The Politics of English: from Empire to Independence

Despite the so-called end-of-empire, the legacy of the Britain's imperial history persists all around us, whether we live in the UK, North America, Africa, the Sub-Continent, Asia, or the Pacific. This legacy, warts and all, is manifested in many different ways, from driving on the left-hand side of the road, to the Parliamentary system of government, to imperial measurements, to religious Protestant indoctrination, to the subjugation of non-white races, to the slave trade, to the plunder of local resources, to the forced appropriation of land. The focus of the course this year will be on all these things, but particularly, how they are driven by and reflected in the linguistic imperialism of the English language.

We will consider several very important questions. What about different Englishes? What constitutes a "native" speaker? Can we regard Indians as "native speakers" of Indian-English? Should we continue to align "native" with "standard"? Should ESL textbooks be based on AmE or BrE standards? Why do we bother with "standard"? Perhaps there are strong instrumental reasons for doing so. Linguists might argue that mutual intelligibility is the only real criterion we should look at. But, the world at large still judges people by the language they speak. And it doesn’t matter if they are native speakers (of some variety or other) or ESL/EFL speakers; if getting a good job depends upon speaking a particular type of English, then people will still want to speak that type. What can we, as linguists, do to stop such judgements?


Study Load


Number of hours



Online discussion/interaction with fellow-students




Research Paper (preparation, writing, reviewing)


Timed tests






Lectures will be Monday evenings, 18:30 to 20:30, location TBA. I ask you all to please be on time — late arrivals are very disruptive for both me and your fellow-students. I will be available after-class to answer quick questions, but I am mindful that part-time students are mostly full-time teachers, and staying late "on a school night" is not desirable. On-campus and/or Zoom consultations, if preferred, will be possible most weekends, which I hope will make things easier for you. For full-time students, consultations can be done during the week. Dr Jennifer Eagleton, our course tutor, will be doing one of the lecture sessions (English in Australia) and will also be available to you, especially if you want to discuss Australian English. I will also set up an open online discussion forum for free discussions. I will check the forum every morning, and contribute as necessary. I am also very happy to work with each of you via email.


What If???

In Semester 2, 2019-2020, this course, and all other courses at HKU, ended up being 100% online. Naturally, as I write this, July 2020, I am hopeful that, by January, we will be back to normal life on campus, albeit with physical distancing in the lecture theatre. But, I'm also going to plan for the possibility of HKU being again on lockdown; if that's the case, the course structure will remain exactly the same. Each lecture will be recorded as five 20-minute audio files, with powerpoint and accompanying lecture notes, and separate videos as needed, which you will be able to read/listen to or watch in your own time. The in-class writing assignments will be done in your own homes, at the set times, albeit you'll have to work on the honour-system. We can also rely on the discussion forum for a free exchange of ideas.

That said, let us all hope that we will be on campus.



Assessment will be based 100% on coursework. You will receive a letter grade for your assignments (in the range from A to F, in line with the Grade Descriptors, which will be provided in the main syllabus). Grades are a guide only. All marks are subject to scrutiny by the Arts Faculty Board of Examiners.

  • midterm 2-hour essay                 25%
  • end-of-term 1-hour essay           15%
  • research paper                             60% 
    • outline                  10%
    • literature review  15%
    • discussion           15%
    • final essay            20%


Research Paper

You can choose any topic from the list of lectures below, but you have freedom to come up with your own research question. When you decide on a topic, you should then do some research in the HKUL databases to see if you have a viable project, and a good research question. The research paper (and its grades) is divided into 4 sections:

  1. Outline: 10%: due February 28th: this will eventually become your opening paragraph. It should include your research question (which will eventually morph into your thesis statement), a brief description of two or three major arguments (100 words max.) and a preliminary bibliography (correctly formatted in MLA style). You should rely quite heavily on books and journal articles from HKUL. I will review this and return it to you by Reading Week.


  1. Literature Review: 15%: every piece of academic writing builds on the writings of others. Your literature review should be a critical summary of 3 to 5 published works (preferably from books or peer-reviewed journals from the HKUL database). This should be written over Reading Week and is due Monday March 15th. The length is flexible but should not be more than 800 words maximum. I will do a formative review and return it to you by the end of the week. It is possible that your research question requires your entire paper to be a literature review. If that is the case, this portion should be a preliminary literature review, and the next portion of the assignment should be closer to the final version.
  2. Presentation and discussion of data: 15%: the exact form of this will depend upon your topic, and whether you are doing a qualitative, quantitative, or case study. In a case study, you might, for example, focus on one country, and perhaps conduct an online interview with an acquaintance who lives there. You should aim for 1000 max. words; or 1500 max. if your entire paper is a literature review. Dr Eagleton will do a formative review of these. Due April 19th. These will be returned to you by April 30th. You will then have 10 days to make any revisions you wish.
  3. Final essay: 20%: now it's time to put it all together, with introductory and concluding paragraphs (unless your conclusion is encapsulated in your discussion). The word limits are 1800 (minimum) to 2200 (maximum). Please note that if your paper falls outside these parameters, it will not be accepted. (Include every word from first word of first paragraph to last word of last paragraph.) Due May 10th. This will be returned to you by the end of May, with a summative review.
Midterm Test

This will be 18:30–20:30, Monday March 15th. It counts for 20% of your final grade. The assignment will be two 1-hour essays on (1) the politics of English in Inner Circle countries, and (2) the politics of English in Outer Circle countries; you will have a choice of 3 questions for each section. The questions will cover the topics of the first 6 lectures.

End-of-Term Test

This will be one-hour only and will cover Global English and the Expanding Circle, including ASEAN countries. You will write one essay, from a choice of several questions.



Recommended readings:

The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language. Alastair Pennycook. London: Longman, 1994. (Hard copy in HKU Main Library.)

Immigrant Children and the Politics of English-only : Views From the Classroom. Tom Stritikus. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing LLC, 2002. (Online access @ HKUL.)

Legacies of Colonial English: Studies in Transported Dialects. Ed. Raymond Hickey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. (Available as ebook in HKUL.)

The Local Politics of Global English: case studies in linguistic globalization. Selma K. Sonntag. Lanham MD: Lexington Books, 2003. (Hard copy in HKU Main Library)

The Politics of American English, 1776-1850. David Simpson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. (Hard copy in Hing Wai Storage, HKUL. Order in advance.)

The Politics of English as a World Language: New Horizons in Postcolonial Cultural Studies. Christian Mair. Amsterdam ; New York, NY : Rodopi 2003. (Online access @ HKUL.)


Electronic Devices

This course is a computer and mobile free zone. In principle, computers, cell phones, smartphones, and other electronic devices are prohibited during lectures, since, in this course we will be practicing the art of being actively present, observing, listening, speaking and participating together in the course activities. You are encouraged to bring a notebook for taking notes during lectures.



 “Attendance” is required at every session. If on-campus, lectures will start promptly at 18:30. Please note that attendance means more than just showing up. To quote the OED, it means: "To direct the ears, mind, energies to anything. To turn one's ear to, listen to.” For those of you who are working full time, I realise this can be a challenge. Feel free to bring lots of coffee! — but not so much that you won't be able to sleep when you get home! If you miss an on-campus class, for any reason, your online activity in the discussion forum that week will be particularly important. You need not provide me with any reason for your absence (or a medical certificate; that is your own private business); but, you must demonstrate (in the discussion forum) your understanding the material your missed.


Lecture and Coursework Schedule


HISTORY OF BRITISH EMPIRE AND LANGUAGE POLICIES — the politics of English in the early Empire: C.18th-19th; post-colonial English-language policies; Legacies of Colonial English: Studies in Transported Dialects (Studies in English Language) (Hardcover) by Raymond Hickey (Editor) colonialism (British and American).


INNER CIRCLE: USA — what happened to Native languages; English-only movement; AAVE; Spanish; Asian languages




INNER CIRCLE: NEW ZEALAND — Māori suppression; changes in NZE to include Māori words; world exposure to NZE (Christchurch mosque shooting; Whakaari/White Island eruption; Covid-19); CANADA: English v. French; the case for Quebecois separatism




OUTER CIRCLE: AFRICA (Commonwealth countries; S. Africa + English v. Afrikaans v. Zulu [isiZulu]; will Kiswahili become lingua-franca on the continent?)




OUTER CIRCLE: INDIA: English; Hindi; multilingualism; Gandhi; subaltern language politics; what does it mean to be English-educated?




Mid-term assignment (2 hours)



THE ENGLISH OF POLITICS: hate/racist/sexist/homophobic/xenophobic language; swearing and slang; p.c. versus populism; feminist linguistics; Trump v. Jacinda


DEVELOPMENT: The Three Es: English—Economics—Education




POLITICS OF GLOBAL ENGLISH: ubiquitous Business-English courses; the language of emails, etc.


EXPANDING-CIRCLE: ASEAN: Brunei, Burma,* Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand (not colonised), Vietnam

Research paper Data/Discussion/Argument DUE


End-of-term  REVIEW + writing assignment (1 hour)



*Burma: I will discuss this more in the lecture, but I use this name (not Myanmar) deliberately.

Tutor & Guest Lecturer: Dr Jennifer Eagleton
2020-2021 Second Semester
Contact Hours per week
Form of Assessment
100% coursework
Monday , 6:30 pm - 8:20 pm , LE1