Buying into English

Buying into English: Language and Investment in the New Capitalist World

Catherine Prendergast
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Buying into English
    Book Description:

    Many developing countries have little choice but to "buy into English" as a path to ideological and material betterment.Based on extensive fieldwork in Slovakia, Prendergast assembles a rich ethnographic study that records the thoughts, aspirations, and concerns of Slovak nationals, language instructors, journalists, and textbook authors who contend with the increasing importance of English to their rapidly evolving world. She reveals how the use of English in everyday life has becomes suffused with the terms of the knowledge and information economy, where language is manipulated for power and profit.Buying into Englishpresents an astute analysis of the factors that have made English so prominent and yet so elusive, and a deconstruction of the myth of guaranteed viability for new states and economies through English.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7118-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-22)

    For many in the world today, learning English is virtually a must. English has made an unprecedented rise to become the world’s lingua franca, the most commonly used language of global trade. As such it has become the object of enormous investment, as eagerly sought as a piece of property or a hot stock. At the millennial moment, defined by global capitalism and the rise of the knowledge economy, people around the world are buying into English, investing their money and time in it, hoping for a favorable outcome.¹

    These investments are motivated by the common belief that English, as...

    (pp. 23-49)

    English was coming through my window. Jan stood outside the house next to his girlfriend and his BMW, calling to me to hurry because every one was waiting at the restaurant and hungry.

    It seemed to me that somewhere between my visits to Slovakia in 1992 and 1994, Jan and his BMW had materialized along with diet soft drinks and the border between the Czech and Slovak Republics. I initially found him unnerving because he seemed ostentatious; he liked to get to know people by doing extravagant favors for them that would entail putting his possessions and social networks to...

  6. 2 Other Worlds in Other Words
    (pp. 50-73)

    The unified Czechoslovakia emerging from the Velvet Revolution of 1989 did not last long. In January 1993, the country officially split into the Czech and Slovak Republics in what has since been widely termed “the Velvet Divorce.” Such a term acknowledges that compared with the violent and traumatic rending of the Balkan states, the breakup of Czechoslovakia was relatively peaceful, resulting in no deaths. Although not necessarily a primary cause of the split, nationalism certainly followed the split in Slovakia; in this respect, developments in Slovakia paralleled those in many other postcommunist states in the 1990s, even those that did...

  7. 3 “We Live and Learn”
    (pp. 74-97)

    In 2001, the malls came to Slovakia: first “Polus City Center,” just west of downtown, then the sprawling “Aupark Bratislava Shopping Center,” incongruously abutting Petržalka’s many Soviet-built cement-panel apartment buildings. Before I returned to Slovakia in 2003, after a nine-year absence, Maria gave me this advance notice on the malls: “Really, if you are inside one of these malls, you will not be able to tell where you are, in Slovakia, or in America.” With this comment Maria enunciated a common observation about the working of globalization: that certain features of the American commercial landscape replicate themselves in many countries,...

  8. 4 Real Life in English
    (pp. 98-125)

    Of all the artifacts I collected in 2003, one is particularly evocative of the paradoxes and ambiguities of English in postcommunist Slovakia: my certificate of completion of the twenty-five-hour course “Principals and Practice of National Testing IV in the Framework of the Project ‘Reform of the Slovak Maturita.’” The certificate bears my name and title—“Catherine PRENDERGAST, PhD”—as well as the signatures of the foreign consultant and native speaker of English hired to teach the course, and the director of the office of the Ministry of Education concerned with the reform.¹ No fewer than five logos stake their territory...

  9. 5 The Golden Cage
    (pp. 126-148)

    We had picked the wrong line again, and it wasn’t moving. By my fourth month in and around Slovakia, I had learned that if I stepped in line behind a Slovak woman attempting to go through airport passport control to a Western European country, I would be waiting a long time. In the wake of the 1990s rise in human trafficking from and through Eastern Europe, single Slovak women crossing borders were often assumed to be either present or future prostitutes or undocumented domestic workers. I knew many single women who no longer even tried to apply for visas, certain...

  10. Appendix. ENGLISH: A KIND OF SPORT
    (pp. 149-156)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 157-170)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 171-176)
  13. Index
    (pp. 177-180)