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The value(s) of English as global linguistic capital: a dialogue between linguistic justice and sociolinguistic approaches

Eva Codó and Elvira Riera-Gil

Abstract

Theorists of linguistic justice tend to assume that English (particularly its native varieties) has paramount and stable value as a global communicative tool. From this alleged value they identify several injustices for non-native speakers, like unequal opportunities and lower dignity, related to the instrumental and identity-related values of languages. In this article we challenge assumptions about the real-life value of English by engaging in an interdisciplinary dialogue that connects normative theories and sociolinguistic theories of value. Through the analysis of ethnographic case studies, we conclude that the value of English (and nativeness in English) as linguistic capital is highly context-dependent, to the extent that possessing native skills may have no positive effects for an English speaker. Both language-centred factors (linguistic awareness and adaptive skills) and non-language centred factors (markets and social indexicalities) determine this value. We highlight that normative approaches to languages cannot address instrumental and identity-related values separately, because identity is instrumental to communicative interactions. We conclude that multilingualism fulfils better than monolingualism (either in English or in state majority languages) the goals of linguistic justice traditionally associated with the latter. Finally, we engage in a critical reflection about the suitability and conditions of possibility of interdisciplinary research.


Corresponding author: Eva Codó, Departament de Filologia Anglesa i Germanística, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Facultat de Filosofia i Lletres, 08193, Bellaterra, Barcelona, Spain, E-mail:

Funding source: Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación

Award Identifier / Grant number: PID2019-106710GB-I00

  1. Research funding: This work was funded by Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (No. PID2019-106710GB-I00).

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Received: 2021-07-16
Accepted: 2022-02-07
Published Online: 2022-08-31
Published in Print: 2022-09-27

© 2022 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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