The Idea of English in Japan: Ideology and the Evolution of a Global Language

The Idea of English in Japan: Ideology and the Evolution of a Global Language
Philip Seargeant, Bristol, United Kingdom: Multilingual Matters, 2009. Pp. xiv + 186.

Reviewed by Esther Boucher-Yip
Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Boston, USA

The Idea of English in Japan: Ideology and the Evolution of a Global Language by Philip Seargeant presents an intelligent discussion for contemporary applied linguists and researchers interested in English in Japan. In this book Seargeant critically examines the relationships people have towards the English language and how it is used and perceived in Japan. The basis for this perception is mostly drawn from how English is conceptualized as a global language in Japan.
The book is divided into nine chapters beginning with the introductory chapter where the author briefly discusses the idea of English as a concept and provides reasons why Japan is an appealing case study for the English as a global language paradigm.
In chapter 2, Seargeant describes the two theoretical approaches in which English is conceptualized in applied linguistics: English as a global language and English as a lingua franca. The author argues that the different conceptualizations of English can act as the basis for different trends within applied linguistics practice and provides brief examples of such trends in Japan. The chapter ends with two specific questions: To what end are the conceptualizations of English within Japanese society the way that they are? What consequences do the structural dynamics which result in these context-specific conceptualizations have for the generation of the theoretical approaches? (p. 20).
The author attempts to answer the questions raised in chapter 2 in the following chapter (chapter 3) by reviewing the ways in which global English studies have approached the issue of ideology, specifically the language ideologies which provide a framework for the study of the idea of English in Japan. He also provides a historical overview of the politics and the emergence of the world Englishes paradigm. Seargeant then explains the concept of ideology, indexicality and symbolic meaning of languages.
In chapter 4, Seargeant examines the way in which English is framed within the debate about language education in Japan and identifies and analyzes the ideologies of the language that structure both mainstream applied linguistics research and educational policy. He also provides a brief overview of the practice and policy of English language teaching in Japan.
The author continues with his discussion of the conceptualization of English in Japan in the following chapter (chapter 5) and draws a connection between the English language and Japanese culture which is often discursively negotiated (p. 66).
In the next three chapters, the author provides conceptual case studies anchored around salient concepts or motifs within the discourse such as the issue of ‘authenticity’ (chapter 6), the relationship between aspiration and the current status of English within the world (chapter 7), and what does and does not count as ‘English’ in Japan (chapter 8).
In the final chapter, the author returns to his discussion of the broader concept of English as a global language and the implication of teaching English in the Japanese context.
Readers who are not familiar with the Japanese context will appreciate his examples of how English is used and perceived in Japan as he tries to connect these examples to the wider theoretical framework of his study. A criticism, however, would be that he does not fully discuss the implication for English language teaching in Japan. Nonetheless, Seargeant’s study of the ontology of English in Japan and how the language is conceptualized in research paradigms lends a new insight to contemporary applied linguistic thought and adds a new perspective to the current discussion and debate on English as a global language.