Alastair Pennycook

Alastair PennycookAlastair Pennycook is Professor of Language in Education at the University of Technology Sydney. He has worked in language education in many parts of the world and is best known for his work on the global spread of English, critical applied linguistics and urban multilingualism. He is the author of a number of books in these fields, three of which – The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language, Longman, 1994; Global Englishes and Transcultural Flows, Routledge, 2007; and Language and Mobility: Unexpected Places, Multilingual Matters, 2012 – have been awarded the BAAL Book Prize for the best book of the year in applied linguistics.


Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb: Language, Education and Misunderstanding
Alastair Pennycook, University of Technology Sydney

Much of linguistic thought has been premised on a model of mutual understanding, of passing encoded messages back and forth from one head to another, and doing so within a speech community with agreed norms for language use and comprehension. There are good grounds, however, to question this utopian model of language and communication, not only because of increased diversity in many contemporary contexts of interaction, but also because of the need to rethink what is at stake in acts of communication. Rather than assuming that we understand each other, we need to explore the commonality of mutual misunderstanding. Drawing on various metrolingual data, this paper questions common assumptions about language and understanding, particularly the view that a principal function of language is communication. The new sociolinguistics, with its focus on repertoires, resources and mobilities, in combination with ideas from non-representational theory and posthumanist performativity, brings other considerations to the table, questioning the divide between people and place, language and society, structure and agency, things and non-things, and opening up alternate ways of thinking about language, people, meaning and place. This has major implications for language education, where it has often been assumed that communication is both a means and a goal for language learning. Using examples of metrolingual practices, this paper will explore an alternative vision for language and education.