Buying into English is a welcome contribution to the current debate on global English, countering the view that a globalized English functions as a neutral lingua franca by demonstrating how its specific value and meaning have changed in response to shifts in international relations. The complicated, often paradoxical shifts in the value that English has carried for the individuals in Prendergast's case studies illustrate the error in identifying English in any fixed way with either imperialism, the 'free' market, or political freedom.
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 English presents 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.
In this unique blend of personal reminiscence and social analysis, Catherine Prendergast examines the relationships among language learning, political power, capital investment, and individual advancement. Buying into English should be required reading for anyone concerned with English as a global language and with the ways of writing about our own encounters with a changing world.
Timely, interesting, enjoyable and thought-provoking. An innovative analysis of many processes that have import across the European Union and in wider global frames.
Raising serious sociolinguistic and social issues, Prendergast's book reads like an inspiring fiction.
Full of stories, large and small, about the cheapening of English in a country where people had once fetishized it, going to great lengths to learn it for themselves and their children under a regime that placed as many obstacles as possible in their path.
Catherine Prendergast is professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of Literacy and Racial Justice: The Politics of Learning after Brown v. Board of Education.