Can English be used for good?

This week we published Patricia Friedrich’s new book English for Diplomatic Purposes which is the first of its kind to examine the use of English in diplomacy, combining theory and practice to offer a ground-breaking volume for all those working in this field.

English for Diplomatic PurposesCan English be used for good? This question is at the center of my academic practice and was also the driving force behind the invitations I made to colleagues around the world, asking them if they would like to contribute to this book we created, English for Diplomatic Purposes. The fact that these nine researchers/practitioners and I embarked on this creative journey means that we believe it can.

English is often linked to a dramatic colonial past, and to both imperialism and the demise of minority languages at present. While these dynamics cannot be ignored, there is another side to English: that of an important lingua franca, one that brings people together, but that also changes wherever it goes, given local cultures and needs.

This is the backdrop to the book we wrote. How do we reconcile these paradoxical aspects of English and emphasize the uplifting, empowering and life-affirming purposes of the language? First of all, we teach it from an inclusive, summative perspective, and not from a deficit one. This means adding to the students’ repertoire of languages, reaffirming that the languages and varieties that they already speak are valid, functional and representative of their identities and cultures. It also means communicating to native speakers that English is manifested in many different forms. That speaking a variety other than the standard, in contexts where those varieties are called for, is actually a sign of understanding of audience, and that given such fertile variation, linguistic meaning needs to be negotiated in context.

That brings us to the very topic of the book – negotiation and English in diplomatic contexts. While we were familiar with many great pedagogical works that focused on business communication, we believe that the specifics of diplomatic communication called for special pedagogical tools as well. Noticing that those were hard to come by, we decided to start the conversation by writing chapters ourselves. Diplomatic negotiation, dialogue and agreement are special because they go much beyond deal-making, trade exchanges and business alliances. While diplomatic communication is not always synonymous with peace-seeking, we would like to see that facet of diplomacy as the ultimate goal of these exchanges. This applies to the big picture – countries, regions, economic blocks – but also, to a surprising degree, to our own individual lives.

The contributors and I invite you take this journey into the English language’s potential to bring people together in diplomatic conversation and to add your own ideas to the conversation.

For further information about the book, please see our website.

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