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Book Review: Global Englishes and Transcultural Flows by Alastair Pennycook - New York: Routledge. 2007.

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This is a book review I wrote for a masters seminar in linguistics. It got marked B+ with the explanation that my own opinion on the book should have been more direct. I really liked this book because it combines the theories of Foucault, Butler, Lyotard and many others in order to show that Hip Hop, with all its various modal aspects, can be understood as a form of Global English. Please feel free to correct my grammar and spelling, so I can revise it when I feel like it.
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  University of Potsdam - English DepartmentProfessor Dr. Hans-Georg Wolf Master Seminar: Asian and African EnglishesAuthor: Philip Ketzel19. March 2010 Book Review Global Englishes and Transcultural Flows by Alastair Pennycook New York: Routledge. 2007. “How is English related to cultural forms and practices? Does its global spread now make it a culturally neutral language? Is the spread of English part of the gradual homogeni- zation of the world? […] Or is English part of the greater diversification and heterogenisationof the World? “ (5) Those are the framing questions for Pennycook‟s study in which he ex-plores the interconnections between hip-hop and English in a globalizing society and ques-tions the common concepts of language and education. What seems to be a very complex en-deavor at first turns out to be a remarkable work about the transnational and transcultural ex-changes and shaping of ideas, identity, culture and language.In order to work out the various aspects necessary to understand the correlations be-tween hip-hop and English, the text incorporates many scientific discourses and concepts, es-pecially in first half of the text. The approach of the study is described by Pennycook astransgressive applied linguistics, which means to push “the boundaries of applied linguistics by interlinking an understanding of global Englishes, the transmodal practices of hip-hop, and questions of performativity, identity and pedagogy.” (9)The first chapter starts out with an anecdote about a rap concert in Malaysia fromwhich Pennycook draws his first examples, lyrics that are in the typical hip-hop English butat the same time use Malaysian words and idioms to allude to the distinct local. On the basis  Ketzel 2of these examples, he elaborates how English is used by non native speakers to contextualizeand re-contextualize common practices, aspects and identities found in popular culture. Tograsp this process Pennycook introduces the term transcultural flows addressing “ the ways inwhich cultural forms move, change and are reused to fashion new identities in diverse con- texts.” (6) He applies this view onto Hip-hop  because he is “interested in how music and la n-guage  –  with a particular focus on hip-hop and English  –  are simultaneously fluid and fixed,move across space, borders, communities, nations, but also become localized, indigenized,re- created in the local.” (8) Therefore he asks how such an use of English should be unders-tood in terms of a linguistic concept raising questions like whether this is an example of Eng-lish as a killer language, or a new form of English emerging. His proposal is the implementa-tion of the term global Englishes , which he uses “ to locate the spread and use of English within critical theories of globalization” (5), because it is helpful “ to understand the role of English both critically  –  in terms of new forms of power, control and destruction  –  and in itscomplexity  –  in terms of new forms of resistance, change, appro  priation, and identity.” (5) Amore detailed elaboration of global Englishes and transcultural flows applied on the exampleof hip-hop is then the main concern of the book.In the second chapter, Pennycook  “seeks to connect globalization and English.” (18)He therefore redraws the two main opposing interpretations of globalization  –  namely thehomogenization and the heterogenisation of the world  –  and their connectedness to English.However, his understanding of globalization and English tries to go beyond such dichotomiesby arguing that the linguistic imperialism and the world Englishes framework  “are both miredin a linguistics and a politics of the last century, focusing inexorably on languages and na-tions as given entities, and ill-equipped to deal w ith current modes of globalization.” (23) Ac-cording to Pennycook, the practice of center linguists like Kachru, to systematize variants of the periphery Englishes by postulating a nation specific standard, needs to be criticized be-  Ketzel 3cause it leaves “out many eccentric, hybrid forms of local Englishes as too unsystematic.” (23) In other words, since the concept of national culture becomes blurred in a globalizingsociety, it also becomes important to criticize the validity of the linguistic notion variety.Therefore, using the term global Englishes, Pennycook aims at an understanding “that focu s-es on both a critical understanding of globali zation and a critical understanding of language.” (23) The global Englishes concept needs to be understood against a background of complexeconomical, social, cultural and political relations. (23)In order to legitimizes his critic of the linguistic imperialism and the world Englishesframework, Pennycook locates his study in the context of transgressive theories in the thirdchapter. He says that this is necessary to cope with the “‟kaleidoscopic, ludic open flavor‟ of  language use in hip-hop that needs to be taken seriously as performance and transgression.” (35) By using the „trans‟ prefix in many different ways in this section, the author wants topoint out that his proposed form of transgressive theory tries to go beyond former „post‟ and„critical‟ theories, and that it is intended “ to account for the transgressions of hip-hop and todisrupt some standard onthologies […] of language in general and English in particular. ” (36)  With the latter, he is alluding to Butler ‟s and Foucault ‟s questioning of power, sexuality, identity and knowledge. Since this is not so easy to grasp right away, it seems appropriatehere to use Pennyco ok‟s own word s when describing what he means by transgressive appliedlinguistics. “Rather than a method, a set of techniques or a fixed body of knowledge, I see critical applied linguistics as a movable praxis , a constantly shifting and dynamic approach to ques-tions of language in multiple contexts. Rather than viewing critical applied linguistics as anew form of interdisciplinary knowledge, I prefer to view it as a form of  anti -disciplinary ortransgressive knowledge, as a way of thinking and doing that is always problematizing. Thismeans not only that critical applied linguistics implies a hybrid model of research and praxis,but also that it generates something which is far more dynamic. Critical applied linguisticsfrom this perspective is not about the mapping of a fixed politics on to a static body of know- ledge, but rather is about creating something new.” (37)    Ketzel 4This reminds a little bit of  Derrida‟s deconstructionism . Nevertheless, in order to under-take his creative journey elaborating the dynamics of the global Englishes and the transcul-tural flows in hip-hop, Pennycook needs some technical terms, which he introduces suffi-ciently and uses as follows:-   transculturation and transidiomatic practices , refer “ to the constant process of bor-rowing, bending and blending of cultures, to the communicative practices of peopleinteracting across different linguistic and communicative codes, borrowing, bending and blending languages into new modes of expression” ( 47)-   transmodality , implies “that meaning [always] occurs in multiple modes” since “thereis no such thing as language in isolation” (50)-   transtextuality and transsignification , refer to a form of social semiotics that includesthe pretextual history, the contextual relations, the subtextual meanings, the intertex-tual echoes, and the posttextual interpretations (53)-   translation and translingualism , can be understood as a process of  “ making meaningacross and against codifications ” (55)  Pennycook illustrates how all of the above can be found in of hip-hop, whereas the mostexemplifying would be the concept of sampling 1 . Sampling in hip-hop can refer to the copy-ing, adaptation and re-contextualization: of beats and loops (of melodies and/or singing) fromany other sound recordings, of any kind of footage (e.g. graffiti), of fashion styles or any oth-er somatic expressions (e.g. break dancing and beat boxing), and lastly, but most applicablyfor the study, of  certain rap „flows‟ and other linguistic features such as the typical Englishhip-hop slang including the reiteration of certain topics and themes commonly covered in 1 The definition of sampling given here is a summary of what Pennycook describes in various placesthroughout the text.
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