chapter  3
16 Pages

Theoretical Preliminaries: Value, Market, and Practice

The need to move beyond the linguistic to account for the complexity of global English leads us to a particular perspective, and that is the perspective that focuses on value. Value is a nebulous subject in social theory, and the anthropologist David Graeber has noted that there have been three different ways in which value has been conceived in earlier work:

1. “values” in the sociological sense: conceptions of what is ultimately good, proper, or desirable in human life

2. “value” in the economic sense: the degree to which objects are desired, particularly, as measured by how much others are willing to give up to get them

3. “value” in the linguistic sense, which goes back to the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure (1966), and might be most simply glossed as “meaningful diff erence” (Graeber 2001: 1-2)

In our investigation of global English, value is a relevant notion in all three senses. Starting from the end of Graeber’s list, obviously understanding the value of English as a sign that carries meaningful diff erence is the central concern we are involved in. That is, the indexical meaning of English and the implication it has for a speaker’s identity are precisely the point of the study of global English. At the same time, the global spread of English is deeply linked with the value of English in the economic sense, for a large part of the power of English in the new economy lies in its perceived economic value-the belief that competence in English can be converted into material gain in some form. Finally, though this may be the least obvious, ideologies of English that shape the semiotic and economic value of the language are also connected to ‘values’ in the sense of moral, ethical, and subjective positions. For instance, even when English is valorized as the language of social mobility and economic gain, such images of English are inevitably rooted in particular fi gures of personhood, which are in

turn located in moral space. Thus, in some contexts, speaking English may index not only being a member of the upper social class but also point to the speaker’s good upbringing, his or her moral integrity and caliber, which indeed works to justify the higher social status that the speaker enjoys (Park 2010b; see Chapter 8 for more discussion). In other words, English is never evaluated only for its practical utility as a tool for communication but also in terms of ‘good’ or ‘bad’—that is, as part of our system of ‘values.’ Indeed, Graeber believes that these three senses of value are probably not separate and argues that ‘scholars trying to come up with a coherent theory of any one of them have ended up falling into terrible problems for lack of suffi cient consideration of the other ones’ (2001: 2).