Research Seminars

Research seminars

The many meanings of English: An ontological framework for Applied English Linguistics

Christopher J Hall (York St John University)

28th november 2018

Searle (2008, pp. 43-4) states that, in the social sciences, “[u]nless you have a clear conception of the nature of the phenomena you are investigating, you are unlikely to develop the right methodology and the right theoretical apparatus for conducting the investigation”. Addressing teachers, Harris (2009, p. 25) asserts: “Whether you realize it or not, you are teaching not just English […], but a certain view of what that language is, and also a certain view of what a language is [...].” So for both research and practice, considering the ontological status of (the) English (language) is fundamental. Yet currently there is no explicit framework for specifying the many ways in which English can be said to exist. In this presentation I will propose such a framework, claiming that English, when used in relation to language, names types of entities associated with two ontological categories. One set of types sits within the ontological category of the language capacity, the species property. Within this category, English refers to individual instantiations of the broader capacity. The second set of ontological types is socially constructed on the basis of the contemplation of the first set; these types are all directly or indirectly derived from the process of collective identification (Jenkins, 2004) holding at the level of nation. Polemically, I will suggest that understandings of English provided within linguistics and purveyed in teachingare derived from, conditioned by, or defined with reference to, this second ontological category, rather than directly from the first. Some critical and pedagogical implications of this for English applied linguistics will be discussed.


Harris, R. (2009). Implicit and explicit language teaching. In Toolan, M. (ed.),Language teaching. Intergrational linguistic approaches (pp. 24-46). London: Routledge.

Jenkins, R. (2004). Social identity (3rd edn). London: Routledge.

Searle, J. R. (2008). Language and social ontology. Theory and society, 37, 5, 443-459.