“The successful candidate will be a native speaker of American English”

I recently blogged about an assistant professorship being advertised by the Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. Readers may have noted that the advert is very specifically targeted at suitably qualified candidates who are “native speaker[s] of American English, or have near-native command of American English”. This is a noteworthy requirement for several reasons:

Pragmatically, it is interesting to note that there is no similar proficiency requirement for Dutch, even though this is a university in the Netherlands, and there is a clearly stated expectation that the successful candidate will engage in “administrative tasks at departmental and faculty level”.

From a linguistic perspective, the term ‘American English’ is quite problematic, too. Despite a certain degree of standardisation in spelling, there is such dialectal diversity in the States as to render the term ‘American English’ a linguistically vacuous abstraction: An educated Bostonian sounds quite different from a working-class Texan, and both these dialects are markedly different from African-American Vernacular English. In keeping with good faith, I presume that the selection committee would not discriminate against those speakers of American English who do not sound ‘educated’, ‘successful’ or ‘sophisticated’. But then one is compelled to ask on what linguistic criteria speakers of British or Australian English dialects had to be excluded from consideration.

In terms of language policy, one is puzzled by the fact that this university prioritises American English as a requisite for success in the business world. It is far from evident why this would be the most appropriate linguistic resource for conducting business in settings such as the City, Singapore or Switzerland. If trainee business executives are preparing for success in a global market, it is -I think- self-evident that they need to be sensitised to the role and status of World Englishes and their speakers. The proposition implicit in this advert, namely that American English constitutes a universally appropriate model of communication, and that it is in fact preferrable to other English varieties, surely undermines this goal.

The neo-colonial practices of replacing local teachers with native English speakers has been extensively criticised in the literature as being educationally unsound and politically problematic (e.g., Holliday 2005: 6-7 and passim, Phillipson 1992: 193-199). In fact, the term ‘linguicism’ has been coined by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, in analogy to ‘racism’, to describe such discriminatory practices. I must confess that I have always disliked the way the word sounds, but it does seem highly apt in this context.

2 thoughts on ““The successful candidate will be a native speaker of American English””

  1. Hi Achilleas,
    I seem to be discovering this blog post quite late in the day! But it makes interesting reading. I read recently about some EU anti-discrimination laws which cover this area and wondered if you’d come across these too? Here’s a link: http://teflequityadvocates.com/2014/04/01/native-speakers-only-ads-and-eu-law/
    Well done for identifying the issues these job ads raise. Did you ever hear anything more about this particular instance?

    1. Hi Laura, Thanks for sharing the link – lots of interesting information there. I am afraid to say that I didn’t follow up on this particular advert – but it struck me as so odd and frustrating to see a university aligning itself with such a discriminatory policy.

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