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Keeping in mind the Chinese character-combination yuyan, with its multiple meanings of language, parts of language, the processes of language, and the products of those processes, the author depicts English as kept alive by many people and by many different ways of using it in a wide range of personal, social, and historical contexts. She proposes four lines of inquiry “against the grain” of English-only instruction—that living-English users weigh what English can do for them against what it has done to them; that they weigh what English can do against what it cannot do; that they understand English as being in the hands of all its users; and that they focus energy on how to tinker with the very standardized usages they are pressured to “imitate”—and discusses the implications of those lines of inquiry for composition in the United States.


This article was originally published in the journal College English, by the National Council of Teachers of English.

Original Publication Information

Lu, Min-Zhan. "Living English Work." 2006. College English 68(6): 605-618.