REBECCA SUTTON asks: ‘Is global English an imperial dictator or an educational saviour?’

The issue of the role of global English is much debated in linguistic circles. It is true that there are some individuals who suffer at the hands of the ever expanding English language. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (1986, cited by Jenkins, 2009) argues this through his personal experiences in Kenya. He claims that English came in and forced itself upon a nation which was declared to be in a state of emergency. He describes educational dictators which forced English upon children by punishing any child caught speaking in a native tongue. Even worse, all exams were written in English which meant any child struggling to grasp the language would fail; even if they excelled in other subjects! This is an argument which we need to consider with sensitivity as he states a loss of a native language results in the loss of human rights and culture. It is, without question, a tragedy for a culture to be lost due to an imposing language. The question is whether English was introduced as a form of imperial control or was it in fact an educational tool to help the nation.

Alternatively, many challenge the notion that English really is the bulldozer of the language world. Let’s consider the account of Chinua Achebe (1975, cited by Jenkins, 2009). He claims the introduction of English gave Africa a sense of unity. English allowed people to communicate with a manageable number of languages compared to the previous many strands of African indigenous languages. He argues that English is a worldwide language and believes he should not deny a language he has been given. Schneider (2011) also offers support for global English, claiming that Nigeria introduced it by means of ethnic neutrality as it meant not one ethnic tongue was favoured over another. It seems to me, that English can also offer many rewards to a community by being introduced. If it can provide an answer to problems and bring together people from different communities, is this really a killer act? When considering these arguments global English does not seem all doom and gloom as anticipated.

Ultimately, we must ask ourselves what is the answer to such a delicate issue. Is this debate really one which requires an answer on either side of the fence? I believe the answer lies within the middle ground.  Yes, it is true that English is the language of business and trade (Schneider, 2011). Yes, it is true that English can offer better employment opportunities due to its worldwide fame (Schneider, 2011). However, is this really an all or nothing event? Surely, a native language can thrive alongside an international one. I believe the best result would be to offer English as a second language option in countries such as Nigeria and Kenya. This way we can avoid the tragedy experienced by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (1986, cited by Jenkins, 2009) from happening again. It would seem the answer to all of our linguistic problems. By allowing both global English and native languages to live alongside each other, in harmony, people would be able to retain their culture whilst benefitting from the knowledge of this universal language. Unfortunately, this is not a view shared by all. Can a debate like this ever be resolved?

REBECCA SUTTON, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Jenkins, J. (2009). World Englishes. Oxon: Routledge.

Schneider, E. (2011). English Around the World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

BETHAN JONES considers the question: ‘Is English to die for?

Is our language, a language used by almost a quarter of the world’s population (Crystal, 2003:5), taking over as a global language and killing other languages on its journey?  According to Crystal  (2003:5) there is ‘great variation in the reasons for choosing a particular language’ as a global language, including ‘historical tradition, political expediency, and the desire for commercial, cultural or technological contact.’ English may have just been in the right place at the right time. Does this mean that English is being blamed, when it just happens that English is becoming the global language?

Crystal explains that there are three main risks that arise as side effects to a global language. The first of these is ‘linguistic power’(2003:16) which means that those who speak the global language as their mother tongue would automatically be in a position of power in comparison to those who don’t speak it as their mother-tongue. Crystal claims that this linguistic power will retain the gap between the rich and the poor. Following this, ‘linguistic complacency’ (2003:17) is when a global language threatens to potentially ‘eliminate the motivation for adults to learn other languages’.  The third, ‘linguistic death’ (2003:20), is the possibility of wide spread death of other languages, in particular minority languages. It is possible to show a correlation between the rise of English as a global language and the demise of minority languages, (2003:23). People have a need for identity and without their native tongue; they lose a part of it. A language shows where we belong.  There are implications that only third world countries are under pressure to learn a global language due to minority languages dying out but this is not the case; first world countries are also under pressure to learn a global language.

On the other hand, might we benefit from a global language? A global language offers mutual intelligibility; a simple way to communicate between all countries and cultures. English can be used in specific functions such as trading and business (Crystal, 2003:24). Schneider (2011) claims that English is the language of business and trade and it offers an easier way of communication. Crystal (2003:12) states that there has ‘never has there been a more urgent need for a global language’ as there has ‘never been a time when so many nations [have needed] to talk to each other so much’.

Brutt-Griffler (2002) cited by Schneider (2011:214) has shown that the idea that English being pushed and imposed onto speakers is a mistake; it is recognised as a ‘powerful tool, an instrument of learning and self-empowerment’. Chinua Achebe cited by Jenkins (2009) believes that English gave people a language to communicate with. It has created African Unity as they are able to communicate using English as a lingua franca; ‘a language [that] is accepted from outside the community … because of the political, economic, or religious influence of a foreign power’ (Crystal, 2003:11).

Crystal (2003:22) suggests that bilingualism is the answer for mutual intelligibility plus an identity, whilst Chinua Achebe, cited by Jenkins (2009:194), believes that a new English which is ‘still in communion with ancestral home which is altered to suit its new … surroundings’ would be a suitable solution for those for or against a global language.

It is very unlikely that a global language can be stopped, but do we really want it to?

BETHAN JONES, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

 

References

 

Crystal, D. (2003) English as a Global Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schneider, E. (2011) English Around the World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jenkins, J. (2009) World Englishes. Oxon: Routledge.

GREGORY CARTWRIGHT debates whether Global English is really the big, bad bully that it’s made out to be, or is it just misunderstood?

Later this month the new Les Misérables film will be released into cinemas across the world. However, although the film is adapted from Victor Hugo’s classic French novel of the same name, it will – of course – be in English. I’m sure this will come as no great surprise to you; why would Hollywood make a film in any other language when the majority of people in the world can enjoy watching it in English? What is the need for other languages if we can all get by with one?

A backlash to this attitude has resulted in English being dubbed a ‘killer language’ by many linguists. But just how substantial is their claim?

Many centuries ago, the elite of the population of Britain spoke French, as did many other countries. But that phase passed – English is currently the most widely spoken language in the world and is regarded as a ‘global language’. In the realms of education, politics and business – many indigenous languages are used less and less in favour of English and other ‘lingua franca’. According to Crystal (2000: 14) ‘96% of the world’s languages are spoken by 4% of the population’  and linguists estimate that over the next century, around two languages will die every month (Jenkins 2009: 160). These figures are indeed worrying ones. But whilst languages are dying, they are also being born.

Threatened languages often begin to incorporate features from the language which is threatening them but change in language isn’t always a negative thing (Crystal 2000: 22). ‘English is not replacing indigenous languages but being added on to persistent local language habits’ (Schneider 2011: 222) – in some cases the adoption of inflections, function words and even slang, can evolve a language and even result in the formation of pidgins and creoles which go on to be regarded as languages in their own right.

Never has it been so easy for a language to ‘go global’, and popular culture plays a huge part in the spread (and development) of English; people can make video calls to relatives in foreign countries using Skype or communicate via Twitter; pop songs can be uploaded onto Soundcloud within minutes and downloaded by someone half the world away in seconds; and teenagers in Eastern countries such as Singapore hear slang words in popular Hollywood films and adopt them, creating New Englishes. For instance: the Singlish (Singapore English) phrase ‘tok cok’ means to ‘talk nonsense’ and derives from the English phrase ‘cock and bull story’.

Linguists hope these new languages will be studied and codified, and this positive attitude towards local Englishes marks an important step toward their ultimate acceptance.  So, whilst at times it might seem like English is a globally-dominant bully, I think we have to see the positive side to what many of us consider a bad situation. Think of language death as inevitable evidence of Darwin’s theory; think of language change as evolution which results in exciting new variations; and think of Global English as a killer, maybe, but  also as a positive thing; a communicative tool to be used as we wish; to be used to progress.  As Victor Hugo, in his classic French novel, wrote: ‘would you realise what revolution is, call it progress; and would you realise what progress is, call it tomorrow.’

Gregory Cartwright, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

 

 

References

Crystal, D. (2000) Language Death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hugo, V. (2012) Les Misérables. London: Penguin Books.

Jenkins, J. (2012) World Englishes. 2nd edition. Oxon: Routledge.

Schneider, E. W. (2011) “Issues and Attitudes” from: Schneider, E. W.  (2011)  English Around the World: an Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 210-228.

 

 

NICKY POLLARD discusses whether the jury is still out on ‘English: A Killer Language?’

A major concern of linguists today is the increasing endangerment and death of many of the world’s languages.   Alarming figures indicate that, by the end of the 21st century, between 20 and 50 per cent of the world’s 6,900 languages will become extinct (Ethnologue, 2009).

So what is the cause of language death?  This much debated topic has raised a number of differing opinions, with a number of scholars citing the spread of global English as the major contributory factor.   This view often illustrated in the use of emotive expressions such as ‘killer language’, ‘virus’ or ‘murderer’.  This viewpoint is one held by Phillipson (1992) who refers to the spread of global English as ‘linguistic imperialism’, a process whereby powerful nations such as Britain and America assert their influence on weaker, developing nations.  The promotion and often imposition of English and positive westernised ideologies helping to maintain political dominance and power  (Seargeant 2012: 22-25).  This viewpoint is shared by Ferguson (2006: 125-126, cited by Seargeant 2012:25) who states that the spread of English has resulted in a loss of linguistic diversity which has ultimately led to the endangerment of many languages and cultures.

For example, McMahon (1994, cited by Eckert et al. 2004: 110-112) argues that Papua New Guinea is an example where the influence of English has led to the death of many of the countries indigenous languages.  This was caused by a language shift to the more prestigious contact variety Tok Pisin which led to inhabitants abandoning their local vernaculars in favour of the new variety.  Ultimately, many of the local languages became extinct leading to the loss of the countries linguistic diversity and cultural identity.

However, Schneider (2011: 213-214) argues that global English is not the main factor in language death.   He argues that speakers of indigenous languages often shift to regional varieties which are  promoted by authorities through local language policies, for example, Filipino and Bahasa Indonesia.  In addition, Brutt-Griffler (2002, cited in Schneider 2011: 214) states that English has not been imposed on the speakers of other languages.  On the contrary,  during the period of British colonialism English was not promoted to the lower class inhabitants, only the elite were provided with the opportunity to learn the language of ‘power’ and ‘self-empowerment’ (Seargeant 2011: 214). This resulted in many of the indigenous communities retaining their vernacular language throughout the period of British colonialism.  In addition, Mufwene (2005: 45) argues that the real language killers are in fact its own speakers who voluntarily shift to a new language in order to gain better opportunities and prospects in the global community.

Whilst the evidence does suggest that globalization has in part been a contributory factor in the cause of language death, I am not fully convinced that it is the major factor.   However, I am in agreement with the view that the spread of English is being used  as a tool with which to spread  westernised  ideologies. This is evident is the use of positive expressions such as  ‘pathway of global communication’ and ‘more than a language’ Prime Minister’s Office (2008, cited in Seargeant 2012: 9).  So what do you think?

NICKY POLLARD, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

 

References

Brutt-griffler, J. (2002) World English: a Study of its Development. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters  Ltd.

Ethnologue. (2009) [Accessed 20 December 2012].  Available at: http://www.ethnologue.org.uk/web.asp

Eckert, T., Johann, A., Kanzig, A., Kung, M., Muller, B., Schwald, C. & Walder, L. (2004) Is        English a ‘Killer Language’?  The Globalisation of a Code.  Retrieved December 1, 2012      from: http://www1.amalnet.k12.il/amalna/gefen/profession/English/resources%20reserve/

McMahon, A.M. S. (2004) Understanding Language Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University  Press.

Mufwene, S. S. (2005) Globalization and the myth of killer languages.  In: G. Huggan & S. Klasen  (eds.) (2005) Perspectives on Endangerment.  New York: Georg Olms Verlag, pp.45.

Phillipson, R. (1992) Linguistic Imperialism.  Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.

Seargeant, P. (2012) The Politics and Policies of Global English.  In: A. Hewings & C.Tagg (2012) The Politics of English: Conflict, Competition, Co-existance.  Abingdon: Routledge in  association with The Open University Press.

Schneider, E. W. (2011) English Around the World: an Introduction.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

ABBIE HUDSON ponders: ‘Do we need language to think?’

A key question in linguistics is whether we need language to think or not.

Focusing on the idea that language is perceived to be essential for thought, where thinking constitutes a conscious form of action, one suggestion is that thought must feature content, such as the perception of a river. To this content we allocate a word, such as ‘river’ to enable an identification and understanding. However, can we still understand the concept of something without a particular word, whether it is concrete or abstract?

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis indicates the close relation of language and thought, known as Linguistic Determinism. The hypothesis suggests how the language we use forms our methods of visualising and understanding the concepts of life through thought. The conventions we have in our mind show a direct relation to our language capabilities (Mooney et al, 2011).

On the other hand, if it is possible to understand the concept of a word without knowing the specific word for the object, could this apply to an abstract concept?

The word ‘privacy’ is strongly recognised in our society. However, in the Italian language there is an absence of a word for this term. So, does this mean that they do not understand the concept? Italian people still exhibit behaviour that shows an understanding of this, such as closing the door when using a public bathroom (Napoli & Schoenfeld, 2010). Surely this demonstrates how they can still perceive its importance through thought without the alleged necessary language for it, reinforcing the idea that we can in fact think without language.

Children without hearing are a prime example of how language is irrelevant to the capability of thinking. Long before they have access to linguistic input, they show behaviours that clearly require thought, showing it is possible without the use of language. However, there is no possibility that their thought could be in a specific human tongue considering there being no stage of language acquisition. The child’s inability to hear is not realised until they have reached toddler age as the child displays similar behaviour to that of children with functional hearing. This seems to show that the child can think even without an acquired language or understanding of one; signifying the possibility to think without language (Napoli & Schoenfeld 2010).

Although we need language to express our feelings and emotions to others in detail and to some extent it is required to communicate with others, conversely, it is still possible to have thought processes without any previous acquirement of language. Man was functional long before verbal or written communication was established. So ask yourself, how would the human race still be in existence if language was paramount to thought?

I personally believe thought is not separate from language, as the notion of speech is totally unachievable without the ability to think, nevertheless, I consider the aspect of language development to be the reason for our world catapulting through evolution. Yes, it is language that has allowed us to communicate on a much more accessible level and form our society today, but the greatest power behind all of this, which has made everything possible, is the power of thought.

 ABBIE HUDSON, English Language Undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Mooney, A. (2011) Language, Society and Power: An Introduction. London: Routledge.

Napoli, D and Lee- Schoenfeld, V. (2010) Does language equal thought? Oxford: Oxford University Press.