RUSSELL INNS discusses whether global English is good for the world

Whether English is a ‘killer’ language or good for the world  is a debate that has been studied by linguists following its spread across the world. Crystal (2003) suggested some time back that there are roughly 750 million speakers of some form of the English language with official status in a number of foreign countries. There is no doubt that English is a global language due to its recognition in almost, if not every, country in the world. It is however causing the ‘death’ of many other languages due to its importance in politics, the fact that the majority of the world has accepted the language and through the British Empire’s colonisation of the world. Is this a good thing however? Personally I believe it is a totally irrelevant question. Whether it is good for the world or not, there is nothing anyone can do to stop the fact it is a global language. Graddol (2007) explores the claim that it is ‘economically beneficial’ for people to learn the language. It is also vital in international safety such as air traffic control along with other international communication in politics and it’s the language used in the United Nations. It is also important to note that pop culture including music and film are predominantly in English, again spreading the use of the language. I’m not saying it is good that other languages are dying, but I believe that English as a global language is now a necessity. Crystal (2002) suggests that “50% of the 6000 languages used today will be gone in 100 years” a point which is supported by other linguists, but is this a bad thing? Obviously it is a shame that people are losing their language and with it a part of their culture and history. However the suggestion that people lose their “identity” after losing their language is not a view I share. I would like to think that there is more than just the language I speak that makes up my “identity” and I believe it is a quite extremist view to suggest that.

I must admit though that my views are from someone that already speaks the English language and global English is all I have ever known. I personally cannot imagine any different and certainly cannot imagine having to learn another language to simply be offered equal chances. The views are also of somebody that has had the joy of listening to and being able to understand some of the best music in the history of mankind in the form of the Arctic Monkeys, The Beatles and Johnny Cash. The language has also allowed me to understand the witty humour of comedians Lee Mack, Frankie Boyle and Michael McIntyre, so perhaps I may be being a little biased? I could also never imagine speaking in any other language with a lovely broad West Midlands ‘yam yam’ accent. The Spanish ‘Cómo estás?’ for ‘how are you?’ could never replace my ‘how am ya?’ could it?!

RUSSELL INNS,  English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Crystal, D. (2002) Language Death. 2nd Edition. Cambridge: University Press.

Crystal, D. (2003) English as Global Language. 2nd Edition. Cambridge: University Press.

Graddol,  D. (2007) Global English, Global Culture? In: S, Goodman, D, Graddol & T, Lillis  (eds.) Redesigning English. London: Routledge, pp 243-279.

DOM D’ANGELILLO explores to what extent English is a ‘killer’ of languages or a global necessity

Eight years ago, I was on a school trip in Germany. Sitting in a city centre café with two of my globetrotting friends, I thought now would be the best time to practice the language I had been learning for two years. I mustered up the courage and confidently asked for ‘drei coca’ (three cokes) and as I settled back into my seat, my order was met with laughter. ‘You want a dry coke?’ The waiter replied ‘you sound like an idiot, why don’t you just speak English’. Now, at the time, I was far too embarrassed to make anything of it, but when I look back as a competent English language student, it begs the question. Is English a threat to languages the world over or a necessity for those inferior nations?

Crystal (2003a:108-109) estimates that there are around 750 million English speakers in the world, acting as an official language in countries ranging from India to Nigeria. Now, while this may seemingly make the world a better place for us British Passport wielding linguists, meaning that we can order nuggets in almost any country, it is not always as easy for those whose languages perish.

African writer Thiong’o (1986:11) states that during his education in Kenya, English ‘was the language, and all others had to bow before it’. The fact is, that after the English colonised Kenya, the very identity of Thiong’o’s native ‘Gikuyu’ was lost, along with ‘the culture of those people’ making Kenya an English speaking hub rather than a proud African Nation (Thiong’o 1986:13). This instance is most certainly not an anomaly either, with Krishnaswamy & Krishnaswamy (2006:109) arguing that the same happened in India, where the educated took control and ‘India, to a large extent used English’, a disturbing thought if not your first language.

It’s not all doom and gloom however, and although broad estimates from the likes of Rymer (2012) in the  National Geographic state that ‘a language dies every 14 days’, the more conservative argue that language death is simply a part of ‘the natural cycle of language’ (Wolfram 2002:764). After all, we have to accept when our beloved pets and family members are no more.

Generally speaking, having English replace languages can help the world be a better, more unified place. Consider politics, business, air travel and safety, all of which see English as the language to use (Crystal 2003b:12-13). Perhaps where once Crystal (2003b:12 ) argued that ‘a lingua franca might be needed for the whole world’ it is more appropriate to say ‘a lingua franca is needed for the whole world’.

So what can we conclude? Whatever way we look at it, English is the global language whether you like it or not. Used in so many influential and important fields, from business to Hollywood, air travel to politics, it has become the norm for a huge percentage of the world. While this is well and good for those of us that speak English, it can be disastrous for those that don’t, losing an identity, pride and a sense of culture, becoming a pawn in an ever-growing English speaking world. Perhaps we should rephrase our initial question, is English the killer, or are smaller languages the more vulnerable prey?

DOM D’ANGELILLO, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Crystal, D. (2003a) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. 2nd Edition. Cambridge: University Press.

Crystal, D. (2003b) English as Global language. 2nd Edition. Cambridge: University Press.

Krishnaswamy, N & Krishnaswamy, L. (2006) The Story of English in India. New Delhi: Manas Saikia.

Rymer, R. (2012)  National Geographic.  [Accessed 18 January 2014]. Available at:  http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2012/07/vanishing-languages/rymer-text?rptregcta=reg_free_np&rptregcampaign=20131016_rw_membership_r1p_intl_ot_w#finished

 Thiong’o, N. (1986) Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. Nairobi: East African Publishers Ltd.

 Wolfram, W (2002) Language death and dying. In: J. Chambers, P. Trudgill & N. Schilling-Estes (eds.) Handbook of Language Variation and Change. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 764-787.

SEAN HARRIS asks ‘ Is it worth caring about language death?’

In the same way that we would mourn the loss of an endangered species like the blue whale or the panda, should we also mourn the death of a language? Many linguists argue that language death is a widespread problem across the globe that we should be striving to prevent. But how exactly does one define language death? Crystal (2000: 11) quite simply states that ‘a language is said to be dead when no one speaks it any more’. To put this into some kind of perspective, Krauss predicted that 90% of the world’s languages will die within a century (Hale et al., 1992). But the question is, should we really bother getting upset about it, or not?

Well, David Crystal, a popular British linguist, certainly thinks so. He believes that all languages are worth saving and gives five reasons for why this is so in his book Language Death (2000). Firstly, Crystal argues that language very much needs diversity as it inspires creativity that leads to not just the creation of new languages, but is something that inspires new movements, trends and fashions in all kinds of different cultures. He goes on to state that language ‘lies at the heart of what it means to be human’ (2000: 33-34), which leads straight into his next main argument, that ‘languages express identity’ (2000: 36). If we do not have a diverse range of languages, then how will all the different cultures in the world express their own unique identities?

Crystal’s third argument is that ‘languages are repositories of history’ (2000: 40), documenting it carefully and ensuring that it survives from one generation to the next. His next argument is that ‘languages contribute to the sum of human knowledge’ (2000: 44); not only historically, but scientifically, philosophically, and of course, linguistically. Crystal goes so far as to claim that ‘Westerners are infants in their knowledge of the environment’ (2000: 47), suggesting that indigenous peoples can provide the answers we seek. Crystal concludes his series of arguments by declaring that ‘languages are interesting in themselves’ (2000: 54), insisting that all languages, regardless of any other factors, are fascinating and important entities that must be preserved.

On the other side of the debate, there are those who would happily watch each and every endangered language die without a second’s hesitation. McIntyre says that one global language would ‘make travel easier, […] international communication more straightforward [and] it would provide more economic opportunities’ (2009: 76). Crystal elaborates upon these views by explaining that some believe ‘that sharing a single language is a guarantor of mutual understanding and peace, a world of new alliances and global solidarity’ (2000: 27), a notion which some may find rather naive. Unfortunately for those that encourage language death, thousands of languages still currently exist.

So, are endangered languages worth being protected? Undoubtedly, my answer is yes. Thankfully, as Dalby (2003: 146) explains, ‘there are 5000 or so languages in the world, and fewer than 200 nation states, [therefore] anyone can see that linguistic nationalism still has some way to go’, which gives us time to act. Nevertheless, it is absolutely crucial that we do something sooner rather than later, or else future generations will not be able to enjoy the rich abundance of culture and knowledge that we do today.

SEAN HARRIS, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

 References

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

Dalby, A. (2003) Language in Danger: The Loss of Linguistic Diversity and the Threat to our Future.New York: Columbia University Press.

Hale, K., Krauss, M., Watahomigie, L. J., Yamamoto, A.Y., Craig, C., Jeanne, L. M. and England, N. C. (1992) Endangered languages. Language, 68(1), pp. 1.

McIntyre, D. (2009) History of English: A Resource Book for Students. London: Routledge.

 

 

 

 

 

How concerned should we be about dying languages? SOPHIE HEATH investigates

There are currently around 7105 languages in the world today (Ethnologue, 2013). At least half of these are projected to disappear within this century (Endangered Language Fund, 2013). Many of these endangered languages do not even have written forms and have yet to recorded by linguists; therefore when the last speaker of one of these languages dies, it will be as if it never even existed (Crystal, 2009). But what are the consequences of losing a language?

It is often said that we should respect linguistic diversity in the same way we should respect ecological diversity (BBC Voices, 2007), and according to linguists such as Crystal (2009), we all have cause to be concerned about endangered languages, as the effects of language loss can be felt much further afield than we would initially expect.

Firstly, when a language is lost, a wealth of culture, knowledge, and a unique way of seeing the world is lost with it (BBC Languages, 2007). For example, in the Native American language, Micmac, the way speakers are able to distinguish between different types of trees based on the sounds they make in the wind has revealed the effects of acid rain on certain types of tree species (BBC Voices, 2007).

Having as many languages available as possible is also vitally important to linguists hoping to learn more about language; but perhaps the most important aspect of preserving an endangered language is the strong connection its speakers share with their own identity (BBC Voices, 2007).

The revitalisation of the Welsh language is often hailed as a success story (Crystal, 2009), but despite this achievement, English continues to reign as the country’s dominant language, as only 19% of people living in Wales over the age of three are able to speak Welsh (BBC News, 2012). As a second language speaker of Welsh, I have found little opportunity to use the language since leaving my Welsh-medium high school, and whilst being able speak the language forms part of my identity and culture, I have often thought I would have preferred to have been taught a far more widely spoken language that would give me greater opportunities, such as French, German or Mandarin.

If I feel I have lost opportunities through being able speak a second language with only 562,016 speakers (BBC News, 2012) rather than a language with millions of speakers, then how does it compare to the opportunities lost by monolingual speakers of a minority language, such as Xiri (187 speakers) or Isconahua (82 speakers), (Ethnologue, 2013)?

This is an argument often proposed by those who feel endangered languages should be allowed to die out, along with the claims that multiple languages defeat the purpose of communication, and are against the idea of multiculturalism (BBC Languages, 2007).

Whilst I believe everyone has a right to speak their own language, as it forms an integral part of their identity, how can millions be spent on revitalising and promoting a minority language, particularly in developing countries, where the majority of endangered languages reside (Ethnologue, 2013), when the same money can be spent on the wellbeing of those who speak it?

 SOPHIE HEATH, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

 BBC Languages – Your Say – Language and identity (2007) [Accessed 23 December 2013]. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/yoursay/language_and_identity.shtml

BBC News Census 2011: number of welsh speakers falling (2012) [Accessed 20 January 2014]. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-20677528

BBC Voices (2007) [Accessed 22 December 2013]. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/voices/yourvoice/language_ecology.shtml#A

Crystal, D. (2009) The Future of Language, Oxon and New York: Routledge.

Endangered Language Fund (2013) [Accessed 27 December 2013]. Available at: http://www.endangeredlanguagefund.org/

Ethnologue World Map (2013) [Accessed 24 December 2013]. Available at: http://www.ethnologue.com/world

 

 

Can you grasp a concept without a word to express it? BETHANY TODD considers language and thought

The discussion regarding the relationship between language and thought is not a new one and there are many concepts and beliefs surrounding the subject. One theory is that thought determines language; another is that language determines thought and according to Napoli and Lee-Schoenfeld (2010: 61) ‘Thought is thought. Language is language. The two are distinct.’ Now, such a concrete conclusion is definitely controversial, particularly when the discussion involves something as intangible as thought. How would we measure and analyse thought? How are we supposed to gauge the effect it has on language?

If we first look at the ‘thought determines language’ side of the debate, it is basically stating that without thought, language could not exist. Of course, we do not verbalise every thought we have, so thought does not require language, but how about when new ideas are surfacing? We need a word to apply to the idea in order to communicate it to others.  So surely this is concrete evidence that thought determines language?

Perhaps not. We now need to look at an alternative viewpoint:  that language determines thought, which is to say that the language we speak determines the way we think. This is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and is often referred to as the ‘prison house’ view of language as it does not allow for any leeway, or as Wittgenstein (1921) put it The limits of my language mean the limits of my world“. I prefer the weaker version of this hypothesis, known as ‘linguistic relativism’ which merely claims that language is influenced by thought (Badhesha: 2002). One oft-used example to support this is the fact that in Russia, they distinguish dark blue and light blue as two separate colours, and there is no single word in the Russian language which means just blue. Jonathan Winawer has discovered that Russian people can more easily differentiate between dark and light blue than English speakers for example as we identify both as variations of the same colour (Khamsi: 2007).

One of the most interesting examples against this side of the argument, in my opinion, is the fact that there are many ‘untranslatable’ words from non-English languages, yet English people still understand these concepts. Examples include the Spanish ‘sobremesa’ which refers to the time after eating which you spend talking with the people you shared the meal with. Or the Indonesian ‘jayus’ which is a joke that is so unfunny and told so poorly that you cannot help but laugh. If language truly determined thought, surely we would not be able to understand these concepts as we do not have words for them in the English language?

As someone who certainly believes there is some sort of relationship between language and thought but does not fully agree with either side of the argument, it is frustrating that neither party seems to be willing to accept elements of the others. While this particular debate cannot be answered simply, it appears that we need another theory that incorporates elements of both arguments and takes a middle ground stance.

BETHANY TODD, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester (UK)

 References

Badhesha, R. S. (2002) Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. [Online]
Available at: http://zimmer.csufresno.edu/~johnca/spch100/4-9-sapir.htm
[Accessed 29 November 2013].

Khamsi, R. (2007) Russian Speakers Get the Blues. New Scientist [online], 1 May [Accessed 13 December 2013]. Available at http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11759-russian-speakers-get-the-blues.html#.Usp7K7S7Q70

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

Napoli, D. J. & Schoenfeld, V. L. (2010) Language Matters: A Guide to Everyday Questions about Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wittgenstein, L. (1921) Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company , Inc. 

MEL BERKS considers ‘Ipod’ and other words in her musings on whether language and thought are intricately connected

Have you ever wondered if language influences your thoughts? Without language would you still be able to make sense of your daily life? The question of whether or not language influences our thoughts has fired up dispute over the decades.  There are two groups with different views on this issue. In one corner, we have the objectivists, who believe that language does not influence thought; in the other corner are the experientialists, who believe that language does influence thought. So, does it or not?

Well, the strong version of ‘Linguistic Determinism’ is a theory associated with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (an experientialist view), which claims that language influences thought (Mooney et al 2011:32). Supporters of this view claim language influences thought so much that, if there is no word available for a concept, then this concept is unthinkable.  Some say that this is tripe and argue language cannot effect our thoughts since we can think of new ‘things’ that do not have a name, then create words to name those ‘things’. For example, the ‘IPOD’ was a new concept created before having a name. Being able to think of this concept without there being a word in the first place must be evidence that language does not influence thought…surely?

 Mooney et al (2011:32) explain that Whorf argues language must influence thought since there is a connection between language, thought and behavior.  For example, imagine you go to use a public toilet but notice a sign on the toilet door reading ‘out of use’. You then do not open the door to use that toilet because the language on the sign influences your judgement. Reading the sign influences thought and there is effect on behavior.

Then again, if language does influence thought, then how do we explain understanding ‘things’ without even knowing their names in the first place? For example, I understood the concept of a ‘mark left by a glass’ before knowing it was called ‘culacino’. Therefore, my thought was not restricted by the need for the specific name ‘culacino’.  However, it is important to appreciate that the term ‘mark’ operates in our conceptualisation of understanding and, if we accept this, then we do deal with concepts through language. Gardiner (2000:105) explains that a 1984 study by Kay and Kempton is supportive of this view. They found that particular colour terms influenced English speaker’s perception of these colours. Therefore, perhaps language does influence thought.

Supposing that language does influence thought, then how can deaf children who are linguistically deprived still manage to demonstrate that they are thinking through thought-demonstrating behaviour such as deciding to throw a toy?  Napoli and Lee-Schoenfeld (2010:52) claim that despite lack of language, these children can still think, which must be evidence that language does not influence our thoughts. However, we then need to question what thought itself actually is. The process of explaining thought is concerned with language because that is the explanatory device we use to communicate.

The different arguments make it difficult to draw a conclusion! I believe that language does not influence thought. For example, research involving the deaf has demonstrated that we are capable of non-linguistic thought, then again, perhaps even internalised communication of those thoughts may be a different matter once language has been acquired? Maybe like Traxler (2012:1995) believes, language and thought do influence each other?  Who knows!

MEL BERKS, English Language Undergraduate, University of Chester (UK)

References

Gardiner, A. (2000) English Language AS & A2. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

 Mooney, A. et al. (eds.) (2011) Language, Society and Power: 3rd edition.  An Introduction. London: Routledge.

 Napoli, D. & Lee-Schoenfeld, V. (2010). Language Matters: A Guide to Everyday Questions about Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 Traxler, J. M.  (2012) Introduction to Psycholinguistics: Understanding Language Science. West Sussex: Wiley- Blackwell.

EMILY VAUGHAN explores the connection or distinction between language and thought

The relationship between language and thought has been debated for a long time. Dedre Gentner and Susan Goldin-Meadow (2003:3) state that ‘for the last two decades the hypothesis that language can influence thought […] has been in serious dispute’. The main foundation of the debate lies within the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. This hypothesis was defined by Whorf (1956: 17) as ‘…language affects the perceptions of reality of its speakers and thus influences their thought patterns’. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis can be split into two distinct approaches. Strong determinism states that language determines the way we think about the world and that thought is not possible without language. Weak determinism states that language influences thought but it does not determine it completely.

Kovesces (2006) theorised the approach put forward by Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf. Kovesces categorised them into two distinct binary viewpoints; objectivist and experientialist. Experientialists believe that there is a connection between language and thought and objectivists believe that there is no connection and the two concepts are distinct from each other.

One of the objectivist’s explanations in Napoli and Lee-Schoenfeld (2010) is the vocabulary differences across languages. English lacks the Filipino word ‘gigil’, which is the need to pinch or squeeze something that is cute (Tagaloglang). However, English people practice this concept when they squeeze the faces of children, animals etc. This example, suggests that thought is independent of language. Despite not having a word in their language that signifies a particular concept people are still able to understand and practice this behaviour without knowing the name for it. Similarly, the Italian word ‘culaccino’, which means the mark left on a surface by a moist glass, (Better Than English, 2012) has no English equivalent. But English people are still able to acknowledge the ‘culaccino’ without having a name for it, thus, also suggesting that thought is independent of language.

However, experientialists would argue that these examples do display a relationship between language and thought. Although there is no English word for a particular concept we can still understand the thought process because we are able to replace the unknown word, ‘gigil’, with an English word that has similar connotations, for example, ‘pinch.’ Similarly, we are able to replace ‘culaccino’ with the words ‘mark’ or ‘ring’. This constitutes a relationship between language and thought because it is still possible to label a concept with similar words that are already in our schema without knowing the specific term.

Birner, (2012) a member of the American Linguistics Society (LSA), explains that the connection between language and thought is complex. ‘To some extent, it’s a chicken-and-egg question: Are you unable to think about things you don’t have words for, or do you lack words for them because you don’t think about them?’ Birner states that many features are involved with the link between language and thought, such as, culture, lifestyle, habits and the people with whom you interact with and these complex features shape the way we think and the way we talk.

Napoli and Lee-Schoenfeld (2010: 61) definitively state that ‘thought is thought. Language is language.’ Do you agree? I would align my views with Sapir and Whorf’s weak determinism approach because I believe that language and thought are connected and are influenced by each other but only to a certain extent.

 EMILY VAUGHAN, English Language Undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

American Linguistics Society. (2012) [Accessed 21st December 2013]. Available at: http://www.linguisticsociety.org/content/does-language-i-speak-influence-way-i-think

Better Than English. (2012) [Accessed 12th December 2013]. Available at: www.betterthanenglish.com/culaccino-italian/

Gentner, D. & Goldin-Meadow, S. (ed.s) (2003) Language in Mind: Advances in the Study of Language and Thought. USA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Kovecses, Z. (2006) Language, Mind and Culture: A Practical Introduction. New York: Oxford  University Press.

Napoli, D. & Lee-Schoenfeld, V. (2010) Language Matters: A Guide to Everyday Questions about Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tagaloglang. [Accessed 12th December 2013]. Available at: www.tagaloglang.com/Tagalog-English-Dictionary/English-Translation-of-Tagalog-Word/gigil.html

Whorf, B.L. (1956) Language, Thought and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.