Marketing global English: A force for unity or division? EMILY RUMMINGS investigates

With the majority of English colonies returned to their indigenous owners, the influence of the language still remains, with more speakers of English as a non-native language in the world, than speakers of English as a native tongue (Park & Wee, 2012, p.43). As the language goes through a natural process of being moulded and changed by its speakers, English fails to serve a single purpose in Anglophone countries, with many simply using it as a lingua franca in trade and industry.

It seems as if English proficiency has the potential to contribute to a country’s development, in a way that connects different countries and enables them to network with the wider world. Coleman (2010) attempted to establish this relationship, as he outlined that English proficiency increases an individual’s employability, enables international communication and collaboration and provides access to research and information. From a neoliberalist perspective, in a globalised world, English education serves the purpose of driving economic transformation and growth which in turn contributes to success on a national level (Brown, Lauder and Ashton, 2008).

According to Gray (2012, p.138) ‘[t]hose languages that may provide their speakers with a competitive edge in the job market’ are sold as a commodity, being promoted in developing countries such as Zambia, Rwanda and Pakistan. English speaking is seen as part of a skill set that employers exchange for wages, with high status languages and language varieties seen as an asset. Since the 1970s three facets of commercial English language, namely the teaching of English, the training of English language teachers and the production and distribution of English language materials such as textbooks, have been expanding and spreading, ‘when the current phase of globalisation may be said to have intensified’ (Gray, 2012, p.140).

Despite the opportunity for there to be a potential global language, it is when we look at case studies of developing countries that we see the issues it has caused. For example, those who live in poorer urban and rural areas in Africa do not have access to quality teaching, with primary education being the only level of education that most receive (Williams, 2011, p167). This creates a divide between those who can afford quality education and those who cannot, separating an elite group of moneyed speakers who are offered better jobs, and creating an inescapable loop and deterministic future for those who cannot afford better education.

Language policies in developing countries such as Rwanda, Pakistan and Zambia have made it obligatory to learn English in primary education, and other subjects taught through the medium of English, but still most African students do not achieve adequate competency, Williams (2011, p.167) describes this as a ‘barrier’ for students’ education, which has a knock on effect on the country as a whole and its development.

Effective education can alleviate poverty, as literacy skill contributes to people getting better jobs. It is advocated that children should be taught using their mother tongue or a language with which they are familiar (Williams, 2011, p.169). This is the case in some sub-Saharan multilingual African countries that use Chichewa as a lingua franca, which shares many similarities with some of the local languages. This arguably offers a solution to a number of problems, as the language used as a common ground does not encode an ‘inferiority complex’ (Serpell 1978, p.432) onto its speakers, or feelings of a country’s language or culture being taken away. It also seems that rates of proficiency are much higher in this language as opposed to English where quality of teaching is lower and creates an economic divide.

Alternatively, Jenkins (2007) proposed the marketing English as a lingua franca (ELF). She assumed that speakers would come from different social and cultural backgrounds, and use English to facilitate the communication of specific information without the intentions of using humour, slang or cultural allusions. Jenkins compiled a list of normative features used in ELF, but it is debateable whether these features should be used as a model for teaching, because although the ELF project helps to market the practical uses of English to non-native speakers, it could leave them underprepared for using English fully in both international and domestic contexts.

Despite there being some proposed solutions, the debate still persists. Is English a language remnant of its imperialistic roots that devalues local languages, cultures and identities, or is it a language that enables free-flowing communication across countries and cultures, uniting people that would and could not otherwise speak to one another?

EMILY RUMMINGS, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Brown, P., Lauder, H., Ashton, D. (2008). Education, globalisation and the knowledge economy: A commentary by the teaching and learning research programme. London: TLRP.

Coleman, H. (2010). The English Language in Development. London: British Council.

Gray, J. (2012).English: The industry. In A. Hewings, and C. Tagg (Ed.). The Politics of English Conflict, Competition, Co-existence. Worlds of English. (pp. 137-163). Abingdon: Routledge in association with the Open University.

Jenkins, J. (2007). English as a lingua franca: Attitude and identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Park, J.S-Y., & Wee, L. (2012). Markets of English: Linguistic capital and language policy in a globalising world. Abingdon: Routledge.

Serpell, R. (1978). Some developments in Zambia since 1971. In S. Ohannessian and M. E. Kashoki (Ed.). Language in Zambia. (pp.424-47). London: International African Institute.

Williams, E. (2011). Language policy, politics and development in Africa. In  A. Hewings and C. Tagg (Ed.). The Politics of English: Conflict, Competition, Co-existence. (pp.165-179). Abingdon: Routledge.

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Testing times: CHARLOTTE GRIMES-THOMAS weighs up the costs of English as a global commodity

According to David Crystal, it is now estimated that 1.5 billion people use English either as a first, second or foreign language (2000, p. 3). With many people speaking the language, it is undeniable that English is powerful and plays an important role in the development of individuals (Coleman, 2010, p. 16). English can be considered as a ‘lingua franca’ – it is the global language of business, academic research, space, scientific discovery, entertainment and diplomacy. English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) can also be a useful contact language, as it allows people who don’t share a common native tongue to communicate (Firth, 1996, p. 240 as cited in Park and Wee, 2012, p. 44). Therefore, learning the language could offer individuals better opportunities in the future if they are able to speak English, whether it is to gain a qualification or being able to speak to someone from a different country. However, is the price tag too high for people who want to learn English?

It seems that English is now being sold as a commodity to people globally. The idea that a language can be sold can be related to neoliberalism, as corporations are putting a price on something that should not be a commodity. Gray explains that neoliberalism ‘is based on the belief that an unfettered market economy is the best guarantor of human freedom and that the role of the government is primarily to guarantee and extend the reach of the market’ (2012, p. 138). Gray concurs with Bourdieu who states that ‘language functions as a form of capital in the modern economy’ (1991, cited by Gray, 2012).

Gray has outlined three areas through which English is being marketed –  English Language Teaching, Testing products and Academic Publishing. Large corporations such as TOEFL are attempting to make profits by selling the English language as a product. They are marketing the language by stating it will provide learners with better prospects and opportunities. These testing companies usually have a high price tag, for example TOEFL charge $160 to $235 just for registration. Due to these high fees, many learners are unable to afford the test; so it can be argued that corporations are using English as a commodity. English is also marketed globally through academic publishing. The Department for Business Innovations & Skills estimated the UK education exports in 2008 and 2009 to be £14.1 billion (2011). It has been found that 3.7 million English books have been sent to Africa (Books for Africa, 2013), even though some of these countries do not have many English speakers. It is apparent that just through testing products and academic publishing alone, the English language is being marketed on a substantial global scale.

Following the mass genocide in Rwanda, relations deteriorated between the Rwandan government and France. The Rwandan government severed ties with France and as a result President Kagame named English the language of education in 2008. Due to the prestige status of English, many Rwandans welcomed the language and believed it would eventually help the next generation acquire better jobs and a higher wage (Gray, 2012, p. 146). For instance, a receptionist that cannot speak English will only earn $110 per month, in comparison to $310 if they were able to speak English. Olzacki also trusts that the move to English was correct as it is ‘preparing Rwanda’s children to perform global work, increase capacity and embrace business alliances as an equal partner and desired commodity. If French had remained the language of instruction, […] this would prevent future success’ (2015). However, the influence of English isn’t completely progressive. There have been negative aspects, such as social and political ramifications following the deterioration in relations between France and Rwanda. It has also alleged that out of the 31,000 primary school teachers, only 4,700 have been trained to teach English in Rwanda (McGreal, 2009,  cited in Polonski, Teferra & Brady, 2013). Due to the lack of adequate teachers, only half of the children move past primary school.

As a result of the globalisation of English, there is no doubt that language is now a commodity. It is evident that the marketing of the English Language has its distinct pros and cons. I believe that neither outweighs the other. It is just an inevitability that we have to accept, as everything these days has a price tag attached.

CHARLOTTE GRIMES-THOMAS, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Crystal, D. (2000). Emerging Englishes. English teaching professional. Retrieved January 18, 2016.

Coleman, H. (2010). The English Language in Development. Retrieved January 26th, 2016

Department of Business Innovations & Skills. (2011). Estimating the Value to the UK of Education Exports, BIS research paper 46. Retrieved January 22, 2016.

Gray, J. (2012), English the industry. In: A. Hewings and C. Tagg (ed.) The Politics of English: Conflict, Competition, Co-existence. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 139-163.

Olzacki, J. (2015). Why Rwanda’s move to English? Retrieved January 21, 2016.

Park, J. S., & Wee, L. (2012). Is there a market for English as a Lingua Franca? London: Routledge.

Plonski, P., Teferra, A., & Brady, R. (2013). Why Are More African Countries Adopting English as an Official Language? Retrieved January 22, 2016.

HANNAH ASHWELL considers whether global English is creating harmony or hindering the wider world

There is no doubt that the English language has become what Gray describes as a ‘power in itself’ further claiming that ‘English in this way [is] somehow agentive […] [seen as a] powerful [force] propelled by human agents acting on behalf of commercial and governmental organisations […] actively involved in promoting and sustaining the position of English in the world.’ (2012: 162) However the jury’s out as to whether this promotion of English across the world is to aide underdeveloped countries, such as that of post-genocide Rwanda or, alternatively use the promotion of English by ELT organisations as a way of continuing to propel the aims ‘of a multi- billion pound industry’ (Gray, 2012, p.162).

Looking firstly at the British Council ‘a unique semi-state body […] government funded […] [and] a registered charity’ we can see examples of how English is conveyed as helping countries in crisis back on their feet. For example, the annual report of 2009-10 highlights help given to Afghanistan by facilitating ‘10,000 English teachers develop […] skills’ (Gray, 2012, p.141), as well as ‘helping President Kagame’s country, Rwanda, to replace French with English as the medium of Education’ (Gray, 2012, p.142). However,  how far can it be claimed that this aide is for the best interests of these countries?

As well as performing the role of a charity, the British Council also ‘functions as a business’ (Gray, 2012,p. 141), and as a result it seems fair to question how far this is a priority for the organisation. In helping President Kagame to establish English as the language of education are they really helping rebuild his country? I would argue that there is some validity to the idea that it is impinging on Rwanda culture. Williams advocates this idea by referring to ‘a small dominant establishment in African countries [which] ensures that they […] have access to high standards of English while inadequate education systems mean that this is largely denied to the majority, [known as the process highlighted by] ‘Myers-Scotton (1990) [as] ‘[e]lite closure’(2011, pp 166- 167). In this way is the ELT industry prioritising our economy over the human needs of poorer, undeveloped countries?

As a result of selling English as a commodity it serves to devalue some countries over others. According to Gray (2012, p.138),  ‘Canadian scholar Monica Heller (2002) suggests, languages and language learning are […] viewed in largely economic terms […] [meaning] some languages come to be seen as worth more than others.’ Consequently the English language displays disadvantages which serve to hinder other countries cultures. This is highlighted by writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o in 1986 when recounting his experiences of English as the language of education in Africa. He said that ‘[l]iterary education was now determined by the dominant language […] language and literature were taking us further […] from ourselves […], from our world’ (cited in Jenkins, 2009, p. 194). And so English can be seen to be hindering undeveloped countries cultures in this sense.

In more recent times the growth of the ELT industry has led to features of ‘cultural imperialism’ being associated with it, in the respect that as it is viewed as a cultural commodity that dominates much like that of the film and music industry. Advertisements for ELT organisations take advantage of this link incorporating ideas associated with a westernised celebrity culture, with ELT textbooks often adopting celebrity related discourses, known as ‘aspirational content […] [focusing] largely on spectacular and personal […] success, celebrity lifestyles, cosmopolitanism and travel’ (Gray, 2012, p. 87). And so they sell English not only as a skill but as an opportunity to gain a successful way of life, to ‘younger people […] [seeing] it [as] increasingly valuable for personal growth.’ (ICEF, 2015) This is irrespective of where these young students come from; does this not hinder the development and sustainability of other cultures?

I can acknowledge that English does have its advantages in holding the position of lingua franca for the world and being the language of education, in the sense that it unifies to a degree and helps advance the chances of less developed countries and their education systems. Ultimately however these benefits are outweighed by the lack of access to acquire English as a skill across all levels of societies, creating elite groups. As well as this, the current highly commercialised nature of the ELT industry leads me to question who the real winners are here. Are we not impinging on other cultures by selling our own? And is the English as a commodity highlighting that the priority is profit over providing proper aide? The debate continues…

HANNAH ASHWELL, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Gray, J. (2012), English the industry. In: A. Hewings and C. Tagg (ed.) The Politics of English: Conflict, Competition, Co-existence. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 139-163.

Gray, J. (2012), “Neolibralism, Celebrity and ‘Aspirational Content’ in English textbooks for the global market” from Block, David, Gray, John and Marnie Holborow, Neoliberalism and applied linguistics. London: Routledge, pp. 86- 113.

ICEF. (2015). The Brazilian market for English language learning. Retrieved February 16, 2016.

Jenkins, J. (2009). World Englishes: A Resource Book for Students. (2nd ed). Routledge English Language Introductions. London: Routledge.

 

 

What’s keeping the English Language at the top, and who benefits? KERRY CHARNOCK investigates

To put it plainly, the English language is currently the top dog of all languages. It’s generally considered the world’s first global language, and it’s a popular lingua franca. When two people with different mother tongues meet, they will most likely find that they both speak English. But why English?

We all know, to some degree, about the British Empire, its worldwide influence, and the colonisation of countries that are home to hundreds of millions of people. And while the Empire may since have fallen, its linguistic legacy has lived on; nowadays Crystal estimates ‘that 1.5 billion people use it either as a first, second or foreign language’ (2000, p.3). Crystal says that ‘[English] is the main language of books, newspapers, airports and air-traffic control, international business and academic conferences, science, technology, medicine, diplomacy, sports, international competitions, pop music, and advertising.’ (2010, p. 370). To be a successful contender on an international level, then, it seems learning English is the way to get your foot in the door.

Take the British Council, for example, who say that ‘English is such an important language in today’s global society. It’s the language of business, the internet and modern culture. So being confident in English is pivotal in helping you fulfil your potential and get the most out of life’ (British Council). From this, you might assume that English is at the top out of necessity, because it offers a wealth of benefits, and promises prosperity to those who choose to learn it.

But with a cynical mind you might consider English is being kept at the top for profit, and never mind the threat it poses to minority languages and the cultures they’re bound to. You might suggest that it’s the cash cow that just keeps giving, and the whole world is its market. Thank neoliberalism if you must. It is, as Gray puts it, ‘a multi-billion pound industry which exists primarily to make profit’ (2012, p. 162) with ‘powerful forces propelled by human agents acting on behalf of commercial and governmental organisations [who] are actively involved in promoting and sustaining the position of English in the world’ (2012, p. 162).

Park and Wee claim that ‘English is seen as an economic resource, a commodity that can be exchanged in the market for material profit’ (2012, p. 124). And why not? As you read this, you are sharing the world with over seven billion other people, and that number is rising steadily. Since language is our primary source of communication, and the world is becoming increasingly connected, there is a rising demand for a global language. It doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together and see that it’s a highly profitable market.

While the spread of the English language at this point is like wildfire, you might ask how English is being taught worldwide. Well, it is certainly not being taught for free, and it certainly isn’t cheap; it is a commodity after all. In 2008/09, UK book exports were estimated to be £14.1 billion (Department for Business Innovations & Skills, 2011). TOEFL, an English language test for foreign learners, charges up to £235 just for registration. These figures are highly suggestive of a threat to marginalising those who cannot afford to learn English, and as such are unable to progress in their careers, or find any sort of success and financial stability that fluency in English could offer. It’s evident that the spread of English to improve the livelihoods of millions is not the primary focus.

There are certainly ulterior motives at play here, but how much does it matter? Despite its exploitative nature, learning English is an investment that ultimately pays off. It’s been proven to boost the economy of countries that name it an official country (Rwanda, for example); people fluent in English are more likely to get a better paying job, possibly earning up to three times more for the same role (Euromonitor International, 2010, p. 74, as cited by Gray, 2012, p. 147).

At risk are minority languages and the cultures, ideologies and knowledge encoded within them. But what choice do speakers of minority languages have, when potentially sacrificing their native language means acquiring a language that offers something their mother tongue cannot? Is the treatment of language as a commodity – and the neoliberalist marketing and selling of English – to blame for the dominance and cultural imperialism that English imposes? Is it a natural, inevitable, progression that one language (which just happens to be English) rises to the top, or has it been pushed and held there by strategic marketing?

KERRY CHARNOCK, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

British Council. Learn English. Retrieved January 21, 2016

Crystal, D. (2000). Emerging Englishes. Issue 14. English teaching professional. Retrieved January 21 2016 

Crystal, D. (2010). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (3rd ed.). Cambridge: University Press.

Department of Business Innovations & Skills, (2011). Estimating the Value to the UK of Education Exports. BIS research paper 46. Retrieved January 22.

Gray, J. (2012), English the industry. In: A. Hewings and C. Tagg (ed.) The Politics of English: Conflict, Competition, Co-existence. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 139-163.

Park, J. and Wee, L. (2012) Markets of English: Linguistic Capital and Language Policy in a Globalizing World. Oxon: Routledge.

TOEFL. Retrieved January 21 2016.

Is English ‘assassinating’ local languages? Or are they committing suicide? by RACHEL SADLER

A ‘killer’ language? English has become a global lingua franca for many of the ‘outer circle’ countries. It is thought that the huge increase in the number of English speakers has endangered small indigenous languages. This is causing people to claim that English is murdering local languages or forcing them to commit suicide.

The globalisation of the English language, is much bigger than the tiny island in which the language has derived from. English as a world language is not an isolate. Much of its vocabulary has been borrowed from other world languages for science and technology. Fishman (2001, p.6) believes that ‘[g]lobalisation is the wave of the future’, so change was unescapable. McLuhan (1964) talks of the ‘global village’, an interconnected world, through the invention of the computer in the late twentieth-century. The technology originated from the English speaking world, and therefore English became its lingua franca. It’s all very well pointing the finger at English. But without the spread of this unifying language through urbanisation, there simply would not be a branch of communication for rural communities.

Britain is now the minority in the amount of English speakers, with a population of sixty-four million. The inner circle countries who were once colonised by the English, have contributed to its globalisation, like America for example that holds over two-hundred million English speakers. In fact, according to the 2007 census all of the inner circle countries, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, have populations of at least eighty-percent or higher that speak English as their first language.

Due to the colonisation of many countries, English was thrust upon outer circle countries. Kenya for instance, gained their independence from Britain in 1963, but English still prevailed as a global language for many. Schneider (2011, p.211) notes, ‘[T]he New Primary Approach’ was introduced in Kenya’s elementary schools, which saw the endangerment of their mother tongue. This also seeped into their family homes as many parents thought English would give their children a better edge later on in life.

Nettle & Romaine (2000, p.8) claim that ‘[t]he pulse of a language clearly lies in the youngest generation’. This illustrates one cause of language death, because if languages are not passed down to the younger speakers, they will inevitably dye out. Egbokhare (1999) investigated the Emai-speaking region of Nigeria, finding that whilst adults hold their vernacular language, the younger speakers are opting to only speak their indigenous language whilst addressing the older generation, and would opt to speak English at all other times. Schneider (2011, p.214) believes this has sparked the loss of ‘community’s cultural and historical roots’, and interestingly notes that the ‘British administrators’ did not promote the learning of English within indigenous populations. Through the colonisation period, English was ‘withheld from the masses’ and was only passed onto the ‘loyal local elites’.

Crystal (2000, p.78) explains that this all stems from the ‘immense pressure’ that people feel to speak a ‘dominant language’ like English, in order to gain ‘political, social or economic sources’. English is seen as a powerful prestigious language with great social wealth. But, is this necessarily a case of English murdering local languages? Or are these communities committing language suicide. If you consider both sides of the debate here, English is arguably a platform to progress from. But the price these indigenous speakers seemingly have to pay is their mother tongue.

However, through a process called ‘language mixing’, some speakers have combined their mother tongue with the global language. Schneider (2011, p. 222) discusses how English is not replacing indigenous languages, instead it is adding to the local language habits and contributing to the ‘growth of cultural hybridity’. Students in Hong Kong chose not to lose their cultural identity, and created ‘mix mix’, so they have combined their local language with English, which I think is culturally creative and a gateway of communication within small communities.

So, is English a language ‘killer’ or a language promoter? Evidently, those within the inner circle have benefited greatly from the higher profit that has been achieved through the teaching of English for western-style development. Some may claim that this is at others expense, but the new varieties of English can also express culture. I believe that people do have a choice, so the claims that a world language has been forced down people’s throats is a bit over-exaggerated. Perhaps these smaller communities should stop committing language suicide if they are so worried about losing their cultural identity. Stop conforming to the identity that society has constructed for you.

RACHEL SADLER, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

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

Fishman, A. (2001). Can threatened languages be saved? Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Nettle, D. & Romaine, S. (2000). Vanishing voices: The extinction of the world’s languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Schneider, E. (2011) English around the world New York: Cambridge University Press.

 

 

Is language death just an inevitable result of natural evolutionary processes? ZAKA KHALID investigates

In recent times, the English Language has spread across the globe like wildfire, aided partly by its supposed simplicity, partly by its perceived usefulness and partly due to its status as a prestigious language. A language that began its life on a small island in the North Sea is now being taught in schools in far-away lands such as China and India. In fact, the popularity of English is now so high that it is often labelled as a ‘killer language’.  As David Crystal puts it, “English is a vacuum-cleaner of a language” (Crystal, 2000).

Recent estimates suggest that there are over 1.5 billion speakers of English, which equates to one quarter of the total population (Crystal, 2000). Native English speakers benefit greatly from this statistic, as it eliminates the need for them to spend their precious time grafting away learning a new language. Indeed, 75% of Britons are unable to speak a foreign language (Paton, 2013), though this is likely down to complacency, as suggested by recent figures which show a drop in the number of modern foreign languages being taken at A-level (Ratcliffe, 2013). When your language needs are catered for at every airport and every major city across the world, where is the incentive for Brits to learn French, German or Mandarin?

A phenomenon called linguistic imperialism refers to the transfer of a dominant language to other people. Robert Phillipson asserts that imperialism is a key factor in the emergence of English in postcolonial settings such as India and Pakistan. Additionally, he cites linguistic discrimination as another key factor in the prominence of English, (Phillipson, 1992). It is also suggested that  ‘English is the passport to success and upward social mobility’ and ‘English is the key to national progress’ are some common clichés that are interspersed; more importantly, these clichés reflect the perception of many people – both rich and poor – in discussing future life chances for their children (Shamim, 2011).

So whilst the entire world is seemingly rushing to learn English, and native English speakers are happy to rest on their laurels, smaller languages are finding themselves in a precarious position. It is estimated that 3,500 of the world’s languages (that’s around half of the total number of languages in the world!) are spoken by a minuscule 0.1% of the population (Harmon 1995, 2002; data source: Lewis et al. 2013). These languages vary in number of speakers, with the smallest ones being used by less than ten individuals, whilst the biggest are used by no more than ten thousand. According to UNESCO, ‘if nothing is done, half of 6,000 plus languages spoken today will disappear by the end of this century (Unesco, 2016). As the world trends towards cultural and economic globalisation, these languages are being abandoned by their speakers in favour of those which will offer them the greatest opportunities in life, such as English.

UNESCO uses the term ‘endangered’ when speaking about such languages, as if to say that language death is comparable to the extinction of animals. Most people would probably scoff at such a suggestion, but does the death of a language result in the loss of much more than just words?

It is widely agreed that language and culture are closely related, and it has been stated that ‘cultures have evolved in a particular environmental context, so they have an extraordinary amount of traditional ecological knowledge — knowledge of the local species, plants, animals, the medicinal uses of them, the migration patterns of animals behaviour’ (Rosenthal, 2014). This relationship can be given further credence when observing countries such as India, which is said to be home to over 100 million English speakers (The Times of India, 2010). The rise of English in India has paved the way for the rise of Western culture alongside it, with some Indians blaming Westernisation for the increase in single families and a decrease in the showing of respect amongst Indians (Khirbawhani, 2005).

Ultimately, language death could be seen as a form of evolution. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, due in part to economic and cultural trade as well as increasing access to technology, some things are bound to be lost in the transition. Whilst some languages will inevitably be killed off in the process – resulting in the loss of valuable cultural information – the huge array of opportunities that could potentially be accessed by those in possession of an international auxiliary language such as English is too big to ignore.

ZAKA KHALID, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Crystal, D. (2000). Energising Englishes. English Teaching Professional, 1(14),

Khirbawhani. (2005). Impact Of Westernization On Indian Culture. [Weblog]. Retrieved 28 January, 2016.

Paton, G. (2013). Daily Telegraph online Retrieved 28 January, 2016.

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic Imperialism . United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Ratcliffe, R. (2013). The Guardian. Retrieved 28 February, 2016.

Rosenthal, M.J. (2014). Public Radio International. Retrieved 28 January, 2016

Shamim, F. (2011). Dreams and Realities: Developing Countries and the English Language. Retrieved 28 January, 2016.

Unesco. (2016). Endangered languages. Retrieved 28 January, 2016.

The Times of India. (2010). Indiaspeak: English is our 2nd language. Retrieved 28 January, 2016.

 

 

 

The death of languages: should we care? THOMAS HOOKHAM discusses the Australian language, Dyirbal

It is said that nothing in life is certain apart from death and taxes. It appears that the former is also possible with our languages. A language dies when no one speaks it anymore (Crystal, 2000, p. 1). Languages are reported to die between one every two weeks (Rymer, 2012) and one every three months (Nuwer, 2014). One language that is currently on the way towards language death is the Native Australian language of Dyirbal.

Schmidt’s study on Dyirbal (1985) showed that the language was nearing extinction. He noted that the language itself was disappearing because the younger speakers were a lot less fluent in Dyirbal than the older speakers (p. 378). For instance, in Dyirbal to describe a big eel you would say ‘qunuii’ (Nettle & Romaine, 2000, p. 54). However, to describe a kangaroo as big you would call it ‘waqala’ (Nettle & Romaine, 2000, p. 54). Schmidt (1985) noted that members of the tribe aged between 18 to 35-year old would use these terms interchangeably to mean ‘big’ (p. 380). Crystal (2000) explains that there are very few new words added to the language. The language that the speakers use becomes much more limited over time (p. 230). Schmidt (1985) also noted that the tribe members that were younger than eighteen could not speak a single sentence of Dyirbal (p. 378).

Schmidt (1985) believed that there were a few reasons why Dyirbal was dying in younger speakers. Firstly, all television and literature in Australia is in English (Schmidt, 1985, pp. 379-380). This meant that Dyirbal children were used to English at a very young age, whilst also creating ‘images and expectations in conflict with traditional Dyirbal culture’ (Schmidt, 1985, p. 379). Another reason is the increased contact with English speakers. The Dyirbal tribe had to use English to trade with European settlers and over time the tribe gradually began to use it amongst themselves (Schmidt, 1985, p. 380). The final reason is compulsory English schooling. The Dyirbal children are taught English in Australian schools and do not have the option to learn Dyirbal (Schmidt, 1985, p. 380). Schmidt (1985) states that compulsory English ‘instils a negative impression of the utility and value of Dyirbal’ (pp. 380-381).

Dyirbal is shown to have all three factors of a dying language – population loss, forced language shift and voluntary language shift. Population loss of the Dyirbal people was shown when their ‘territory was invaded […] and the physical environment was deeply bruised’ (Schmidt, 1985, p. 378). This caused the population of the tribe to plummet. Forced language shift occurs when a dominant group forces a minority group to change to their language. This is shown through the compulsory English schooling that the children receive (Schmidt, 1985, p. 380). In voluntary language shift, a minority group decides themselves to use a dominant language as shown through the Dyirbal tribe gradually using English so they could trade with settlers (Schmidt, 1985, p. 380).

Within the academic circle, most linguists believe that languages deserve to be preserved. For example, Dalby (2003) explained that ‘each language is a different way of looking at, mapping and classifying the world’ (p. 272). Nettle & Romaine (2000) also expressed a similar view: ‘one technology may be substituted for another, this is not true of languages. Each language has its own window on the world’ (p.14). These linguists express the belief that languages have their own intrinsic values as a keystone of their respective cultures.

Outside of academia the view on language death can be quite different. The journalist Simon Jenkins stated that ‘I have always believed that the sooner the world speaks English, the happier and more prosperous it will be’ (The Times, 1995). Jenkins explains that English can be used as a lingua franca between countries to become more economically successful. The linguist Mufwene (2004) claims that ‘[l]inguists concerned with the rights of languages must ask themselves whether these rights prevail over the right of the speakers to adapt competitively to their new socioeconomic ecologies’ (p. 219). He (2004) explains that these communities must adapt to survive, questioning whether linguists only care due to their interest in languages.

In conclusion, although critics like Mufwene make interesting points on the importance of preserving languages, my views align with Dalby and Crystal.  Crystal (2000) states that ‘every language, it would seem, has its Chaucer’ (p. 46). This highlights the cultural loss that humanity may suffer if we focus on establishing ‘socioeconomic ecologies’ (Mufwene, 2004, p.219) over the preservation of minority languages and cultures.

THOMAS HOOKHAM, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

 

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

Dalby, A. (2003). Language in danger. Chichester, United Kingdom: Columbia University Press.

Jenkins, S. (1995, February, 25). The Triumph of English. The Times.

McKay, P. (1994, April, 24). English Rules The Waves. The Sunday Times.

Mufwene, S. (2004). Language Birth and Death. Anthropol, 33(1), 201-222.

Rymer, R. (2012, July). Vanishing Voices. National Geographic. 

Nuwer, R. (2014) Languages: Why we must save dying tongues, BBC on-line.

Schmidt, A. (1985). The fate of ergativity in dying Dyirbal, Language, 61(2), 378-396.