Monday, January 14, 2019

World Englishes

When Dan asked what he should post about next on this blog, one of the most common responses was this, the World Englishes topic.  Maybe this is because it’s relatively new on the AQA spec, especially if you previously did Spec B; but actually many of the issues and debates involved should be familiar from other topics in language diversity or language and power.   I love teaching World Englishes because it’s the most summative of all the topics, so students can use all their knowledge of language diversity and change.  We teach it at the end of year 2 for this reason.  

These are the questions that we cover:

1.    How did English become such a dominant language in the world?

2.    What are the different ways of grouping English-using countries around the world?

3.    What are some characteristics of different global varieties of English and of English as a lingua franca (ELF)?

4.    Who controls the English Language?

5.    What are the political implications of the dominance of English?  Are all groups in English-using countries happy with it?  Why?  Why not?

6.    What effect is English having on languages around the world?  Is it responsible for “killing” other languages?

7.    What is the future of English around the world? 

For question 1, the simple answer (as with all dominant varieties of language) is power; in this case, the power of the British Empire and, later, the cultural, economic and political power of the USA.  David Crystal has a useful 3 minute discussion of this here, and there’s a great one minute animated film from the Open University here.  Depending on your students, you might need to do a bit of a history lesson on the British Empire at this point, but I usually find that at least some of my classes already know plenty about this. 

For question 2, there are several models which organise different global Englishes.  I use Strevens, which looks fairly hierarchical and is useful for showing how English spread around the world; Kachru’s norm providing, norm developing and norm dependent circles; and McArthur’s ‘different but equal’ wheel model.   Students should be able to discuss what these models imply about power and control of language, and all are very useful when discussing questions 3 to 7.

For question 3, there are great resources on ELF in the CUP book ‘Language Diversity and World Englishes’, but if you don’t have access to this or want something extra, there is a short intro from Jennifer Jenkins here  and a great article by Jenkins and Seidlhofer covering definitions, characteristics, issues and debates here.  Mario Saraceni also debates the issues around ELF, and I’ll return to his work when looking at question 7. 

When it comes to looking at varieties of global English, we research and discuss Englishes from India, China, the USA and Australia, then we do a detailed case study of Singapore.  This raises lots of relevant issues and debates about control and gatekeeping of English and about status versus identity; Singapore has a prescriptivist language policy which privileges British and US English as high prestige varieties, and rejects ‘Singlish’ as slang or ‘broken’ English which could adversely affect Singapore’s position as a centre of international trade.  Here’s a sick rap in Singlish so you can hear what it sounds like; an excellent Open University documentary covering the issues here; and a TEDx talk bigging up Singlish as the future of language in Singapore here.  At this point, we also come back to the models we looked at for question 2 to see how each could be applied to Singapore.  This case study also covers questions 4 and 5.  We also look at other language policies, including L’Academie Francais and the proposed language purity law in Germany; both of these are at least partly intended to stop English making inroads into other languages, and students might apply familiar concepts such as Aitchison’s infectious disease metaphors here.

Leading through question 5 and into question 6, we also cover the issue of linguistic imperialism and language death.  2 of the world’s 7000 or so languages die every month, and the power and dominance of super-languages such as English and Spanish shoulders much of the blame; your more ambitious students might want to read a transcript of David Crystal’s lecture on this.  The term linguistic imperialism was coined by Robert Philipson, and there’s an informative and interesting debate between him and Robert McCrum, who is far more upbeat about global Englishes, here.

Finally, for question 7, we look at possibilities for the future of World Englishes.  There’s a nice discussion by David Crystal in this video.

Mario Saraceni thinks that England should accept that we’ve lost control of the English language, and should now think in terms of Englishes, plural.   This means letting go of the idea of standard British English as the ideal ‘correct’ variety.   He uses a nice simile which students find easy to remember; we have as much control of English as Italians do of pizza – if someone wants to stick banana and bacon on it, we’re just going to have to let that go. 

Robert McCrum talks about ‘Globish’ (a term coined and monetised by Jean Paul Nerriere).  This is really a version of English as a lingua franca, and it raises some interesting debates; for example, are native English speakers likely to be disadvantaged by the spread of Globish because our use of idiom and complex grammar will make us difficult to understand? 

Maybe English as a native language will die and various World Englishes will remain; after all, this is what happened to previous lingua franca Latin.  Or perhaps, given the decline of Britain and the USA as global powers, another language such as Spanish or Mandarin will take over as a lingua franca.  Post-Brexit, English is certainly likely to lose some of its importance in Europe, as Juncker pointed out in 2017.

Finally, it’s well worth discussing the idea that elements of World Englishes are finding their way into varieties of British English as a result of globalisation and patterns of migration; we go back to our study of MLE/MUBE at this point.

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