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"English-Vernacular Divide: Postcolonial Lang. Politics & Practice" (review)

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  • Don Osborn
    Many multilingual societies were colonized and one of the legacies of that experience is the overlay of the colonizing country s language on the linguistic
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 4, 2005
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      Many multilingual societies were colonized and one of the legacies of
      that experience is the overlay of the colonizing country's language
      on the linguistic terrain. That language, retained for administrative
      and educational purposes (and "building national unity" etc.) often
      takes on a role of prestige or conferring status.

      Often when we mention multilingual literacy and education in those
      countries we are talking about the first language, possibly a
      vehicular or other dominant indigenous language, and the former
      colonial language. In this kind of setting the relationship
      between/among the languages genarally is not one of parity, and there
      can be various other dynamics at play. (And indeed there may be
      resort to alternate monolingual models.)

      Anyway, the book reviewed here examines the situation in part of
      India. (Fwd from the Linguist list) DZO


      Date: 27-May-2005
      From: Joseph Afful <jbaffulyahoo.com>
      Subject: The English-Vernacular Divide

      AUTHOR : Ramanathan, Vaidehi
      TITLE: The English-Vernacular Divide
      SUBTITLE: Postcolonial Language Politics and Practice
      SERIES: Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
      PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters Ltd
      YEAR: 2005
      Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-534.html

      Joseph Benjamin Archibald Afful, Department of English Language &
      Literature, National University of Singapore

      DESCRIPTION

      Ramanathan's 143-page book investigates the use of English language
      and a vernacular (Gujarati) in a major developing country with a
      postcolonial tradition, paying particular attention to tertiary
      education. The writer shows how power, domination, resistance, and
      negotiation play out in very complex ways through this English-
      vernacular divide in this socio-educational landscape of India. The
      text is structured in six chapters, with each chapter introduced by
      an epigraph. It also includes a table of contents, preface,
      afterword, appendices, references and index.

      SYNOPSIS

      Chapter 1: Introduction: Situating the Vernaculars in a Divisive
      Postcolonial Landscape
      In Chapter 1 the writer explores two crucial themes: setting and
      voicing. As part of this larger purpose, the writer describes her
      varied and changing roles in the research, study, and write-up of her
      topic of investigation. The author then briefly describes three
      pertinent strands that are to be investigated in the remaining
      chapters, namely, what she calls "politics of divergent pedagogic
      tools", pedagogic practices, and tracking. Ramanathan concludes this
      chapter by arguing the relevance of the entire research to Applied
      Linguistics, in general, and the Teaching of English as a Second
      Language, in particular.

      Chapter 2: Divisive Postcolonial Ideologies, Language Policies and
      Social Practices
      The writer begins Chapter 2 at a more general level by showing how
      complex and far- reaching the interaction of thought patterns,
      historicity and presentness, and the overarching assumptions of the
      Indian middle class are, in contributing to the widening chasm
      between English language and the Vernacular in the Indian educational
      system. At a specific level, the author invokes Mahatma Gandhi's
      views and the Remove English Lobby to delineate the use of English
      and the Vernacular in the Indian educational set-up. These two
      factors influence India's language policy in education, although this
      rather tends to exacerbate the chasm between English-medium and
      Vernacular-medium schools, as pointed out by the author.

      Chapter 3: Divisive and Divergent Pedagogical Tools for Vernacular-
      and English-medium Students
      In Chapter 3, the writer explores the pivotal role of textbooks in
      the delivery of education and examinations in India. Employing a
      critical discourse analysis approach of state-mandated sets of
      textbooks for grades 5-7 in all vernacular and English-medium K-12
      public schools, the author notes key similarities and differences,
      with the latter highlighting the gulf between the vernacular-medium
      and English-medium students, empowering one and disempowering the
      other.

      Chapter 4: The Divisive Politics of Divergent Pedagogical Practices
      From the critical discourse analysis employed in the previous
      chapter, the writer in Chapter 4 employs the ethnographic approach in
      exploring the pedagogical practices, procedural display, and social
      conventions of an English-medium private business college and a
      vernacular-medium women's college whose students, according to the
      author, are differently motivated because of their different
      backgrounds. Whereas the former privileges choral response, correct
      answer and evinces a clash between medium and content in the teaching
      of Literature, the latter extols group work and active participation
      as well as grammar in a business context. Nonetheless, the writer
      reveals that both groups of students have different concerns, with
      students in the women's college expressing difficulty with their
      apparent insufficient knowledge of English and students in the
      private school expressing unhappiness about the university assessment
      procedure.

      Chapter 5: The Divisive Politics of Tracking
      Here, the writer examines the tracking system in a Jesuit
      institution. According to the author, although the aim of the Jesuit
      institution is to handle the inequality in educational system through
      tracking the underprivileged into streams a and b, the literacy
      practices associated with tracking provide yet another disturbing
      insight into the chasm between students of English-medium
      institutions and vernacular-medium institutions, as those with a head
      start in English obtain relatively easy access to the privileged
      courses. Despite this, the writer portrays the determination of the
      catholic institution in seeking ways to empower the underprivileged
      in India by taking pride in the use of the vernacular.

      Chapter 6: Gulfs and Bridges Revisited: Hybridization, Nativization
      and Other Loose Ends
      In the final chapter, the writer draws all the issues raised in the
      previous chapters together, noting the limiting, disempowering,
      ambiguous, inconsistent, divisive, and complex nature of the Indian
      socio-educational landscape with respect to language use. The author
      then teases out the implications of this complex landscape for
      nativization, the conflict between content and form, and the
      relationship of the vernacular in relation with English language
      teaching. The author ends the book with the firm belief that
      delineating the English-vernacular chasm in the Indian educational
      system is an important step, while conceding that there are still
      more issues for students, scholars and teachers to consider.

      Appendix
      Here, the reader can find four materials: details of research data,
      dates pertaining to educational policies on language use, some
      differences in English textbooks used in English and Vernacular-
      medium schools, and examples from English Literature curricula and
      examination papers

      CRITICAL EVALUATION

      On the whole, this book is a worthy contribution to the literature on
      postcolonial studies, in general, and bilingualism, multilingualism
      and sociolinguistics, in particular, on three counts. The first point
      to note is the lucidity and clarity of the language that is used
      throughout the book. This is especially evident in the explanation of
      the concept "voice' and the description of the socio-educational
      landscape of India, in general, and the delineation of the setting of
      three educational institutions, in particular. Second, it is clear
      that the writer has taken pains in organizing her material, by
      employing various visual features such as headings, sub-headings,
      font sizes, and metatextual elements to render the book reader-
      friendly. The foreword, afterword, and especially appendices equally
      add to this almost perfect organization of the text, thus
      facilitating understanding of the writer's arguments. Related to the
      above is the use of endnotes, which makes it easy for the reader to
      follow and appreciate the writer's arguments. The final admirable
      feature of this text is the smooth-flowing manner in which the writer
      deploys an admixture of ethnographic, sociolinguistic, socio-
      historical and critical discourse analytical approaches in developing
      her theme/s.

      Despite these strengths, there are a number of issues worth drawing
      attention to. The first concerns the use of metadiscoursal elements.
      Given the painstaking manner in which the writer addresses
      organizational features of the text, I find some metadiscoursal
      elements disruptive and, worse still, redundant. For instance, the
      reader gets the feeling that the section entitled "Chapter-wise
      Breakdown of the Book", essentially metadiscoursal, is not serving a
      useful purpose, given the amount of textual space allocated to the
      exposition on the three strands (pp. 12-17). The second set of
      concern relates to methodology. Although the writer attempts to
      justify the selection of three educational institutions, the reasons
      do not appear convincing. In particular, the choice of the women's
      college raises a number of questions related to gender that are not
      adequately addressed. In my opinion, a vernacular-medium mixed
      college would have been a better choice. In the end, one is left with
      the feeling that that the choice of these tertiary institutions in
      the study has been motivated by convenience, to put it mildly, and by
      an ideological stance, to put it crudely. Third, the writer employs
      critical discourse analysis in her exploration of pedagogical tools
      in Chapter 3, but it is not clear whether she is drawing on an
      eclectic mix of approaches or one, given the different approaches in
      critical discourse analysis (McKenna, 2004), with scholars such as
      Fairclough (1995, 2003), van Dijk (1997), Wodak (1996), and Kress and
      van Leeuwen (1996), representing some of the major emerging strands.
      Finally, there are issues of editorial nature, though of less
      significance to the arguments in the book, which readers with sharp
      eyes can easily spot. They include the following:
      a) Sections of Chapter 6 appeared in ....and is reprinted here" (p.
      xi)
      b) "...multipronged enterprise whose general functioning include..."
      (p. 3)
      c) "The raw materials on which this project is based consists of..."
      (p.11)
      d) ".... indeed, all those interviewed said they had did not have
      much trouble" (p. 22)
      e) "Chakrabarthy (2000:247) states that there at least two kinds..."
      (p. 24)
      f) What are social practices and how to do they work themselves..."
      (p. 25)
      g) Gandhi's views regarding the value of the vernacular...is
      partially (p. 29)
      h) "...all those interviewed said they had did not have much trouble
      (p.52)
      i) "... the preface for the EM texts in Grades 5-8 insist that ...."
      (p.54)
      j) "...students in Shri Lanka..." (p. 60)
      k) "Thepremises..." (p.68)
      l) Almost all instruction in the first-year...are devoted..." (p.102)
      m) "...that he felt could proceed" (p. 102)
      n) "... the college hosts a three day cultural festival..." (p. 107)
      o) "...they attempt to breakdown alien western concepts..." (p. 117)

      I also find the use of "hang out" (p.69) and "mill" (p. 69) somewhat
      informal. On page 19, the writer writes "Chapter 4 will call
      attention to..." instead of "Chapter 5" .There are also a few
      sentences where the omission of one stop or the other tends to create
      problems as in "The indigenous curriculum was considered
      inappropriate for another reason as well which was that..." (p.44)
      and "The social service coordinator at the WC, herself a (VM)
      graduate of the college credits the organization..." (p. 83).

      Overall, despite the few concerns expressed above, Ramanathan's book
      is worth recommending as critical reading for readers interested in
      postcolonial studies, language-in-education policy, sociolinguistics,
      bilingualism, and multilingualism. It is well researched and provides
      helpful bibliography which curious readers can follow up.

      REFERENCES

      Fairclough, N. (1995). Critical discourse analysis: The critical
      study of language. London and New York: Longman

      Fairclough, N. (2003). Analysing discourse and text: Textual analysis
      for social research. London: Routledge.

      Kress, G. and van Leeuwen, T. (1996). Reading Images: The Grammar of
      Visual Design. London. London: Routledge.

      McKenna, B. (2004). Critical Discourse Studies: Where to From Here?
      Critical Discourse Studies, 1 (1), 9-40.

      van Dijk, T. (1997). Discourse as interaction in society. In T. van
      Dijk (Ed.), Discourse Studies: A multidisciplinary introduction --
      Discourse as social interaction (Vol. 2, pp. 1-37). London: Sage.

      Wodak, R. (1996). Disorders of discourse. London: Longman

      ABOUT THE REVIEWER

      A research scholar at the Department of English Language and
      Literature at the National University of Singapore, Joseph Benjamin
      Archibald Afful is due to submit his doctoral thesis on the interface
      between rhetoric and disciplinary writing at the undergraduate level
      this year. His research interests include discourse/text analysis,
      sociolinguistics, the teaching of English as a second language, and
      the interface between linguistics and literature.
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