Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

"Babel's children" - structure of languages

Expand Messages
  • Don Osborn
    The Economist had an interesting piece on some research on different structures of languages (reposted here from ILAT with minor modifications). Among other
    Message 1 of 8 , Jan 11, 2004
    View Source
    • 0 Attachment
      The Economist had an interesting piece on some research on different
      structures of languages (reposted here from ILAT with minor
      modifications).

      Among other things it raises for me questions about how someone
      fluent in two structurally very different languages, but literate in
      only one of them, would approach reading (or trying to) in the
      other. I've previously mentioned the experience of seeing a literate
      person read his maternal language for the first time - I'd thought of
      the difficulty as mainly in terms of the orthography (hence this
      person had to read aloud, haltingly at first, to understand). But it
      probably had as much to do with the expectations of structure in what
      is read.

      An analogy that comes to mind (there are probably much better ones)
      for this particular case is taking a familiar back country road for
      the first time in a conveyance that you usually uses in town - maybe
      the landmarks come at a different speed, you're seeing them at a
      different angle, you have to pay attention to how the vehicle is
      behaving ... Several factors conspire to make the familiar way
      perhaps a bit vexing.

      Another is reading transcription of oral literature as opposed to
      that composed in written form (thinking again here especially of
      situations where the language does not have a long written history).

      Don Osborn
      Bisharat.net



      Jan 8th 2004 | LEIPZIG
      From The Economist print edition

      Languages may be more different from each other than is currently
      supposed. That may affect the way people think

      http://www.economist.com/science/displayStory.cfm?story_id=2329718

      IT IS hard to conceive of a language without nouns or verbs. But that
      is just what Riau Indonesian is, according to David Gil, a researcher
      at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in
      Leipzig. Dr Gil has been studying Riau for the past 12 years.
      Initially, he says, he struggled with the language, despite being
      fluent in standard Indonesian. However, a breakthrough came when he
      realised that what he had been thinking of as different parts of
      speech were, in fact, grammatically the same. For example, the
      phrase "the chicken is eating" translates into colloquial Riau
      as "ayam makan". Literally, this is "chicken eat". But the same pair
      of words also have meanings as diverse as "the chicken is making
      somebody eat", or "somebody is eating where the chicken is". There
      are, he says, no modifiers that distinguish the tenses of verbs. Nor
      are there modifiers for nouns that distinguish the definite from the
      indefinite ("the", as opposed to "a"). Indeed, there are no features
      in Riau Indonesian that distinguish nouns from verbs. These
      categories, he says, are imposed because the languages that western
      linguists are familiar with have them.

      This sort of observation flies in the face of conventional wisdom
      about what language is. Most linguists are influenced by the work of
      Noam Chomsky—in particular, his theory of "deep grammar". According
      to Dr Chomsky, people are born with a sort of linguistic template in
      their brains. This is a set of rules that allows children to learn a
      language quickly, but also imposes constraints and structure on what
      is learnt. Evidence in support of this theory includes the tendency
      of children to make systematic mistakes which indicate a tendency to
      impose rules on what turn out to be grammatical exceptions (eg, "I
      dided it" instead of "I did it"). There is also the ability of the
      children of migrant workers to invent new languages known as creoles
      out of the grammatically incoherent pidgin spoken by their parents.
      Exactly what the deep grammar consists of is still not clear, but a
      basic distinction between nouns and verbs would probably be one of
      its minimum requirements.

      Plumbing the grammatical depths

      Dr Gil contends, however, that there is a risk of unconscious bias
      leading to the conclusion that a particular sort of grammar exists in
      an unfamiliar language. That is because it is easier for linguists to
      discover extra features in foreign languages—for example tones that
      change the meaning of words, which are common in Indonesian but do
      not exist in European languages—than to realise that elements which
      are taken for granted in a linguist's native language may be absent
      from another. Despite the best intentions, he says, there is a
      tendency to fit languages into a mould. And since most linguists are
      westerners, that mould is usually an Indo-European language from the
      West.

      It need not, however, be a modern language. Dr Gil's point about bias
      is well illustrated by the history of the study of the world's most
      widely spoken tongue. Many of the people who developed modern
      linguistics had had an education in Latin and Greek. As a
      consequence, English was often described until well into the 20th
      century as having six different noun cases, because Latin has six. (A
      noun case is how that noun's grammatical use is distinguished, for
      example as a subject or as an object.) Only relatively recently did
      grammarians begin a debate over noun cases in English. Some now
      contend that it does not have noun cases at all, others that it has
      two (one for the possessive, the other for everything else) while
      still others maintain that there are three or four cases. These would
      include the nominative (for the subject of a sentence), the
      accusative (for its object) and the genitive (to indicate possession).

      The difficulty is compounded if a linguist is not fluent in the
      language he is studying. The process of linguistic fieldwork is a
      painstaking one, fraught with pitfalls. Its mainstay is the use
      of "informants" who tell linguists, in interviews and on paper, about
      their language. Unfortunately, these informants tend to be better-
      educated than their fellows, and are often fluent in more than one
      language. This, in conjunction with the comparatively formal setting
      of an interview (even if it is done in as basic a location as
      possible), can systematically distort the results. While such
      interviews are an unavoidable, and essential, part of the process, Dr
      Gil has also resorted to various ruses in his attempts to elicit
      linguistic information. In one of them, he would sit by the ferry
      terminal on Batam, an Indonesian island near Singapore, with sketches
      of fish doing different things. He then struck up conversations with
      shoeshine boys hanging around the dock, hoping that the boys would
      describe what the fish were doing in a relaxed, colloquial manner.

      The experiment, though, was not entirely successful: when the boys
      realised his intention, they began to speak more formally. This
      experience, says Dr Gil, illustrates the difficulties of collecting
      authentic information about the ways in which people speak. But those
      differences, whether or not they reflect the absence of a Chomskian
      deep grammar, might be relevant not just to language, but to the very
      way in which people think.

      Word, words, words

      A project that Dr Gil is just beginning in Indonesia, in
      collaboration with Lera Boroditsky, a researcher at the Massachusetts
      Institute of Technology, is examining correlations between the way
      concepts are expressed in languages and how native speakers of these
      languages think. This is a test of a hypothesis first made by
      Benjamin Lee Whorf, an early 20th-century American linguist, that the
      structure of language affects the way people think. Though Whorf's
      hypothesis fell into disfavour half a century ago, it is now
      undergoing something of a revival.

      Dr Boroditsky's experiment is simple. People are shown three
      pictures, one of a man about to kick a ball, one of the same man
      having just kicked a ball, and a third of a different man who is
      about to kick a ball. They are then asked which two of the three are
      the most similar. Indonesians generally choose the first two
      pictures, which have the same man in them, while English speakers are
      likely to identify the two pictures that show the ball about to be
      kicked—an emphasis on the temporal, rather than the spatial,
      relationship between the principal objects in the picture.

      Dr Gil believes that this might be because time is, in English, an
      integral grammatical concept—every verb must have a tense, be it
      past, present or future. By contrast, in Indonesian, expressing a
      verb's tense is optional, and not always done. In support of Whorf's
      idea, Dr Gil half-jokingly cites the fact that Indonesians always
      seem to be running late. But there is more systematic evidence, too.
      For example, native Indonesian speakers who also speak English fall
      between the two groups of monoglots in the experiment. Dr Gil
      supposes that their thought processes are influenced by their
      knowledge of both English and Indonesian grammar.

      Demonstrating any sort of causal link would, nevertheless, be hard.
      Indeed, the first challenge the researchers must surmount if they are
      to prove Whorf correct is to show that English and Indonesian
      speakers do, in fact, think differently about time, and are not
      answering questions in different ways for some other reason. If that
      does prove to be the case, says Dr Gil, their remains the thorny
      question of whether it is the differences in language of the two
      groups that influences their conception of time, or vice versa.

      Dr Boroditsky and Dr Gil are not intending to restrict their study to
      ideas about time. They plan, for example, to study gender. English,
      unlike many other languages, does not assign genders to most nouns.
      Does this affect the way English-speakers think of gender? Languages
      also differ in the ways they distinguish between singular and plural
      nouns. Indeed, some do not distinguish at all, while others have a
      special case, called the dual, that refers only to a pair of
      something. Descriptions of spatial relations, too, vary, with
      languages dividing the world up differently by using different sorts
      of prepositions. The notion that grammar might affect the way people
      think may seem far-fetched, and even unappealing to those who are
      confident of their own free will. But if Dr Gil is right and there do
      exist languages, like Riau Indonesian, without nouns or verbs, the
      difficulty of conceiving just that fact points out how much grammar
      itself shapes at least some thoughts.


      ------------------------------------------------------------------

      Copyright © 2004 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All
      rights reserved
    • Elsa Auerbach
      Julian Edge has written a fabulous piece in the most recent issue of the TESOL Quarterly on the role(s) of English/ESOL teachers in the new world order. It s
      Message 2 of 8 , Jan 27, 2004
      View Source
      • 0 Attachment
        Julian Edge has written a fabulous piece in the most recent issue of the
        TESOL Quarterly on the role(s) of English/ESOL teachers in the new world
        order. It's a MUST read (in my opinion). Elsa Auerbach
      • Don Osborn
        Thank you, Elsa. I got as far as the citation (below) with TESOL Quarterly s Ingenta Select content manager before I ran into a subscriber log in. Would you
        Message 3 of 8 , Jan 28, 2004
        View Source
        • 0 Attachment
          Thank you, Elsa. I got as far as the citation (below) with TESOL
          Quarterly's Ingenta Select content manager before I ran into a
          subscriber log in. Would you (or anyone) be able to post the abstract
          or a brief summary of the piece for us non-subscribers? TIA!

          Don Osborn

          Title: Imperial Troopers and Servants of the Lord: A Vision of TESOL
          for the 21st Century
          Author(s): Julian Edge
          Source: TESOL Quarterly Volume: 37 Number: 4 Page: 701 -- 709
          Publisher: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
          http://juno.ingentaselect.com/vl=1416490/cl=58/nw=1/rpsv/cw/tesol/0039
          8322/v37n4/s5/p701

          (The TESOL Qtrly page I accessed this from is
          http://www.tesol.org/pubs/magz/tq.html )


          --- In Multilingual_Literacy@yahoogroups.com, Elsa Auerbach
          <elsa.auerbach@u...> wrote:
          > Julian Edge has written a fabulous piece in the most recent issue
          of the
          > TESOL Quarterly on the role(s) of English/ESOL teachers in the new
          world
          > order. It's a MUST read (in my opinion). Elsa Auerbach
        • Elsa Auerbach
          Sorry to be slow in responding with more information about Julian Edge s article. I m copying the full citation from your email in case others ... Here s a
          Message 4 of 8 , Feb 2, 2004
          View Source
          • 0 Attachment
            Sorry to be slow in responding with more information about Julian Edge's
            article. I'm copying the full citation from your email in case others
            missed it:


            > Title: Imperial Troopers and Servants of the Lord: A Vision of TESOL
            > for the 21st Century
            > Author(s): Julian Edge
            > Source: TESOL Quarterly Volume: 37 Number: 4 Page: 701 -- 709
            > Publisher: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
            > http://juno.ingentaselect.com/vl=1416490/cl=58/nw=1/rpsv/cw/tesol/0039
            > 8322/v37n4/s5/p701
            >
            > (The TESOL Qtrly page I accessed this from is
            > http://www.tesol.org/pubs/magz/tq.html )

            Here's a quote from the editor's comments (p. 586):

            "Julian Edge contributes his provocative thoughts about connections of the
            TESOL profession with politics and religion written during the height of the
            Iraq crisis in spring 2003, when he was struck by the fact that coalition
            forces corresponded to the three figurehead TESOL providers: the United
            States, Great Britain and Australia." Carole Chapelle


            Here's a quote from Edge's piece:

            "It is my perception , however, that the 2003 invasion of Iraq marks a
            watershed, if only in the raising of my own awareness. The shift to overt
            military imposition of will where hegemonic influence fails, even more
            striking when the main protagonists are the three figurehead TESOL providers
            worldwide, threatens fundamentally to recast the role of English language
            teachers. It represents a a decisive move that one could express in
            colloquial terms as a shift from, You should learn this because it is in
            your own best interests, to, You had better learn this if you know what is
            good for you. To the extent that the dominance of English-speaking nations
            is to be imposed by force, English language teachers may now explicitly be
            perceived as a second wave of imperial troopers. We move in, following
            "pacification," with the unspoken role, it can be argued, of facilitating
            the consent that hegemony requires, so that the fist can be returned to the
            glove." P. 703


            Edge goes on to argue that English instruction is being used as a pretext
            for winning converts from Islam.

            The central contention is that U.S. foreign policy and Christianity are
            implemented via English and "we are playing our part." --that we need to
            examine our perhaps inadvertent complicity with the imposition of these
            policies and doctrines.

            Hope that gives the gist.

            Elsa Auerbach
            On 1/28/04 4:33 PM, "Don Osborn" <dzo@...> wrote:

            > Thank you, Elsa. I got as far as the citation (below) with TESOL
            > Quarterly's Ingenta Select content manager before I ran into a
            > subscriber log in. Would you (or anyone) be able to post the abstract
            > or a brief summary of the piece for us non-subscribers? TIA!
            >
            > Don Osborn
            >
            > Title: Imperial Troopers and Servants of the Lord: A Vision of TESOL
            > for the 21st Century
            > Author(s): Julian Edge
            > Source: TESOL Quarterly Volume: 37 Number: 4 Page: 701 -- 709
            > Publisher: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
            > http://juno.ingentaselect.com/vl=1416490/cl=58/nw=1/rpsv/cw/tesol/0039
            > 8322/v37n4/s5/p701
            >
            > (The TESOL Qtrly page I accessed this from is
            > http://www.tesol.org/pubs/magz/tq.html )
            >
            >
            > --- In Multilingual_Literacy@yahoogroups.com, Elsa Auerbach
            > <elsa.auerbach@u...> wrote:
            >> Julian Edge has written a fabulous piece in the most recent issue
            > of the
            >> TESOL Quarterly on the role(s) of English/ESOL teachers in the new
            > world
            >> order. It's a MUST read (in my opinion). Elsa Auerbach
            >
            >
            >
            >
            > Yahoo! Groups Links
            >
            > To visit your group on the web, go to:
            > http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Multilingual_Literacy/
            >
            > To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:
            > Multilingual_Literacy-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com
            >
            > Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to:
            > http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/
            >
            >
            >
          • Don Osborn
            Thank you, Elsa, and no problem about the delay (as if I m one to complain...). This abstract sounds interesting but I wonder if the article also has more
            Message 5 of 8 , Feb 11, 2004
            View Source
            • 0 Attachment
              Thank you, Elsa, and no problem about the delay (as if I'm one to
              complain...). This abstract sounds interesting but I wonder if the
              article also has more nuanced reasoning about what's behind the
              spread of English teaching. In many places like Niger (from where I
              will be moving soon) and China (my destination) people identify
              English as a tool for communication that improves their
              livelihood/career chances. In neither place is force or even a
              coordinated English-teaching strategy an issue - Nigeriens may see
              learning English as enhancing employment opportunities with Western
              NGOs, yes, but also perhaps alternative education opportunities south
              of the border in Nigeria. In China, even if Chou En-Lai years ago
              advocated studying American English given the geo-political
              importance of the US, learning of the language is now focused on
              facilitating international communication for economic reasons.

              In other words it is not (in Edge's terms) "You had better learn this
              if you know what is good for you" or even "You should learn this
              because it is in your own best interests", but rather more like "I
              should learn this because it is in my own best interests." Granted
              the current world order nurtures such rationales, but there is a
              demand.

              What arguably is happening is a slide towards a "diffusion of
              English" model (per Phillipson & Skutnab-Kangas) whereby that
              language is valued above all else, to the extent where, for instance:
              in a country like Swaziland where over 90% have the same maternal
              language (SiSwati), all formal education is done in English only; or
              in Niger the recorded cell-phone messages are in French (the official
              language) and English, but not in for instance, Hausa which is the
              most widely spoken language in the country (with as many speakers on
              this side of the border alone as, say, speakers of Danish); or in a
              story about ICT in a village in Ghana a journalist (American) can
              write of people not speaking English at home as a "problem."

              What is(are) the role(s) in all this for TESOL/TEAL teachers? And in
              terms of the group theme, does "multilingual literacy" increasingly
              presuppose that English - for better or worse - be one of the
              languages in which one has reading (etc.) skills?

              Don Osborn
              Bisharat.net


              --- In Multilingual_Literacy@yahoogroups.com, Elsa Auerbach
              <elsa.auerbach@u...> wrote:
              > Sorry to be slow in responding with more information about Julian
              Edge's
              > article. I'm copying the full citation from your email in case
              others
              > missed it:
              >
              >
              > > Title: Imperial Troopers and Servants of the Lord: A Vision of
              TESOL
              > > for the 21st Century
              > > Author(s): Julian Edge
              > > Source: TESOL Quarterly Volume: 37 Number: 4 Page: 701 -- 709
              > > Publisher: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
              > >
              http://juno.ingentaselect.com/vl=1416490/cl=58/nw=1/rpsv/cw/tesol/0039
              > > 8322/v37n4/s5/p701
              > >
              > > (The TESOL Qtrly page I accessed this from is
              > > http://www.tesol.org/pubs/magz/tq.html )
              >
              > Here's a quote from the editor's comments (p. 586):
              >
              > "Julian Edge contributes his provocative thoughts about connections
              of the
              > TESOL profession with politics and religion written during the
              height of the
              > Iraq crisis in spring 2003, when he was struck by the fact that
              coalition
              > forces corresponded to the three figurehead TESOL providers: the
              United
              > States, Great Britain and Australia." Carole Chapelle
              >
              >
              > Here's a quote from Edge's piece:
              >
              > "It is my perception , however, that the 2003 invasion of Iraq
              marks a
              > watershed, if only in the raising of my own awareness. The shift
              to overt
              > military imposition of will where hegemonic influence fails, even
              more
              > striking when the main protagonists are the three figurehead TESOL
              providers
              > worldwide, threatens fundamentally to recast the role of English
              language
              > teachers. It represents a a decisive move that one could express in
              > colloquial terms as a shift from, You should learn this because it
              is in
              > your own best interests, to, You had better learn this if you know
              what is
              > good for you. To the extent that the dominance of English-speaking
              nations
              > is to be imposed by force, English language teachers may now
              explicitly be
              > perceived as a second wave of imperial troopers. We move in,
              following
              > "pacification," with the unspoken role, it can be argued, of
              facilitating
              > the consent that hegemony requires, so that the fist can be
              returned to the
              > glove." P. 703
              >
              >
              > Edge goes on to argue that English instruction is being used as a
              pretext
              > for winning converts from Islam.
              >
              > The central contention is that U.S. foreign policy and Christianity
              are
              > implemented via English and "we are playing our part." --that we
              need to
              > examine our perhaps inadvertent complicity with the imposition of
              these
              > policies and doctrines.
              >
              > Hope that gives the gist.
              >
              > Elsa Auerbach
              [ . . . ]
            • skyman@elm79.fsnet.co.uk
              Hi Don, There is indeed force, whether overt or covert, immediate or remote. It s global and ideological in many respects. I specifically addressed this issue
              Message 6 of 8 , Feb 11, 2004
              View Source
              • 0 Attachment

                Hi Don,

                There is indeed force, whether overt or covert, immediate or remote. It's global and ideological in many respects. I specifically addressed this issue in my paper

                1.       2003 Local policies and global forces: Multiliteracy through Africa�s indigenous languages. Language Policy 2: 2 pp133-152.

                Both Alistair Pennycook and Robert Phillipson have written on the subject too from the specific perspective of ELT.

                The same force was your 'pass' to Niger and now directs your destination again - you're China-bound! It also grants you access. My competence in Yoruba will not open that China Door because in global perspectives, Yoruba does not have the linguistic capital that English possesses. It's the 'currency' with which I earn my livelihood in the UK! That capital derives from English being the major language of hegemonic institutions such as the World Bank, IMF, United Nations, World Economic Forum etc. Unfortunately, counter-hegemonic 'forces' such as the World Social Forum, Non-Aligned Movement etc are compelled to adopt English - otherwise they offer no counter to the ideological positions that the former articulate. 

                BUT where would the world be without English?  Food for thought.

                Peace,

                'tope Omoniyi


                Freeserve AnyTime - HALF PRICE for the first 3 months - Save �7.50 a month
                www.freeserve.com/anytime
              • Matthew Ward
                I don t agree that English is any kind of pass to China, or to most East Asian countries. It s a very useful skill, but the large majority of migrants to
                Message 7 of 8 , Feb 12, 2004
                View Source
                • 0 Attachment
                  I don't agree that English is any kind of "pass" to China, or to most East Asian countries.  It's a very useful skill, but the large majority of migrants to various East Asian countries are not English speakers, are not from countries where English enjoys any kind of official status, and will spend a great deal of energy learning the dominant local language (in this case, Mandarin Chinese) before they turn their attention to English, if ever.  Russians moving to Korea, Brazilians and Chinese moving to Japan, and Thais and Indonesians moving to Taiwan will generally bypass English completely.  In East Asia, native speakers in English (a tiny minority in any case) who assume that fluency in English will provide a ticket to success in Asia generally become culturally ghettoized, stuck in dead-end, low-paying English teaching jobs, while the multilingual tend to thrive.  Even my uncle, who is an older businessman with years of experience doing business in Asia, finds that his salary and promotion chances in Shanghai seem to depend largely on the extent to which he masters Mandarin.  

                  Don't Asian companies want employees who can speak English?  Of course they do, but years of ELT has, in some cases, created more supply than demand.  In Taiwan, for example, although the average citizen cannot hold a conversation in English to any level, the children of the urban upper-middle class often complain that so many of their peers speak English that speaking it does not hold as much advantage as it used to.  Now, companies are demanding employees who speak Japanese, French, German, Spanish, Korean, and Russian.  Why they are doing so is no mystery; I remember the words of a German minister of education "If you want to buy anything in the world, you can do it in English, but if you wish to sell..."  

                  Yes, the global elite will continue to use English as the main means of communication in their meetings, but on the ground, where most people are, globalization means first mastering the dominant language of the society that you live in, and then becoming as multilingual as possible.  The latter often entails attaining proficiency in English, but not always.  In East Asia, I have personally known many multilingual individuals whose language ability played a major factor in their success, yet English did not happen to be one of the languages which they were proficient in.  In Japan, for example, fluency in Japanese, Chinese, and another major language would be an enormous asset to any businessperson, while monolingualism in English would limit one to the lower rungs of the ELT industry (fluency in Japanese would greatly increase the English teacher's chance of moving beyond those lower rungs).  Where I am currently living, in the American Southwest, many jobs are simply not open to those who cannot speak Spanish as well as English.  It is simply not possible to transverse this globe and rely on English only, let alone succeed, and I speak of this through personal experience, although no-one will deny that English enjoys a unique and historically unprecendented position among the world's languages.  

                  As for where the world would be without English, the answer is "exactly where it is now, albeit with (likely) more multiligualism among the global elite."  After all, English enjoys its present position due to a combination of historical and economic factors, not to any kind of unique qualities as a medium of communication.  Considering the way history has turned out, it is no mystery that English (rather than Spanish, French, Arabic, of Mandarin) has become the dominant means of global communication, but without English, the world would still be communicating in much the same way that it does now.  If, for example, the Norman occupation of Britain had lasted longer, then French might well enjoy an even more dominant position globally than English enjoys now, and French (or any other language pressed into service) would have served the purpose equally well.    

                  Matthew Ward

                  skyman@... wrote:

                  Hi Don,

                  There is indeed force, whether overt or covert, immediate or remote. It's global and ideological in many respects. I specifically addressed this issue in my paper

                  1.       2003 Local policies and global forces: Multiliteracy through Africa’s indigenous languages. Language Policy 2: 2 pp133-152.

                  Both Alistair Pennycook and Robert Phillipson have written on the subject too from the specific perspective of ELT.

                  The same force was your 'pass' to Niger and now directs your destination again - you're China-bound! It also grants you access. My competence in Yoruba will not open that China Door because in global perspectives, Yoruba does not have the linguistic capital that English possesses. It's the 'currency' with which I earn my livelihood in the UK! That capital derives from English being the major language of hegemonic institutions such as the World Bank, IMF, United Nations, World Economic Forum etc. Unfortunately, counter-hegemonic 'forces' such as the World Social Forum, Non-Aligned Movement etc are compelled to adopt English - otherwise they offer no counter to the ideological positions that the former articulate. 

                  BUT where would the world be without English?  Food for thought.

                  Peace,

                  'tope Omoniyi


                  Freeserve AnyTime - HALF PRICE for the first 3 months - Save £7.50 a month
                  www.freeserve.com/anytime


                • Don Osborn
                  Thank you tope and Matthew for your interesting and thought provoking replies. I should point out that my ticket to my current position in Niger, to use
                  Message 8 of 8 , Feb 13, 2004
                  View Source
                  • 0 Attachment
                    Thank you 'tope and Matthew for your interesting and thought
                    provoking replies.

                    I should point out that my ticket to my current position in Niger, to
                    use 'tope's term, actually was not language but a number of
                    qualifications plus the fact that I am a US citizen (to the extent
                    language entered the equation it was in terms of my French and to a
                    lesser degree Fulfulde knowledge). On the other hand my English
                    speaking qualifications will figure more prominently in work I will
                    do while in China.

                    It is true as 'tope suggests that being a native English speaker
                    holds some advantages and also that global use of English has an
                    advantage for certain countries. On the other hand I do see Matt's
                    point that the individual advantages may be limited and I also wonder
                    if the advantages to Anglophone countries aren't accompanied by more
                    disadvantages than we realize.

                    I wonder too if there is not too much tendency to see language at the
                    center of political problems - whether it is Edge's perception of
                    English and imperialism or the common notion that local language
                    differences are at the root of civil strife - when in reality they
                    are perhaps mainly emblematic. English in part reflecting the
                    prominent global roles of two Anglophone countries over two
                    centuries, but also serving as at best an unreliable and secondary
                    tool of influence.

                    There are people in countries where English is not the mother tongue
                    who see the dynamic of spreading English as something more like
                    others "taking it over." Indeed, as it spreads, it arguably becomes
                    less American or British, but also having impacts not always so
                    positive on other tongues (& cultures) - losing what some
                    term "independent discourse" in the dubious quest for "counter
                    discourse."

                    One last thought on the topic of English globally and where we would
                    be without it. It seems that two things get lumped together that
                    really should be understood separately: 1) that the spread of English
                    such as it is happening reflects an "organic" need of humankind in
                    this day for some sort of global lingua franca; and 2) that the
                    current rise of English to fill that role is the result of
                    historical, economic, etc. factors. The latter is almost a
                    commonplace, but is so often repeated that the former seems lost in
                    the shadows, insufficiently recognized and little analyzed. If we
                    understand the two as separate though related issues, and accept that
                    #1 is valid, then a number of other questions arise around whether
                    there is a choice about the lingua franca, what difference it makes,
                    and how to act on it.

                    All this takes us a bit afield from multilingual literacy, but in the
                    longer run such issues frame the multilingual realities in which
                    education and reading take place.

                    Don Osborn
                    Bisharat.net
                  Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.