Wednesday, January 28, 2009

IAWE Day 2 (Dec 4 2008)

My wrapup of Day 1 of IAWE here.

I admit i had a little trouble paying attention during Berus Van Rooy's (Northwest University, South Africa) talk, partly because it was the first session of the day, and partly because it was more on the theoretical linguistics tip, which I find intimidating and confusing, since I am totally a pretend linguist. The speech was on "Societal and linguistic perspectives on variability" and to be honest Van Rooy was quite funny and made the whole thing much more palatable than it could have been. My notes cover four or five pages and are confusing to read now. His introduction explains: Language must be understood as a real (not idealized) phenomenon; variability is part of the vitatlity of language; linguistic and social forces operate in language which both creates and constrains variability; and differences between language varieties can be accounted for systematically. I don't think I have any hope of understanding that last point, but the rest made sense to me.

Elsewhere, some one-liners from the speech:
- "Language is a specis, uterrances are DNA." Change can be inherent - an organism always grows/changes - or it can be acheived by replication - parents create w new organism that is a little different. (cf. language varietes.)
- "Beef me up, Skattie!" A South African English advert combining wordplay on Star Trek with an Afrikaans word meaning "darling."
- "The feature pool must be filled." Think of language as a pool, which is filled by all the people who use it. We take out the features we need/want to use, but we're also always putting new ones in. I think. Maybe this is meant to be on the level of a language variety rather than of individuals adding features. I like it, though. Outer Circle English is staring to develop a larger feature pool than English used to have.
- "I need to want to be a part of the linguistic community in where I live - otherwise my speech won't change." To that I can only say, “哦,知道了。"
- "If you want to, it is possible not to understand someone." Yes! I am trying so hard to point out to everyone, "native" and "non-native" English speakers alike, that it is so frequently THIS, and not the "bad English" of L2 speakers, that is the problem.

The next panel was a personal favorite subject of mine: world Englishes and popular culture. I only spent a few private moments kicking myself for not getting my act together in time to submit a proposal, which would have been perfect for this panel, and settled in to enjoy it. The first bit came from Phil Benson (HKIE), and it was on Asian female singers's music videos and YouTube comments about them. Really interesting stuff -- I'd never heard of the singers, like Utada Hikaru, Tata Young, and Koda Kumi  (I had heard of Jolin Tsai, who is from Taiwan), but their music, and their fans' reactions, were interesting, and revealing about the use of English and other markers of (perceived) "western" identity. There was one Hikaru lyric which was so awesome I almost fell out of my chair: "You're easy breezy / and I'm Japanesey." This also provoked the funniest YouTube comment ("Oh HELL no....Asian card revoked"), but I thought it was a fantastically blunt couplet with all kinds of inercultural/interracial romance commentary crammed into it. Themes which commenters brought up in general, according to Benson:

- Should Asian female singers sing in English?
- Are Asian singers who sing in English really Asian? (Interestingly, two of the singers are actually Asian Americans who moved to Japan and Thailand, respectively, and became huge stars.)
- Should Asian women be so "comfortable with their sexuality?" (aka sexy/promiscuous?)
- Is English linked to ethnicity?

I asked a quetsion about Asian male singers and English, but I don't remember being satisfied by the answer. Benson said there wasn't much and I believe him, but I'd like to do a little more research on my own. It did help me build this hunch I've been building that English is viewed as feminine in some contexts in Asia. Still only a hunch, but could be an interesting topic in the future.

Next was Alice Chik (HKIE), who is basically doing for HK indie bands exactly what I had hoped to do for mainland bands -- write about how and why they use English. Her presenation was "English as an 'alternative' language in Hong Kong pop music." She and Benson run a fantastic HK Pop study/project/website. Jealous a little? For some reason I didn't take notes, probably because I was paying such rapt attention. Their website contains almost everything she talked about. Some stuff I remember was - English as a way to connect with an international audience, English as a way to sort of get outside oneself and thereby express oneself more fully, English as creative (weird new meanings with "broken English"). I loved this, a lot.

Joseph Park (National University of Singapore) did a presentation about reactions to a particular commercial for Neutrogena skin care products. At first, I was like, "does this really have anything to do with world Englishes?" because the commericial has about two English words in it. It turns out that these words caused a ton of debate and obnoxious comments online -- 67% of online comments on a Korean video site re this commercial and the actress in it centered on her English pronunciation of the words "cleanser" and "Neutrogena." Final conclusion: English is inseparatble from the cultural significance of a cultural product (ie an advert starring a famous actress). A mashup of English, modernity, celebrity, and fan-gossip.

Roger M. Thompson (U of Florida), who talked about English in a Filipino sitcom, would have had a fanastic presentation if it were not for the absolutely atrocious A/V problems, which I suspect were only partly due to the equipment. It seemed the actual video file(s) he had were messed up. I found it almost impossible to make head or tail of the sitcom clips he showed, which took most of the time. I learned a lot about the linguistic history of the Philippines -- isn't it funny that the country was ruled by Spain and Japan yet English is now  much more widely used language than either Spanish or Japanese? The sitcoms seemed funny, and Thompson's conclusion  - "A good Filipino resists English assaults" was interesting. Also, he didn't mention sexuality despite the fact that the English assualts come from an aggressively gay general trying to get the main character to join the army and his, um, "other" cause.

Let's take a breath after all that pop culture. By the way, most of the particpants were contributors to a book that should be out soon, edited by Andrew Moody, who chaired the panel. Pardon me while I email him about it. Done.

Andy Kirkpatrick (HKIE - is this place awesome or what?) gave a riveting presentation on English in Southeast Asia, focuing on the ASEAN countries, who among them are home to over one thousand languages. Their motto, "the spirit of unity in diversity," is not necssarily linked to their use of English as a working language, but both those facts seem to be endemic of what Kirkpatrick called "unity at the expense of diversity." He compared ASEAN, which has no official language, to the EU, which has 23 official and working languages. Europe, he said, "need citizen who can all communicate in some of the many languages spoken within its borders." ASEAN doesn't feel the same way. (If transnational associations of countries can be said to have feelings. Which they probably can't.) So few languages outside English, Chinese, and Japansese are taught in ASEAN countries.

Why English? Why not Malay, which is spoken in 6 of the 10 ASEAN countries? The Vietnamese even proposed adopting French in the 90s. Proposals for both languages were unceremoniously tabled. Well, the same reason English is everywhere now and won't be leaving soon - history, and money, and convenience, but mostly money. Kirkpatrick talked about the more humanistic approach to FLL that once ruled in education - "learn to understand others, it will be good for you," to today's approach: $$$. (Or to quote Li Yang, "Make. More. Money.") Many other good tidbits from this talk, including a lot of history I didn't have time to write down. 

{Interestingly, by an informal scan of the presentations, I'd say SE Asia is by far the most popular place in the world to be doing WEs research now. I met one guy, an American who teaches in Sweden, who studies English in Europe. I asked him why it wasn't be done there and he said the European attitude toward English is so wholeheartedly geared toward RP/British English that almost no one considers anything else. Sad if true, but also, I think worth exploring? I'm always interested in the unintersting, which somehow crosses over back into interesting by virtue of being ignored.}

Next: Claudia Kunschak of the ELC at Shantou University (currently my dream job), who did a survey on lanaguage awareness and attitudes toward Asian varieties of English with a colleague, Fan Fang, who was not in attendance. A few useful bits from the survey, which involved listening to speakers of different English varieties: China and US English speakers were most easily recogznied by participants. The Chinese voice was the most accepted/well-evaluated. (Not the American one! Surprised me.) Students claimed overwhelmingly to prefer "native" teachers who speak "standard" English. Some conclusions included the importance of intelligibility and the necessity of addressing students' preferences.

I was one of few people attending Emily Hunter's  presentation, "Lao Pop Identities and English mixing", which I found really interesting. Hunter is a geographer, not an English specialist, but I thought she did a good job of emphasizing the use of English in Lao pop songs. One thing I really liked was that although the Lao gov't has tended to be conservative and resist western influences in a lot of ways, Lao pop music has become a way of expressing Lao identity (this occasionally includes English mixing) and is therefore encouraged, even to the point that the gov't gives grants to rock bands and stuff. That's pretty cool. Also cool is a band called the "Laos Original Gangstas" which I think proves that "gangsta" doesn't have to mean gangster because they are definitely not.

Finally (whew!), I wish I'd gotten to see more of Suzanne Noor Nasir's (SEAMO RELC)I presentation because I think it was about a really important subject, and it had the best title ever, and I met her later and she was really nice. The title is "Even though I'm very appreciated with the teacher it's better to have native speak for the next time" - sweet! Unfortunately, I am lack of (as my students would say) notes from this talk, I don't have much to talk about here. I can't find an email address for her either. Searching...