Saturday, January 31, 2009

IAWE Day 3 (Dec 5 2008)

My summaries of Day 1 and Day 2 of IAWE at these links.

First, I forgot to mention the last thing I saw on Day 2: "Maintaining an apprecation of accents" by Fergus O'Dwyer and Leon Bell, who are Irish and Australian, respectively, and who teach in Japan. Both teachers found that their students rarely had exposure to anything outside Standard American English, which they both do not speak. (I admit, I pride myself on being more able to understand accents than most, and I had a hard time understanding O'Dwyer.) They created several resources: first, an example of Japanese accents from various regions of Japan (in order to raise awareness among Ss about accents in general), and then some kind of activities/games involving listening to various English speakers (with different accents). These were fun activities -- we tried them out during the session -- and they introduced my to a method which I think were called "alphabet trees" (is that right?), a kind of quiz multiple choice quiz where you take different paths depending on your answer and end up at a certain letter.

Onward to Day 3, then:

The first keynote session was Dr. KK Luke (University of Hong Kong), who spoke on "Stress and intonation in Hong Kong English." Much of this was over my head, but the basic premise:
Luke presented a brief sociolinguistic background of Hong Kong broken into three historical periods: colonial (1842-1980), transition (1980-1997), and post-colonial (1997-now). [It's been said, by the way, that Hong Kong has no pre-colonial history, which is fascinating and weird. I just ordered A Concise History of Hong Kong from HKUP, so I hope to learn something about this.] For most of this history, HK was a place of diglossia -- different languages, Cantonese and English, used in different domains. Recently, though, the city has gone through a "sociolinguistic reconfiguration" as the government promotes its "tri-lingual/biliterate" plan. The languages and their changes:

Cantonese: Diversified and expanded from a "low" language (for home/informal talk) to a dominant one, and now sometimes used in government.
English: De-colonized and internationalized, going from a "high" language to a working one (commerce, education, etc.), and now sometimes used in the home.
Mandarain: Moved from irrelevant to symbollicaly and commercially important, often used in business.

Dr. Luke gave the example of Mong Kok shopkeepers (in a heavily touristy zone) using Mandarin as the default language to talk to customers, because they are likely to be mainland tourists.

Then the discussion shifted to his work on Hong Kong English (HKE) intonation. He showed this YouTube video, which is more funny than educational, of a guy doing exaggerated HKE.

Essentially, Luke's hypothesis was that HKE speakers speak English based on Cantonese intonation patterns -- "perceptually prominent" syllables would be assigned a high tone, any syllable before it a low tone, and any one after it a low falling tone. This makes HKE not stress-based, as, say, American English, but tone-based. Emphasis is conferred by tones rather than stress, I believe. The hypothesis turned out to be correct - Luke could actually predict exactly how a HKE speaker would say a sentence, tone-wise.

Next up: Shih-yu Chang (PhD student at Purdue) with her presentation, "A sociolinguistic profile of English in Taiwan, 2000-2008." I'm always interested in seeing English in a Chinese context outside of the Mainland, since that's what I'm surrounded with, so this was great. She started with a brief history of who had ruled Taiwan -- European colonization, the Chinese Qing government, Japan, and so on. In my notes it says "Japan --> into English" but I don't know what I meant by that.

Her analysis of English in Taiwan reminded me a lot of the way English works in China - educational reforms have placed heavy emphasis on learning, English is seen as important politically and economically in order to build international relations (though she called English a "quasi-official language" of the gov't, I don't think I'd go that far for China), and the use of English in media (which I don't see a ton of here, but there is certainly more than in the past, which I think is similar). Learning English is "a part of public Taiwan culture."

English tends to be used in work (medical, tourism, IT, foreign-owned business), by students (61% are in 'cram schools' where they "improve" their English, and some universities require TOEFL or a particular GEPT score), and as a symbol commercially and culturally.

Chang said codemixing was (implicitly) encouraged, which I think it is not in China, but I probably don't know enough Chinese to back that up. As far as linguistic creativity goes, though, people tend to ignore or discount it, as there is (as here) much more attention paid to deviation from standard English as "error" rather than innovation. Some great stuff comes from young people texting and blogging, including 3Q (三Q = san Q = thank you), and a new favorite:


which is kowtowing in gratitude. Think of the O as the head, r as the arms and torso, and z as the waist and legs. 

Conclusion: English is on the rise in Taiwan, and the younger generation is "immersied in a richer language environment." It would be fascinating to compare any aspect of English use in Taiwan with Mainland China -- attitudes, usage, place in education, teaching methods, etc. (Note to self, file this away for later?)

Next I caught a couple of things I wasn't planning on - Johnathan Websters' "No alien mythologies in World Englishes," which was an examination of Edwin Thumboo's poetry. Thumboo is a basically a Singaporean James Earl Jones, voice-wise, and he is also an OG WE scholar. He was on hand to read his poems, which was great, but I didn't get into the literary anyalsis because I had to go to another presntation.

I also saw a bit of Rajeshwari Pandharipande's "Secular as sacred: English in the Hindu Diaspora in the United States."  I had a little trouble understanding the context as I missed most of it, but what I did see was interesting. Some notes -- religious language is similar across national languages, so even when people don't share the same language, the shared religious context allows greater understanding. "Hallelujah" in Hindu worship was seen as potentially problematic, I think, as it is understood as a trigger for Christian discourse, like "om" would be one for Hindu discourse. (Interestingly I think plenty of Christians wouldn't feel the same way about "om," but the idea makes sense.)

I don't have notes on one of my favorite talks, which was Ni Ni's (Australian National University) presentation on English in Chinese pop music. I'll dig them out when I can.

I went to Lisa Lim's (University of Amsterdam) presentation on Singapore English -- "Singapore Dreaming, Singapore English, and Singapore's languages: How linguistics can be enriched by popular culture" using the film Singapore Dreaming, which maybe I shouldn't have because I have already seen the film several times, but to hear it exegeted in a scholarly way was worthwhile. I liked her idea of "Mandarin + Hokkien + English" as its own code. The focus was the "multilingual ecology" of Singapore, appropriate because the theme of the conference was actually "World Englishes and World's Languages: Convergence, Enrichment, or Death?" Lim's was one of the few papers on Singapore (that I saw) which focussed explicitly on this interaction.

I took insane notes at the final symposium, which was basically the sort of senior scholars in the field being given a few minutes to hold forth on whatever they thought was important. I'll write that up in my next post, and also, I hope, add something about the English & Chinese pop music thing.