Friday, May 29, 2009

Doing What You Do and Being Who You Are

Is there a need for non-Chinese people to do research on China English?

Most of the academic writing (that gets publshed in respected international journals) about China English is done (quite naturally, I'd say) by people from mainland China. (Though most of them do not live and work here.)

What is personally at stake when somebody does academic research? One might say that Chinese TESOL professionals / scholars/teachers have a vested interest in understanding China English because it is somehow a "part of them" -- it gets at important personal, national, international and professional issues that are important to them.

But, since I'm gearing up to do a PhD that is focused on China English and ESL writing, what is at stake for me when I do research about China English? Many of the same things. I am an American English teacher/researcher/whatever, and I (currently) am a part of this bizarre "foreign expert" system here in China -- my experience, too, is a part of what makes China English. This research also gets at personal, international, and professional issues that are important to me.

I've been thinking lately about the huge importance of monolingualism, specifically English monolingualism, in shaping the way English has been taught around the world for years. If knowledge is personal, like I read in that Michael Polanyi book they made me read at SPU, then I think I have some compelling reasons to look into China English from my (American) ("native-speaker") (monolingual) (etc) perspective. Inasmuch as English is "my" language, any variety of the language is interesting to me. As a monolingual speaker of English who is at least dimly aware of the way the language has changed and is changing globally, I now feel a greater urgency to help people -- not only my students in China, but "my people," "back home" -- understand how the language works, or maybe even how Language works.

When I see the sheer number of Chinese surnames on the articles I'm reading these days, I get a little intimidated*, and worried that maybe I am getting into the wrong gig. But I think I have some reasons to be doing this. I also think that if I am pursuing knowledge for the right reasons (let me know what they are if you know...some that I can come up with are a. it's interesting b. it can potentially help people c. it might make the world a better place) it's maybe not something I really need to worry about too much.

(* I realize this sounds borderline The Boy Who Cried Reverse Racism or some crap like that. I don't mean that I'm somehow afraid that nobody is going to let me Join the Club because I'm not Chinese. I just mean it's something I've noticed and I am a little worried that not speaking fluent Chinese makes me a poser. But ultimately I don't think it does, for a couple of reasons mentioned above.)