Sunday, September 19, 2010

More CE brainstorming

I had a weird conversation with somebody recently: I said something like "yeah, it's interesting how English is becoming a big part of Chinese society, it's pretty fascinating since it doesn't have much of a history there compared to some other countries" [yes, I am aware that there have been English/Chinese interactions for hundreds of years, but in terms of English really taking hold in the PRC, it's relatively recent] and she made a somewhat confusing comment like "that's a very typical attitude of an English-speaking person." I didn't really get what she was getting at -- maybe she was saying that only an L1 English speaker would think English in a non-English-speaking country was fascinating/interesting/worth studying?

Anyway, I think I need to be leaning even harder than I thought on the "I'm not Chinese" angle. And I want to actually embrace the connection between native English speakers and Chinese English. I exchanged brief thoughts on this with Oliver Radtke last year -- he's interested in looking at both Chinese and non-Chinese attitudes toward Chinglish, which in his case I think refers more to the ludicrous signage one often reads about in popular articles on the topic. Most previous studies in "my field" (i.e. ESL/L2 writing/World Englishes) focus on Chinese English speakers' attitudes about CE/Chinglish. Hu included some NESs in her studies but again, those were generic 'attitude' studies.


Xiaoye said...

All great ideas for further exploration on Chinese attitudes to Chinese English-- I might still some :) At the same time, I wonder -- Isn't it hard to define China English in the first time? For example, in your above suggested studies, what constitutes the right data, called Chinese English, for either native or Chinese speakers to assess?

Xiaoye said...

I will have to steal my "still" back.

Joel said...

Professor You, Please feel free to steal your still.

The problem you identified is also Prof. Kubota's concern with my draft proposal. Originally, I planned to use articles from Chinese academic journals written in English (such as CELEA journal) but that didn't seem quite right as I have more interest in the writing of students, not professionals. Recently I had the idea of using the WECCL corpus or some other data from standardized tests, but the problem still exists: what makes it "Chinese/China English?" Couldn't it just be learner English? I don't have a convincing answer for this, because CE seems to lie in the eye of the beholder; as Kingsley Bolton commented at this year's IAWE conference, "China English is a discourse."

But still, I need a way to explain why I choose any set of data. I could say "any English produced in China is potentially China English," which is similar to what Xu Zhichang does in his book Chinese English. Then from there I could look for patterns in the ways NS and NNS of various backgrounds identify what they believe to be its characteristic features. But would that be satisfying enough to readers? I'm not sure.

Xiaoye said...

I gave some thought to your intriguing question. Indeed it is hard to define China English, as hard as it is to define American English or American Literature. One can define it broadly or narrowly. But a detour for this issue is to totally ignore this question first and to study a set of data that has not been studied by scholars of WE or of SLW. After you have closely analyzed the data set and identified characteristics of the data, you can make claims about the data itself, which usually represents a certain register, a certain rhetorical context, by a certain group of writers, or for a certain group of audience. While pioneering scholars of China English or American literature need to define the realm of their inquiries, later scholars join the conversation by challenging the early definitions or/and by exploring something understudied. The detour is also the access. This is the detour that I have taken to study second language writing (through my book) and World Englishes (through my book and my study of Chinese users of English online).