Friday, June 24, 2011

Problematizing "Mere Learner English"

Maybe what I want to do is use critical app lx to erase the clear divisions Kachru erected between ESL/EFL varieties and between outer circle and expanding circle contexts. Mollin (2005, 2007) and others, after Kachru I believe, have referred to some language  as "mere learner English." (Even though they've tried to break down the idea of 'interlanguage.')  Of course there is such a thing as learners making a bunch of random mistakes on their way to greater proficiency in a language (right? I sure hope so), but I still have a hunch that there is room for finding certain features in the language of a particular group of language users, and that this can (potentially) be considered a variety. Is it too silly to think of there being not perhaps a cohesive "Chinese English" but maybe an "English of Higher Education in China?"

Even among Chinese undergraduates, the population I've chosen to focus on, one senses ways of using English that remain common, if not, "acceptable." The somewhat uniform use of textbooks (what are they using nowadays -- New College English?), the widespread popularity of self-study books sold in every Xinhua bookstore, the chain of New Oriental schools with their patented (or whatever) methods....does this not create a kind of "English culture?"

And let's not forget the "Happy Everyday" phenomenon. This might sound simplistic (and it is a little), but say that phrase to any English-knowing undergrad in China and they will know exactly what you mean. Is that "mere learner English," or is that a legitimate semantic shift, a way of using English that does not exist in any other variety, but does in this one? My money is on the latter. Perhaps it is not an either/or question, though.

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