Saturday, July 02, 2011

Notes from IAWE 2010 Chinese English session

Last summer when I was at the IAWE conference I attended a great session on Chinese English. Here are my notes typed out - my attempt to decipher the scribbles I scribbled down that day, plus additional thoughts I'm adding now.

Xu Zhichang (I have since met and corresponded with him -- really nice guy) - Linguistic Features of CE

Def'n of CE: "English in a Chinese context used by Chinese." (Simple -- too simple? Interesting though)
All attempts to come up with a good terminology for CE have been against Chinglish. There is a strong desire to find a place for CE that is not simply learner error, etc.

CE is used for bother intra- and international communication. (Though not interethnic communication among citizens of China, obviously) Compares CE to a picture of a teddy bear dressed in Chinese garb: "It is not a Chinese thing, but it came from America, and it became Chinese."

China Daily has a handbook of some kind related to English words? Published (internally?) in 2002? Is it like a stylebook? How can I get my hands on it?

Xu agrees with Hu -- there is a continuum from Chinglish to China English.

At this point I seem to have a note about some things said by Kingsley Bolton. He asked the majority of the questions at the session, including: "Who is exposed to English in China? Who uses English in China?" He mentioned later, and also I think in a private conversation we had, that foreign researchers tend to be more interested in looking more deeply into the many uses of E in China than Chinese scholars do. Interesting.

Xing Fang - (from Shantou University) - China English

English hegemony -- "80% of world's information is in English" (ok, but how do you measure that -- what is "information"?). E is a "global currency" and there is a belief that "English is superior." There are arguments that Chinese literacy is declining and that E is promoted over Chinese in Chinese business contexts. Uighurs struggle to learn English in addition to Mandarin. McKay -- English related to a "global culture" based on "western mental structures." (This is probable, but again, how to measure it?)

Language ecology, lx equality and human rights, EU's multilingual policy. (Basically getting into newer perspectives on how language should be in the world, how English interacts with other lgs. Both ecology and human rights are interesting frameworks but both have their probs, mostly with insisting on static conceptions of peoples and languages.)

He lays out what seem to be some features of CE: standard BE/AE phonology but syllable-timed; loan translations & calques; lexcial hybridization (taikonaut); grammar: innovations or unsuccessful interlanguage? He says that lecixcal innovations usually work, grammatical ones do not. Lx transfer "should not bend the rules" of SAE/BE, but should be "grafted" onto it with "Chinese thinking patterns." (On grammar, I agree with most of this, but I usually don't make the journey to 'thinking patterns' or 'mental structures.' Not that they don't or can't exist, but I think they are very often invoked without any real clear definition of what we're talking about. The classic case that I rail against is one I heard many times in China: Chinese and English idioms about dogs show that the Chinese look down on dogs, while English-speaking people revere them. I just don't see where that gets us. Anyway, I'm off-topic here.)

Examples of grammatical innovations? "Because" forward-linking: "Because I am hungry, [so] I will eat."(Actually he didn't mention so...but it's the 因为/所以 structure from Mandarin.) Also mentioned the more frequent use of "maybe," though I'm not sure that's a grammatical innovation.

Rhetoric -- didn't catch a lot of this -- something about culture and intercultural communication.

Pragmatics -- again, cultural things. "Have you eaten?" and not using "please" with people you know well.

CE used for ICC within China, closely bound up with AE/BE.

In the end, he argues that actual innovations for CE come variations in vocabulary, rhetoric, and pragmatics. He rejects variations in pronunciation and grammar.

Some questions about intelligibility and standardization came up. CE is not standardized.

Bolton asks: "Who is speaking to whom?" More than Chinese and foreigners communicating, he argues. (I suspect he's right -- but where do we see this? English corners, English classrooms, business? Other?)

Fan Fang -- Attitudes to CE "not yet established." In his study he asked for opinions about CE. Didn't take many notes bc I already knew something of his work. Calls for future -- "non-Chinese opinions, clearer definitions  samples, and triangulation through interviews."

Here comes Bolton again: is the intra-national use of English confined to certain domains? (Again, suspecting that English has a further reach than is being explored.) What about the "language worlds" that young people in China live in? Chinese students "live in a world where there is English." Where in China is English right now? If it's only Ss "learning EFL" in classooms, then all that is happening in China is traditional EFL. BUt -- in some contexts there is a visible use of English in society -- where is this happening?

(Srdihar (was the moderator?): mentions "the enormity of the numbers -- six million teachers" (where?))

Bolton continues: Where is English? It's an empirical question. Contact. Coastal -- taxi drivers in Shanghai. Inland - students learning English. E is mainly used in education - more and more schools use it. Therefore, the most visible form of English in China is in fact Chinese using English with other Chinese. Traditionally, it's thought of as an EFL country, but there are enormous numbers of learners/users now, and English is playing a role in modernity and young people's lives. ("Dangerous to label?" I wrote. Don't know what is meant.)

He continues: Really, there is no such thing as British English, either. All varieties can be deconstructed. Standard language is an idealized form. Local English can be useful for creating a new _____ (I can't read my writing!!).

Bolton's punchline: "What China English is, in fact, is a discourse. It's a phenomenon."

This is key. What we are witnessing is a conscious push to appropriate English in a non-English speaking, EFL, expanding circle country, where English has not been colonially imposed. Oddly, there are some resonances with how American English was named and claimed. This has not really happened before. China + English + Globalization are inextricably connected. The last decade (2001-) has been pivotal if not in actual linguistic innovation, than in how people (scholars, teachers, students, regular people, politicians, journalists, whatever) understand what is going on with China and English.

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