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.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

IAWE Day 2 (Dec 4 2008)

My wrapup of Day 1 of IAWE here.

I admit i had a little trouble paying attention during Berus Van Rooy's (Northwest University, South Africa) talk, partly because it was the first session of the day, and partly because it was more on the theoretical linguistics tip, which I find intimidating and confusing, since I am totally a pretend linguist. The speech was on "Societal and linguistic perspectives on variability" and to be honest Van Rooy was quite funny and made the whole thing much more palatable than it could have been. My notes cover four or five pages and are confusing to read now. His introduction explains: Language must be understood as a real (not idealized) phenomenon; variability is part of the vitatlity of language; linguistic and social forces operate in language which both creates and constrains variability; and differences between language varieties can be accounted for systematically. I don't think I have any hope of understanding that last point, but the rest made sense to me.

Elsewhere, some one-liners from the speech:
- "Language is a specis, uterrances are DNA." Change can be inherent - an organism always grows/changes - or it can be acheived by replication - parents create w new organism that is a little different. (cf. language varietes.)
- "Beef me up, Skattie!" A South African English advert combining wordplay on Star Trek with an Afrikaans word meaning "darling."
- "The feature pool must be filled." Think of language as a pool, which is filled by all the people who use it. We take out the features we need/want to use, but we're also always putting new ones in. I think. Maybe this is meant to be on the level of a language variety rather than of individuals adding features. I like it, though. Outer Circle English is staring to develop a larger feature pool than English used to have.
- "I need to want to be a part of the linguistic community in where I live - otherwise my speech won't change." To that I can only say, “哦,知道了。"
- "If you want to, it is possible not to understand someone." Yes! I am trying so hard to point out to everyone, "native" and "non-native" English speakers alike, that it is so frequently THIS, and not the "bad English" of L2 speakers, that is the problem.

The next panel was a personal favorite subject of mine: world Englishes and popular culture. I only spent a few private moments kicking myself for not getting my act together in time to submit a proposal, which would have been perfect for this panel, and settled in to enjoy it. The first bit came from Phil Benson (HKIE), and it was on Asian female singers's music videos and YouTube comments about them. Really interesting stuff -- I'd never heard of the singers, like Utada Hikaru, Tata Young, and Koda Kumi  (I had heard of Jolin Tsai, who is from Taiwan), but their music, and their fans' reactions, were interesting, and revealing about the use of English and other markers of (perceived) "western" identity. There was one Hikaru lyric which was so awesome I almost fell out of my chair: "You're easy breezy / and I'm Japanesey." This also provoked the funniest YouTube comment ("Oh HELL no....Asian card revoked"), but I thought it was a fantastically blunt couplet with all kinds of inercultural/interracial romance commentary crammed into it. Themes which commenters brought up in general, according to Benson:

- Should Asian female singers sing in English?
- Are Asian singers who sing in English really Asian? (Interestingly, two of the singers are actually Asian Americans who moved to Japan and Thailand, respectively, and became huge stars.)
- Should Asian women be so "comfortable with their sexuality?" (aka sexy/promiscuous?)
- Is English linked to ethnicity?

I asked a quetsion about Asian male singers and English, but I don't remember being satisfied by the answer. Benson said there wasn't much and I believe him, but I'd like to do a little more research on my own. It did help me build this hunch I've been building that English is viewed as feminine in some contexts in Asia. Still only a hunch, but could be an interesting topic in the future.

Next was Alice Chik (HKIE), who is basically doing for HK indie bands exactly what I had hoped to do for mainland bands -- write about how and why they use English. Her presenation was "English as an 'alternative' language in Hong Kong pop music." She and Benson run a fantastic HK Pop study/project/website. Jealous a little? For some reason I didn't take notes, probably because I was paying such rapt attention. Their website contains almost everything she talked about. Some stuff I remember was - English as a way to connect with an international audience, English as a way to sort of get outside oneself and thereby express oneself more fully, English as creative (weird new meanings with "broken English"). I loved this, a lot.

Joseph Park (National University of Singapore) did a presentation about reactions to a particular commercial for Neutrogena skin care products. At first, I was like, "does this really have anything to do with world Englishes?" because the commericial has about two English words in it. It turns out that these words caused a ton of debate and obnoxious comments online -- 67% of online comments on a Korean video site re this commercial and the actress in it centered on her English pronunciation of the words "cleanser" and "Neutrogena." Final conclusion: English is inseparatble from the cultural significance of a cultural product (ie an advert starring a famous actress). A mashup of English, modernity, celebrity, and fan-gossip.

Roger M. Thompson (U of Florida), who talked about English in a Filipino sitcom, would have had a fanastic presentation if it were not for the absolutely atrocious A/V problems, which I suspect were only partly due to the equipment. It seemed the actual video file(s) he had were messed up. I found it almost impossible to make head or tail of the sitcom clips he showed, which took most of the time. I learned a lot about the linguistic history of the Philippines -- isn't it funny that the country was ruled by Spain and Japan yet English is now  much more widely used language than either Spanish or Japanese? The sitcoms seemed funny, and Thompson's conclusion  - "A good Filipino resists English assaults" was interesting. Also, he didn't mention sexuality despite the fact that the English assualts come from an aggressively gay general trying to get the main character to join the army and his, um, "other" cause.

Let's take a breath after all that pop culture. By the way, most of the particpants were contributors to a book that should be out soon, edited by Andrew Moody, who chaired the panel. Pardon me while I email him about it. Done.

Andy Kirkpatrick (HKIE - is this place awesome or what?) gave a riveting presentation on English in Southeast Asia, focuing on the ASEAN countries, who among them are home to over one thousand languages. Their motto, "the spirit of unity in diversity," is not necssarily linked to their use of English as a working language, but both those facts seem to be endemic of what Kirkpatrick called "unity at the expense of diversity." He compared ASEAN, which has no official language, to the EU, which has 23 official and working languages. Europe, he said, "need citizen who can all communicate in some of the many languages spoken within its borders." ASEAN doesn't feel the same way. (If transnational associations of countries can be said to have feelings. Which they probably can't.) So few languages outside English, Chinese, and Japansese are taught in ASEAN countries.

Why English? Why not Malay, which is spoken in 6 of the 10 ASEAN countries? The Vietnamese even proposed adopting French in the 90s. Proposals for both languages were unceremoniously tabled. Well, the same reason English is everywhere now and won't be leaving soon - history, and money, and convenience, but mostly money. Kirkpatrick talked about the more humanistic approach to FLL that once ruled in education - "learn to understand others, it will be good for you," to today's approach: $$$. (Or to quote Li Yang, "Make. More. Money.") Many other good tidbits from this talk, including a lot of history I didn't have time to write down. 

{Interestingly, by an informal scan of the presentations, I'd say SE Asia is by far the most popular place in the world to be doing WEs research now. I met one guy, an American who teaches in Sweden, who studies English in Europe. I asked him why it wasn't be done there and he said the European attitude toward English is so wholeheartedly geared toward RP/British English that almost no one considers anything else. Sad if true, but also, I think worth exploring? I'm always interested in the unintersting, which somehow crosses over back into interesting by virtue of being ignored.}

Next: Claudia Kunschak of the ELC at Shantou University (currently my dream job), who did a survey on lanaguage awareness and attitudes toward Asian varieties of English with a colleague, Fan Fang, who was not in attendance. A few useful bits from the survey, which involved listening to speakers of different English varieties: China and US English speakers were most easily recogznied by participants. The Chinese voice was the most accepted/well-evaluated. (Not the American one! Surprised me.) Students claimed overwhelmingly to prefer "native" teachers who speak "standard" English. Some conclusions included the importance of intelligibility and the necessity of addressing students' preferences.

I was one of few people attending Emily Hunter's  presentation, "Lao Pop Identities and English mixing", which I found really interesting. Hunter is a geographer, not an English specialist, but I thought she did a good job of emphasizing the use of English in Lao pop songs. One thing I really liked was that although the Lao gov't has tended to be conservative and resist western influences in a lot of ways, Lao pop music has become a way of expressing Lao identity (this occasionally includes English mixing) and is therefore encouraged, even to the point that the gov't gives grants to rock bands and stuff. That's pretty cool. Also cool is a band called the "Laos Original Gangstas" which I think proves that "gangsta" doesn't have to mean gangster because they are definitely not.

Finally (whew!), I wish I'd gotten to see more of Suzanne Noor Nasir's (SEAMO RELC)I presentation because I think it was about a really important subject, and it had the best title ever, and I met her later and she was really nice. The title is "Even though I'm very appreciated with the teacher it's better to have native speak for the next time" - sweet! Unfortunately, I am lack of (as my students would say) notes from this talk, I don't have much to talk about here. I can't find an email address for her either. Searching...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

IAWE Day 1 (Dec. 3 2008)

The last time I went to a major academic conference was TESOL 2007, and I have always regretted not sitting down and writing summaries and my own thoughts on the whole thing as a way of processing it. I probably saw about 50 presentations and today barely remember any of them. So here, better late than never, is the first part of my writeup on the International Association of World Englishes (IAWE) conference which I attended about six weeks ago.

I wasn't able to attend the pre-conference workshops (though I really wanted to go to them, since they were all about World Englishes in the classroom), and my flight didn't allow me to arrive at the conference, which was held at the City University of Hong Kong, until a little before lunch. 

I was just abke to catch the end of a presentation by Xu Zhichang (Hong Kong Institute of Education) called "Chinese English: liguitsic features and pedagogical implications." It was mostly a summary of features of CE that most of us somewhat familar with it would recognize, but it was good to hear them laid out clearly. I caught bits on lexical, syntactic, and discourse features (especially liked the "ancestral hometown discourse," something I have seen/heard almost every single one of my students do in writing or conversation), though there may have been more. The talk ended with a section on the potential use of a CE model for ELT in China. More and more articles seem to be arguing for or at least looking forward to this, but I am not sure if it's being put into practice -- it certainly isn't done by foreign teachers, and most Chinese teachers I know are too busy trying to teach to standardized tests. I think the three points he made were really useful though: a) maximize mother tongue experience, b) raise awareness of Chinese identity ( these two are prefereable I think to asking students to sort of imagine themselves in England or the US, or asking them to discuss "foreign" ideas/concepts), and c) legitimize experiences of Chinese English teachers and students - which could go some way in helping to eradicate the bias toward "pure" English that plagues, um, almost everybody in the world. Andy Kirkpatrick touched on this issue in his plenary session as well, which I'll mention later.

Next up was Kwok Kan Tam (Open University of Hong Kong, link not working for me here in China without a proxy) with "Bilingual Metaphor: examples from Hong Kong and Singapore Writings." I haven't done much study of literature since college, but his illustrations of creative bilingual metaphors were effective in showing the way new meanings and ideas can be expressed/created when languages mix. I especially liked the "Rice-tastic" hamburger advertisement (饭tasitic - fantastic). The main point, I think, was to focus on creativity as opposed to interference, or to show that interference gives rise to creativity. He also said something I found interesting: "Part of Hong Kong people's identity is constructed by English." He also referred to this as a "westernized Chinese identity." I sometimes have trouble with people saying Hong Kong is "western," because I think this is an oversimplification (though I guess there is certainly good reason to say it), but I think this is a model that I can use to encourage my students, especially those bound for Hong Kong -- the idea that English can be part of a Chinese identity. (Of course, you could argue that Hong Kong identity isn't "Chinese" identity, but that's tricky...)

There was a scheduling kerfuffle, and I missed Tatiana Ivankova's (Far Eastern National University, in Russia) "Intelligibility of Chinese English" talk. Please wait a moment while I email her. OK, done. Instead, I saw the beginning of Cecil Nelson's (Indiana U) talk on intelligibility, which was pretty comprehensive but since I only heard about ten minutes I can't really comment on, other than to say that the name Jennifer Jenkins came up. Her name was frequently bandied about, and I don't think anyone brought her up because they agree with her. I'm familiar with her work, but I'm now convinced I need to know something about it.

After that short sojourn, I was off to see Aya Matsuda (Arizona State) talke about the terminological confusion plaguing the field - EIL, ESL, EFL, ELF, EMT, ENL...bwuh? The problem is that the terms are applied inconsistnely, Matsuda said, and they're often inadequate and theoretically unsound. ELF (English as a Lingua Franca), she said, should be considered a function or a use of English, not a variety; some tend to think ELF, she says, as the happy-medium-like language shared by all English users in the world - which it isn't. No such thing exists. EIL (English as an International Language) and EInrtaL (English as an Intra-national language in a multilingual nation) are also subcategories of ELF, themselves again referring to functions of English. ESL, EFL, and some other lesser used terms (above), then, are contexts of acquisition. They describe the time/place/social/cultural/etc conditions in which the language is being learned. Again, these are not varieties of English either. Not a lot of talk about what are varities, and Matsuda argued that semi-international varities may be evolving, but that we shouldn't confuse these functions and contexts with Englishes themselves. One thing that came up in the Q&A was (I'm not sure who said it), "A(n international) variety may emerge when a community is stable." ASEAN was mentioned as a possible example.

Then I went to see an interesting presentation on blogging in Hong Kong, by Genevieve Leung (University of Pennsylvania) and Winnie Tang (HKIE). IKeywords I wrote down were "multiliteracies," "critical language awareness," "the complex notion of identity," and "Hong Kong English and creativity." They studied blogs by HK college students and the ways they use Chinese and English, then asked the students some questions about what makes a "typical" HK blogger. One thing that was mentioned was "bad grammar" and a few other somewhat negative comments about their own use of English. However the authors found that HK blogs were evidence of localization and indigenization of English, and a certain reconcilation of prescriptivism and creativity. They also talked about hopes for a future move from a "culture of complaints" (as one blogger wrote, "omg my grammar is rubbish") to a "culture of confidence." I got to meet Genevieve and Winnie after their talk - it was nice to chat with some Americans who are roughly in the same place I am in my career (post-MA/professional/eyeing or in PhDs). 

Finally, the last talk I saw on the first day was perhaps the most unique one at the whole conference: it was Michael Meyler (British Council) talking about his book, which is a dictionary of Sri Lankan English. He had never really heard of World Englishes before the conference and was refreshingly self-deprecating and unacademic. It was kind of just a tour through his dictionary - he's lived in Sri Lanka for 20 years and just compiled it in a kind of by-hand, ad-hoc fashion - with some bits on features of SLE, its differences with Indian English, and so on. You can see Meyler's website for the dictionary here. It's a really remarkable piece of work.

That was it for Day 1, after which I took a bus out to the peaceful hamlet of Sai Kung where I stayed with my Canadian friends Dave and Debbi and Caper, the last of whom is not technically Canadian, though I'm sure his hybridized linguistic identity is constructed by Cantonese, Putonghua, Hong Kong English, Canadian English, and above all the fact that he is a dog an as such is unable to use language.


Done with applications

Now just waiting to hear back. Frankly I'm not totally sure when the decisions will be made, but I'd guess sometime before March? I don't really know how it all works. I have to tell ZJU if I want to come back by March 15, anyway.

I mapped out my (possible) professional options the other day and there are like 20 different possible combinations of things that could happen this year, depending on which school(s?) offer me a place.

The final list was:

UBC - Language & Literacy Education
Purdue - English as a Second Language
Penn State - Applied Linguistics
University of Washington - English Language and Literature (Rhetoric and Cultural Studies)
Arizona State University - English (Rhetoric and Linguistics)
Arizona State Universty - Interdisciplinary program in Applied Linguistics

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Beautiful Sentence

From a student's online discussion about her favorite song:

"It makes think that these sort of little miracles are happening everywhere."