Friday, June 28, 2019

Toward a More Nuanced Understanding of English as an Additional Language in the Expanding Circle

These remarks were delivered on Friday, June 28, at the 12th International Symposium on Bilingualism in Edmonton, Alberta for the panel "Multilingualism in the Expanding Circle: English as an Additional Language" organized by Suzanne Hilgendorf and featuring her, Bouchra Kachoub, and Elizabeth Martin.

The three papers presented today offer an empirical look at the complex ways in which English functions in what world Englishes (WEs) theory has traditionally called the "expanding circle" (EC). In theory, the EC has been a useful construct to distinguish regions which have no colonial history involving English, or where the language has not taken root to be used in everyday, intranational contexts. In practice, as these papers have shown, it has become more and more difficult to conceive of the EC as comprising settings in which English is truly “foreign.” In the 35 years since Kachru’s concentric circles model of WEs was proposed, it has become clear that the EC is perhaps the most dynamic of the circles, and that there is a need to reexamine how we conceive of English and its uses in these widely divergent contexts.

Each of these papers complicates that notion and forces us to consider the social, cultural, and sociolinguistic functions of what I will call "L1 + English bilingualism" with more nuance.

Hilgendorf's paper about the penetration of English language-media in Germany -- a country where the German language, which is spoken by 100 million people worldwide, dominates everyday life -- shows that Germans have a degree of facility and familiarity with English that we might not expect to see in a setting where it is considered a "foreign" language. While she showed that English language film and television have long been a staple of German media consumption, in variously dubbed, subtitled, or other formats, she also showed that the emergence of transnational video streaming platforms like Netflix allows further linguistic choice, and potentially thus more exposure to English media. It seems likely that more Germans will, in fact, choose to consume television and films in English to some degree, though further research is needed in this area.

Kachoub’s paper on the use of English on shop signs in Casablanca shows that English language signs are common even in the non-English-dominant Morocco. The English in Casablanca's linguistic landscape goes beyond simply the presence of international companies from the inner or outer circle; English has a variety of local functions and it comfortably coexists with other local and transnational languages. This is not simply  the 'pseudo English' or 'display English' of, for example, nonsensical English language T-shirts in Asia (which themselves actually ought to be an object of more serious study!) but English with semantically rich meanings, aimed at a cosmopolitan community of multilingual speakers – perhaps we can call them speakers of “L1+English bilingualism” – for whom the language and indeed its mixing with other languages is intelligible and appropriate.

Martin’s paper, which builds on her previous work on the status of English in advertising in Quebec and France, confounds our expectations of what should be found within the boundaries of an “Inner Circle” country like Canada and an “Expanding Circle” one like France: there is much more English in French advertising, and almost none at all in Quebec. This is due to differences in both local language policies and language practices that differ considerably even though both regions are Francophone and share certain linguistic and cultural similarities.

What, then, can we say about how our understanding of “L1+English bilingualism” – or simply a local multilingualism of which English is one part – in the EC should be shaped by the empirical work we have seen in these papers today?

·    First, there does not seem to be a clear relationship between the spread of English to EC settings and either the wholehearted embrace nor wholesale rejection of the language. English emerges as one language among many, an important part of local linguistic repertoires in some domains such as media, advertising, and signage, but not necessarily in others. The EC, then, is not a place where English is a wholly foreign language, but one “local” (yet transnational) language that can be taken up and used depending on specific local needs and purposes.

·     Second, what Alastair Pennycook has called “global linguistic flows” and “transcultural flows” are in fact of utmost importance in our understanding of how English functions at both the societal and individual levels in the EC. It’s not just that people in EC settings use English for communicating with international interlocutors, but that “local culture” itself in the EC in fact includes English in important social and cultural domains, because of cultural globalization. One example: in one of my graduate courses last week, a student showed a video of a popular Chinese “streamer” – someone who makes videos of himself playing video games – whose videos depict him interacting with various international gamers in English, with Chinese subtitles. What is significant here is not just what the gamers are doing, but that this is a locally made cultural product for a Chinese audience that includes English as an important resource for meaning.

·     Third, I have used the word ‘local’ several times to refer to EC settings, but we need to expand or redefine what we mean by “local” beyond the nation. Martin’s paper includes a specific region of Canada, Kachoub's a specific city in Morocco. This empirical work shows us wisdom of Paul Bruthiaux’s 2003 critique of the three circles model when he advocated “moving away from a focus on nationstates in favor of a sociolinguistic focus on Englishspeaking communities wherever they are found.” Cities, regions, provinces – and going beyond geography to diasporic communities, online communities, or even specific physical locations, as in linguistic landscape research – could become sites for research about how English works in the EC.

I do believe that engagement with Expanding Circle Englishes beyond borders is necessary, and this means, probably, more engagement between world Englishes research on the one hand and ELF research on the other. I won’t go into the theoretical disagreements between WE and ELF scholars here, but regardless of whether we identify more with WE or ELF approaches, or see merits in both, scholars should have an interest in seeing research and pedagogy regarding the varieties and uses of English across the world develop and flourish, and we need to be reading and charitably engaging with each others’ work for this to happen productively.

“English as an additional language” has emerged as one of the most useful and flexible terms to describe the role of English is many people’s lives. “Additional” avoids the presumed monolingualism of English as a “second” language, but it also avoids the parochialism of calling English a “foreign” language when describing contexts in which the language is very much a meaningful (though by no means dominant) part of peoples’ everyday lives. The work we have seen today on English in the Expanding Circle suggests that English, is, indeed an additional language – and perhaps, for many, the additional language.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

To Say Something and Not Mean It

What does it mean to say something and not mean it?

I think about this a lot. I first thought about it when I wrote a paper on oath-taking in legal settings for a sociolinguistics class during my masters degree. I didn't and still don't understand how oaths can function without the underlying assumption that we might otherwise be lying all the time, and further, in current society oaths themselves also do not appear to act as the guarantors of truth-telling they once were. In fact, I think we've now bizarrely inverted things; I assume that in a court case where various parties have taken oaths they are more likely to be lying than in everyday, non-oath-underwritten speech.

This notion of making promises or oaths or really any utterances with no intention of truthfulness also came to mind when I thought about musicians who started their careers when they were Christian or otherwise religious and later disassociated themselves from their religious beliefs. Having been a Christian rock fan in the 90s, I've noticed this about a few bands who've reunited recently.  What does it mean when the sing the songs they wrote earlier? Conversely, what does it mean when I sing along with XTC's "Dear God" when I hear it on the radio ("Dear God/ I don't believe in you") even though I do believe in God?

What does it mean when someone promises to bring their child up in the Catholic faith at a baptism, even though they do not consider themselves Catholic and have no intention of doing so?

What does it mean when someone proclaims that they join themselves to another person until death, but at some point -- whether before or after making that proclamation -- decides that they may not or will not be joined to that person until death?

I write about religious things here because religious speech acts seem to be particularly exploitable in this way -- side note: did you know that in the US is not illegal to preach a faith you do not actually believe, thanks to a pretty weird and fascinating Supreme Court case? I mean, I don't know why it would be illegal, but it does seem..bad?

Bourdieu wrote that Protestantism essentially ONLY comprises language, which I think if you're religious you can't really believe, but the fact is, one can say something, something that is presumably meant to only be uttered with sincerity, that appears to have no this-worldly guarantor, and not mean it. Satire exists, of course, but what I'm talking about isn't satire -- it's fulfilling a ritual by making a (potentially) false utterance.

What does it mean to say something and not mean it?