Category Archives: Hegemony of English

Sociology of Language: Reading Responses

Of the three readings for this week, the one that most intrigued me was the one from Yukio Tsuda (2014). I am always inspired by the work Linda Christensen (2009) does, and I’ve read a little bit about what Pennycook (2010) writes about, but I hadn’t read an article similar to the one Tsuda wrote. He raised many important and challenging issues. His assertion that the most serious problem caused by globalization is the Anglo-Americanization of world cultures at first unsettled me as I thought first about labor rights in the developing world, and climate change. I was aware of the role US produced entertainment plays across the globe but I hadn’t linked it specifically to English as a hegemonic tool in the way Tsuda does. This is probably due to being a White home language English speaker from a middle class family. Growing up there were a lot of US movies and tv shows to watch, but materially people’s lives in those movies weren’t too far from what I lived, and linguistically we were speaking the same language. There were also many cultural similarities but the commercial side of the US and exports such as Disney were often criticized. UK cultural exports (such as the BBC) were generally received with less animus by my parents and people around us, and were often seen as ‘superior’, but neither was particularly foreign to us.

Tsuda refers to the work of Takahashi who states, based on empirical research, that native speakers of English (at this international conference) intentionally try to push non-native speakers out of discussions using a range of tactics. Tsuda adds that it seems in international conferences, native English speakers use their linguistic advantage to “magnify their power so they can establish an unequal and asymmetrical with the non-English speakers and this push them out of the mainstream of communication”. This is appalling to me and shows up a highly immature mindset among those who benefit from hegemonic linguistic privilege. It’s not clear what type of conference Takahashi refers to, but that’s not important as all international conferences should focus on the expertize each person brings, regardless of English fluency. It’s likely that the non-native speakers of English have more to add to the conversation, as it’s possible the native speakers use their range of linguistic push-out tactics to cover for content knowledge and analysis, but this wouldn’t be easy to prove. Non-native speakers certainly have an analysis that differs from the English mainstream and this is clear in Tsuda’s work.

Tsuda comments that those who cannot speak English fluently are labeled as incompetent, and thus insulted and perceived to be inferior. In South Africa this summer I read an article about Babes Wodumo, a young Zulu singer/celebrity. Babes has been criticized for not speaking ‘good’ English, this comment directly casting shade on her cognitive abilities. She sings and talks mostly in Zulu, and she can speak English but prefers her mother tongue. It is a source of pride for her. Like Ngugi (quoted by Christensen) she is resisting the colonial linguistic apparatus. Tsuda writes that stereotypes and prejudices are easily created to hold a discriminatory perception and attitude towards those who do not and cannot speak English. I have been paying closer attention over the last week to my reactions to people and their languages use. I can’t say it’s all good, because prejudicial thoughts do come my way despite my personal beliefs in the value of all tongues, in counter to hegemonic views. I doubt this article could have been written by a native English speaker as we are just not as tuned in to life as a non-native English speaker. As I write this I also think about people who have difficulties expressing themselves in their home language, and neurodiverse people, to name a few. This then cycles back to perception of ‘intelligence’ and English ability as a marker of competence. I speak three languages that are closely related and I learned these languages from living in countries where they are spoken. I don’t see myself as cognitively superior because of this. It is an interest I have and one I’ve maintained. My dad speaks about three languages (English, French and German) and my mum has tried to learn languages (French, Italian) but she has a very hard time with it. There is no difference in their intellectual comptence. We also all benefit from being White home language English speakers, thus our languages are seen as ‘supplementary’ rather than ‘necessary’.

Tsuda brings up the “colonization of the consciousness”, the mental control of the colonized by the colonizer. Tsuda quotes Ngugi who points out that the domination of a people’s language by the languages of the colonizing nations was crucial to the domination of the mental universe of the colonized. Tsuda writes that English-speaking people unconsciously hold linguistic imperialist consciousness, while non-English speaking people assume English use to be inevitable, indicating the ‘colonization of their mind’. This point isn’t as well addressed in this article as topics such as the hegemony of English and the Ecology of Language Paradigm, but it is a critical point to include. I would taper the argument by adding White English speakers as ones who hold imperialist consciousness, as many non-White speakers of English are viewed through a racialized lens, no matter their command of the language. Writers such as Ngugi Wa Thiongo have a mastery of English that could put many ‘native’ speakers to shame, but his race and his accent make him seem ‘foreign’ in a way that a White person with a strong Scottish accent wouldn’t be. Regarding the ‘colonization of the mind’, I could argue that it is up to individuals in the academic settings he refers to to not acquiesce to English language demands, but that would be naïve on my part, and shows up my White English speaking privilege. I am looking forward to the CIES conference next year in Mexico City. For the first time proposals will be accepted in Spanish. Considering the extensive linguistic repertoires people at the CIES conference maintain, it would be good to see/hear presentations in many languages other than English. I feel that if the CIES conference can’t do multilingual presentations, then not many international organizations can.

 

 

References

 

Christensen, L. (2009). Chapter 5: Uncovering the Legacy of Language and Power. In Teaching for Joy and Justice: Re-Imagining the Language Arts Classroom. Milwaukee: Rethinking Schools Publication.

Pennycook, A. (2010). Introduction: language as a local practice. In Language as a Local Practice. London: Routledge.

Tsuda, Y. (2014). The Hegemony of English and Strategies for Linguistic Pluralism: Proposing the Ecology of Language Paradigm. Retrieved from http://miresperanto.com/en/english_as_intern/hegemony_of_english.htm

 

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