With the fast-paced globalization and technological development, the world is stepping into the era of informationalism. It is characterized by the advances in computing technology and the global network of telecommunications, in which English is “selected” as the lingua franca (common communicative language) . Subsequently, the demand for learning English as the second language (ESL) or the foreign language (EFL) keeps growing into the past few decades. English is turning to an international language (EIL) or a global language (EGL) or a world language (EWL). This undoubtedly leads to a series of consequences. These consequences, involving nationality problem, arouse hot controversies among linguists and educators.
People living under this new economic order are pushed to learn this common language. However, in what ways should we learn it? What material should teachers pick up? How will the new English look like? Under what atmosphere should people be educated? What should the people’s attitude towards English/EIL be? In this transformation period of EGL, it is not simply the matter of learning an additional language, which seems to be a rather neutral thing.
Instead, there are surely many conceptual changes concerning sociolinguistics. At the same time, these changes have the direct relationships with the social, political and economic phenomenon in the world. Lastly, one may ask: What will English become in the aspects of its function and language itself? To begin answering these questions, it is first necessary to analyze the recent changes of linguistics concepts due to the transformation of EIL and the present dominant English ideology in the first two sections. In section 3, the idea of internationally owned English is introduced. Under this, the problems with this ideology and the general reaction to this ideology at the time being are discussed. The last part, section 4, concludes this paper.
1. Definitions Of ESL, EFL & Standard English
For many years, there has been the widely accepted distinction for ESL and EFL. With reference to Nunnan (1999), the term ESL refers to “situations in which English is being taught and learned in countries, contexts, and cultures where English is the predominant language of communication”. With the same source, the term EFL is “used in contexts where English is neither widely used for communication nor used as the medium of instruction”. The background of L2s and EFL is so different that the teaching material and pedagogy have been adjusted with each group of learners. Yet, the distinction of these terms is increasingly problematic (Nunnan, 1999). Referring to the case of Singapore, the use of English has exceeded its function as the working language. This leads to some new terms like “English-speaking bilinguals” appearing. It can be anticipated that there will be greater diversification in this language for the increasing demand for learning English and the spread of ESL and EFL. Something interesting is that by some accounts English L2 speakers outnumbered the L1 speakers (Crystal, 1997). Obviously, the spreading of ESL/EFL teaching does affect and will greatly affect the evolution of English.
Another critical aspect of this issue is the idea of Standard English. The ideology of Standard English is a kind of language policy which imposes a normative status on one variety of language, for example, American Standard English or British Standard English (Wiley & Lukes, 1996). Typically, the standard gives the variety the status of being a language, and other varieties are commonly considered dialects and, thereby, deemed substandard (Roy, 1987). In the U.S., Black English is considered as one of the dialects. The situation faced by the Black is well described by Crystal (1987), the designation of a standard becomes a form of social capital facilitating access to high education, employment, status and privilege.
2. Ideology In The Society
The ideology of Standard English is deeply rooted in people’s mind all over the world. It is not hard to see the following phenomenon in Hong Kong. During the lesson time of the ESL course with the native English teacher in my U.S. journey, the students always imitate the ways which the teacher speaks. Recently, a couple of actors in Hong Kong become popular partly because the youngsters adore their L1 background. People would prefer to learn English from native speakers. Even the survey of 47 nonnative ESL teachers (NNESL’s) between 1995 to 1996 shows the NNESL’s believed that native ESL teachers were more superior with respect to communicative aspects of English. In Hong Kong society, it is rare to find a nonnative English speaker who would claim himself a “legitimate” speaker. Besides the accents, some minorities in Canada have prejudice that merely the White know the “real” English or only the monolingual English speakers are the idealized speakers of English (Norton, 1997). The influence of Standard English Ideology is worldwide.
From the above cases, it is noticeable that the Standard English Ideology is one of the dominant ideas that deeply affect the world. Because of its long existence, a number of drawbacks are apparent. As what we have been facing, there is the problem of dialect inequality and discrimination. Furthermore, as now English is turning into a global language, this problem will be intensified. Ndebele (1995) notes that naming is a political act: “The namer isolates the named, explains them, contain them, and control them” (p. 4). That arouses the L2 speakers ethical consciousness. Moreover, a significant number of linguists believe that language and culture are inseparable. Having the ethical consciousness and adding with the socio-cultural consciousness, some show their reluctance to adapt neither the British nor American Standard. All these are undesirable things for both learning and teaching process. Besides the existence of those problems, a new dilemma arises with English functioning as a world language: How to mark the standard for EGL? Which variety should people choose? Who can have the authority to do so? There is a possible answer. Based on the perception of Crystal (1997), one criterion for being a global language is the language “backed by the political power of its people “especially their military power” (p. 7). The growth of EGL would probably lead to the spread of western imperialism. In this way, English turns out becoming a weapon which facilitates racial inequality.
3. The International Ownership Of English
Since quite a number of defects of the Standard English Ideology are notified, more linguists and educators raise out the notion of internationally owned English, pinpointing the unfavourable consequences of the Standard English Ideology. Under this idea, every person who can speaker English would have the right to own English and have the same power as native speakers on the evolution of English. As Norton (1997) says, “I suggest that if English belongs to the people who speak it, whether native or nonnative, whether ESL or EFL, whether standard or nonstandard, then the expansion of English in this era of rapid globalization may possibly be for the better rather than for the worse” (p. 427). Most linguists and educators are in favour of this idea since people cannot evade the truth that the L2 speakers do play a part in contributing to the evolution of English, no matter what they are regarded as and language should not be a tool for suppressing less powerful group in the world.
3.1 Problems Of Internationally Owned English
The idea of international ownership of English is believed to be the most possible way to mediate the defects of the Standard English Ideology. Still, the idea has some unsettled aspects that need further discussion. For the educational sector, the main focus in recent years is what the new teaching programmes and pedagogy should be under this notion. It is obvious that is a big challenge for educators in this transformation period. Which variety should they teach? Without any standard, how is the evaluation work to the students’ performance carried out? What should they do to stay away from infringing their students’ cultural identity while teaching a language cannot be separated with the language cultural contexts? In the area of linguists’ interest, they are predicting how the future English will look like. No wonder, having more L2 speakers from different ethic and social background contributing to the English development, more varieties of English will be created. Can the mutual intelligenbility among the future English speakers still be high? Will the level of the mutual intelligenbility of those varieties be too low for defining they are the same language? Is it conceivable that the plural form “Englishes” will soon replace the singular English? All these questions concern with the language itself and the direction of its development.
3.2 How Does The Idea Work In Reality?
Now, many linguists and educators work hard to resolve the problems above. Thus, lots of articles and conferences about this topic are published or held. Nevertheless, even those problems have been settled down, the idea of internationally owned English is still far away form putting into practice. To implement the idea of English international ownership, very likely, that role represents the abolishment of the Standard English Ideology. It is understandable that the L1 speakers would not easily compromise when they are asked to give up their “legitimate” owner status voluntarily. It may involve power struggle between classes in the society. However, on the side of L2 speakers, this idea does not necessarily sound good to them. People growing up with the environment of Standard English Ideology have usually accepted that ideology unconsciously. Most of them have never thought that is a problem. In this situation, people would simply feel shocked with the uprooting of the Standard English Ideology. In addition, the idea of standardized language not only occurs in English, but in other languages as well. I was surprised once I have done a small-scale survey with my classmate in the ESL class when I was in the U.S. After I analyzed all the material to them, I held an election to see their preference between the two ideas. Out of my expectation, less than one-fifth of the respondents supported the ownership of EGL internationally even though all of them knew that they were labeled as less “proficient”. It seems that they have fears and anxiety with the international ownership of English and in turns paying in the Standard English Ideology. The effect of colonialism should be seriously considered in the case for Hong Kong students. On top of that, we are the “deficient” speakers of English but we are in the same time the “legitimate” speaker of Cantonese. Whenever we disagree with the Standard Language Ideology for English, we are also destroying our standardized Cantonese and giving up our “leading” position. The same logic can be applied to most language groups in the world. More people notice that it is not all the way good for them to protest against the Standard Language Ideology. So, the majority still remains silent and sustain in the current situation. More importantly, the function of language in the society must not be neglected. Language existing in the human world is not only the matter of language itself but it has a close interrelationship with the society. This concept is well described by Wiley & Lukes (1996), language is “an instrument of political, social and economic control” and language policy is бзan instrument of social stratificationби (p. 512). They also note that linguistics ideologies are linked to other social ideologies. Phillipson (1988) raises out the term linguicism as “the ideologies and structures which are used to legitimate, effectuate and reproduce an unequal division of power and resources (both material and non-material) between groups which are in turn defined on the basis of language (i.e., the mother tongue)” (p. 339). He notes that linguicistic ideologies have affinities with racism, which is premised on the belief that some are inherently superior to others. From this sociolinguistic view, in order to achieve the international ownership of English, people need to get rid of the Standard English Ideology. At the meanwhile, people have to throw away the obstacles coming from the social ideologies, for example, racism. It is crystal clear that to implement the idea of the internationally owned English is a hard task.
4. Conclusion: The Period Of Tackling Problems
Will the world retain the Standard English Ideology? With the growing consciousness of L2 speakers and the rapid developing of the East, this ideology must be altered some day and the idea of international ownership of English is most likely the direction of transformation. In this era of transformation, many problems appear. Quite a number of drawbacks of the old ideology are exposed and/ or worsened while new tension is generated because of the ever-changing world order. More and more problems are piling up and the breakdown of the Standard English Ideology is assumed. Though the direction of English evolution can be seen, many factors hinder the new idea from putting into reality. The ways to deal with the changing of language itself and the effect on education, the ways to cope with the complicated interrelationships of the ethical, cultural, social and political with the language and to the root of all problems: The attitude of people who can speak English are the focuses of the controversies among scholars. Now, it is the period of tackling problems for the preparation of marking a milestone for the evolution of English.
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