January 2006. Volume 2
On the Nature and Role of English in Asia
PATIL Zumbarlal Namdeorao is a Professor of English in the Centre for Training and Development, School of English Language Education of the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad, India. Besides teaching English for specific and practical purposes, he organizes consultancy workshops for government and private firms in India. He taught English to pre-service diplomats and in-service seaport officers in Vietnam from 1999 to 2002 and served as Senior English Language Adviser in Japan from 2003 to 2006. His major publications include Style in Indian English Fiction: A study in politeness strategies (New Delhi: Prestige Publishers, 1994) and Spoken English for Vietnamese Learners (Hanoi: The World Publishers, 2002). He is associated with online “Asian EFL Journal” (Associate Editor), “Asian Business Journal” (Senior Editor), “The Linguistics Journal” (Senior Associate Editor), “TESOL Law Journal” (Region Advisor) and “Journal of Research Practice” (Reviewer).
The present paper is divided into eight sections: introduction, the global diffusion of English, perceptions of the new varieties, the issue of intelligibility, features that cause unintelligibility, need for a broader pragmatics, and pedagogical implications, and conclusion, followed by the references. Not surprisingly, the global spread of English has generated varying perspectives on the nature and functions of its acculturated varieties. Broadly speaking, the debate has divided scholars into two camps holding diametrically opposing views on the multiple versions of English. On the one hand, some scholars view variations as symptoms of linguistic degeneration and deterioration; on the other hand, some scholars legitimize them as inevitable manifestations necessitated by the demands of the new cultural contexts. The normative view of the former camp stems, at least partly, from the problems the new forms of English pose in terms of international intelligibility. It is in this context that the paper examines the traditional, one-sided, native speaker-centred idea of intelligibility and the recent two-sided view of intelligibility that places the onus on both the native speaker and the non-native speaker. The argument of the latter camp is based on the premise that the new varieties require a broader pragmatic framework, because universal pragmatics is inadequate to describe them satisfactorily. Thus, the camp advocates a need for a language-specific pragmatics, and a comparative pragmatics, in addition to the traditional universal pragmatics. Logically, the debate on phonological, lexical, grammatical, and discourse structure variations, and their legitimacy has prompted English language teaching specialists to have a fresh look at the goals and objectives of teaching English in the countries of the outer and expanding circles, and accordingly prioritize the teaching of national and regional varieties over that of the so-called native varieties. Thus, the paradigms of independence and centrality of the new varieties are replacing the paradigms of their dependence and marginality.
Keywords: native, non-native, indigenization, intelligibility, new pragmatics.
The present paper aims at presenting a panoramic view of the nature and role of English in Asia. The Asianization of English is discussed against the backdrop of Kachru’s (1986) division of English into three concentric circles: the inner circle where English is a native language, the outer circle where it is a second language, and the expanding circle where it is a foreign language. Let me note that I am aware of the drawbacks of Kachru’s three-circle model. For example, (1) it fails to differentiate varieties within each circle; (2) it assumes that the three circles represent linguistic reality perfectly; (3) it implies that the outer circle cannot merge into the inner circle; (4) it bases the classification on national identity; and (5) it assumes that the inner circle varieties are somehow superior to other varieties. However, I do not intend to discuss the merits and demerits of this model. Such and other shortcomings of the model have already been pointed out by several scholars such as Tripathi (1998), Yano (2001), and Brutt-Griffler and Samimy (2001). Neither do I intend to elaborate on the alternative models such as McArthur’s (1998) circle of world Englishes, Gorlach’s (1988) circle model of English (reproduced in McArthur 1998), and Yoneoka’s (2000) umbrella paradigm. Nevertheless, I suppose the present paper can be better understood with the three-circle model in the background.
The Global Diffusion of English
The spread and indigenization of the English language has been the topic of several conferences and seminars in recent times. Undoubtedly, the “glossography” of English in the present world is both qualitatively and quantitatively unprecedented (Nayar, 1994). It is common knowledge that English first spread to Scotland, Wales and Ireland; then to North America, Canada and South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. However, the spread of English to these countries is not my concern in this paper. My focus is on the spread of the English language to countries that fall within the outer and expanding circles and resultant changes in the language at phonological, lexical, grammatical, and discourse levels.
Linguists had predicted this phenomenal diffusion and adaptation of English nearly a half century ago. For example, Halliday, MacIntosh and Strevens (1964) and Greenberg (1966) cited in Norrish (1997) had anticipated two changes. First, the ownership of the so-called native English countries and native English speakers would come to an end. Secondly, English would diversify, and consequently local varieties of the language would develop. To use Thumboo’s (2001) words, the language would set into new habitations, and re-orientate itself to serve other cultures and, as a result, would acquire new names such as Indian English, Filipino English, South African English, and so on.
Obviously, the forecast has come true and the new varieties require fresh terms to designate the processes that characterize them. Therefore, it is no wonder that critical literature (e. g. Kachru 1983; Pandharipande, 1987; Phillipson, 1992; Crystal, 1997; Pennycook, 1997; Annamalai, 2004; Phan Le Ha, 2005) is replete with a whole bunch of expressions to describe the diffusion and nativization of English: pluralization, diversification, globalization, internationalization, universalization; hybridization, localization, indigenization; decolonization, dehegemonization, liberation of the English language, and so on. In this regard, it is worth considering the questions Horibe (2000) and McArthur (2004) respectively raise: “Is English Cinderella, a kidnapped or adopted child, or Godzilla?” and “Is it world English or international English or global English, and does it matter?” Obviously, none of the labels listed above is wholly satisfactory and neutral. Each nomenclature has its limitations and its specific value, and serves a chosen purpose. Different scholars select different designations to support the perspective they adopt. Each label promotes its own construct, clusters of presuppositions, concepts and approaches that often determine the direction and type of exploration and conclusion. These nomenclatures mould our perceptions and generate world-views and images. Some of these labels connote a patronizing attitude and suggest a mono-centric approach, whereas others imply liberation from bondage and indicate a pluralistic approach. Strong compulsions have motivated scholars to rename the language. Two such compulsions are a need to respond to the postcolonial ambiguity about the globalization of English and a desire to shape a new pedagogical ideology (see Erling 2005).
In addition to the above terms, people describe the multiple new varieties of English as manifestations of a transplanted, indigenized, reincarnated language. In the present paper I call them “twice born varieties”, because the language was transported from its native soil (the U.K.), transplanted into an alien soil (India, for example), and indigenized to perform culture-specific functions. Thus, English is a twice born language in the socio-cultural contexts that fall outside the inner circle. Such a language is reborn in the sense that it takes on new forms and functions to carry the weight of new cultural experiences. These so-called non-native varieties of English are characterized with socio-linguistic and pragmatic transfer. That is to say, the so-called non-native speakers and writers transfer to English the rules of use and usage from their own speech communities. Scholars (e.g., Pandharipande 1987, p.155) have classified such transfers into two categories: unintentional and intentional. Thus, on the one hand, we have ESL/EFL learners who unconsciously transfer the rules and norms of use from their mother tongue and apply them to the other tongue. On the other hand, creative writers like India’s Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao, and Khushwant Singh, and Nigeria’s Achebe and Ojaide consciously deviate from the norms of the so-called native varieties of English. Thus, the adoption of English for literary writing is another instance of nativization, which extends the process to expressive domains (Annamalai, 2004). The new users of English exploit the protein potential of English to satisfy their communicative needs. The creative users of English possess it, make it their own, bend it to their will, and assert themselves through it rather than submit to the dictates of its norms. They borrow it, and recreate, stretch, extend, contort, and indigenize it (D’Souza, 2001, p.150).
Needless to say, these linguistic changes are beyond the control of the linguist and the language planner. When English migrates to foreign countries, it diffuses and internationalizes, acculturates and indigenizes, and adapts and diversifies (Honna, 2003). The new users absorb, re-orient, appropriate and transform it. They liberate it to embody the energies of their respective sensibilities. The linguistic, social and cultural contexts of Asia and Africa necessitate, initiate and propel the development of new varieties of English. Evidently, these speech communities share the medium, but not the messages. The various reincarnations of English share the medium but use it to express native and local messages. The different dialects of English serve as acts of identity. In this view, English is no longer a Western language with Western canonicity (Kachru, cited in Prendergast 1998). The major varieties of English in Asia and Africa have broken the umbilical ties with the language. Thus there is a need to redefine terms such as “speech community”, “native speaker”, “norm” and “standard” (Kachru, cited in Prendergast 1998) and to question the concept of “native speaker” (Gupta 1999, p.59).
A logical parallel of the above deconstruction of the native variety myth is the justification of the hybridization of the language by non-native creative writers. It would be in the fitness of things to note how some African and Asian creative writers perceive the adoption of English for literary creativity.
The Nigerian writer Achebe (1965, p. 29) feels that it is neither necessary nor desirable for him to use English like a native writer does. He (1975, p. 62) wants the English language to carry the weight of his African experience. Obviously, the native variety in its unchanged form is incapable of serving that purpose. To achieve that objective, it will have to be a new English, still in communion with its ‘ancestral home’ but altered to suit its new African surroundings. Ojaide (1987, pp. 165-167), another Nigerian writer, professes that the English that he writes and speaks is neither mainstream British nor American, and he cherishes this uniqueness. The sensibility that he expresses is African sensibility, which is different from Western and Asian sensibilities, though a little closer to the Asian sensibility. His writing, though in English, has its roots in Africa, not in England or North America. Being a cultural standard bearer of the African world, not of the British or Western world, he is free to manipulate English to his advantage. Soyinka (1993, p. 88) regards native English as a linguistic blade in the hands of the traditional cultural castrator, which black people have twisted to carve new concepts into the flesh of white supremacy. Sidhwa (2000), cited in Yoneoka (2002), sounds a similar note when he remarks, “the colonized have subjugated the English language, beaten it on its head and made it theirs, and in adapting it to their use, in hammering it sometimes on its head and sometimes twisting its tail, they have given it a new shape, substance and dimension”.
Raja Rao (1938) echoes the views voiced by Achebe, Ojaide, and Soyinka. In the foreword to Kanthapura he admits that “a language that is not one’s own” is inadequate to express “the spirit that is one’s own”. He confesses that the various shades and omissions of certain thought-movement look maltreated in a foreign language. Perhaps it is because of this inadequacy that Dasgupta (1993, p. 201) labels English as an alien language, an aunt, not a mother. His contention is that even if Indians have been using and exploiting English, it has not got close to their hearts. It is not one of them although it is an important presence to be respected. Kourtizin (2000), cited in Lee (2005), holds a similar view of Japanese, which is not his first language: “English is the language of my heart, the one in which I can easily express love for my children; in which I know instinctively how to coo to a baby; in which I can sing lullabies, tell stories, recite nursery rhymes, talk baby talk. In Japanese, there is some artificiality about my love; I cannot express it naturally or easily. The emotions I feel do not translate well into the Japanese language, …”
It is this inadequacy of the other tongue that prompts Raja Rao to use the English language innovatively to make it approximate the Kannada rhythm. In keeping with his theme in Kanthapura he experiments with the language following the oral rhythms and narrative techniques of traditional models of writing. He breaks the formal English syntax to express the emotional upheaval that shook the village of Kanthapura. The author’s foreword to the novel almost spells out the postcolonial cultural agenda: “The telling has not been easy…. We cannot write like the English. We should not. We can write only as Indians. We have grown to look at the large world as part of us. Our method of expression therefore has to be a dialect, which will some day prove to be as distinctive and colourful as the Irish or the American. Time alone will justify it.”
And this seems to be true of all non-native varieties. All non-native writers of English literature write with an accent, as it were, because they have to carry the weight of different experiences in various surroundings. I agree with Nelson (1985, p. 245) who observes, “When one reads a non-native variety text or listens to a non-native discourse, it becomes clear that there are devices and elements that are not the same as those in a native variety text or discourse. From the level of vocabulary to that of stylistic features, discourse arrangement and speech functions, the text or discourse is “marked” as “non-native”.
Perceptions of the New Varieties
I do not think any other language has earned so many descriptive labels as English has. It has acquired many names (Erling, 2005) because it has many accents (Wells, 1982). As I have said earlier in this paper, each designation carries a load of signification and value. For example, the term “Englishes” assumes that the language is not a monolith, but a group of varieties that are similar and different at the same time. Each nomenclature carries various perspectives: linguistic, cultural, and ideological (Prendergast, 1998). On the one hand, when we adopt a descriptive point of view, we imply that all the varieties have an equal status; on the other hand, when we choose a prescriptive approach, we connote some sort of hierarchy. Like Phillipson (1992), Kachru (1998), cited in Prendergast (1998), feels that the second attitude suggests a kind of linguistic imperialism. He thinks that English language teaching has not yet got rid of the dominant colonialist culture, which has generated paradigms of dependence and marginality. He cites the “English conversation ideology” in Japan as an alarming example of colonial hangover. In his opinion, the Japanese idea of English conversation has two functions. First, it accords a high status to Western culture — especially US culture. Secondly, it endorses the Western ownership of the English language.
The hegemony of native varieties of English finds nourishment from two sources: the mechanisms created by the West, and the self-nullifying attitude of the non-native speakers toward their own varieties. Native speakers have created certain mechanisms to perpetuate the dominance of native varieties. We can cite the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (Jet Program) as one of the strategies employed by some “inner circle” governments and their private agencies. The traditional owners of English manage to continue the empowerment of the native speaker model and the native English model through what Nayar (1994) terms as “quasi-diplomatic organizations like the British Council and the USIA” and through what Kachru (1996) calls indirect and subtle “arms of codification” such as dictionaries, lexical manuals, pedagogic resources, media agencies, elite power groups, which generate language attitudes and psychological pressure, and instruments of evaluation. Talking about the instruments of language assessment, Pennycook (1997) remarks that the forms and processes of accreditation, the exams and tests of English carry a huge institutionalized cultural and economic capital, because a small difference on TOEFL can have tremendous implications for employment, study overseas, and so on. The native speaker teacher who is an ambassador of Nayar’s (1994) “linguistic elitism” and Phillipson’s (1992) “linguistic imperialism” is yet another mechanism created to perpetuate the native English myth. The dominance of the English of the “inner circle” countries is further consolidated through the discourse of ELT, which is a subtle form of advertising and selling their English (see Pegrum, 2004).
Undoubtedly, the native speaker has been slow in recognizing and accepting non-native varieties of English due to their deviant phonological, lexical, grammatical, and discourse forms (Kachru, 1982, p.43). Cultural and linguistic ethnocentrism has led to the description of these varieties as deficient. Thus, when people compare native norms with the norms of other speakers of English, they usually vote in favour of the former. Scholars such as Phan Le Ha (2005, p. 34) maintain that although native speakers seem to celebrate the global spread of English, they seem to oppose the initiatives to integrate and equate non-native varieties with native varieties. Nevertheless, the above viewpoint is just one side of the coin.
In my view, non-native speakers themselves are to blame, at least partly, because they help perpetuate the hegemony. In fact, quite often it is the case that native speakers are more tolerant of variations and deviations (surprisingly, some scholars, e.g. Bobda 2004, interpret this tolerance as a subtle way to perpetuate and promote linguistic apartheid) than non-native speakers are. Native speakers such as Crystal (2005) have spent their lives attacking language purists many of whom come from non-native backgrounds. Let me elaborate on this issue at some length. For example, most educational institutions all over Asia support the perpetuation of the dominant British or American form of English, thereby implying that their own varieties are “impure”, “imperfect” or “substandard”. A cursory glance at most English language teaching job advertisements (especially in the Middle East and Japan) will testify to this observation. Let me draw your attention to the two important qualifications these advertisements demand. First, the prospective candidate should be a native speaker of English. Secondly, the applicant should have a diploma or degree from Britain, United States, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. This means that many Asian employers still look at their own varieties through the glasses of British or American English and think of them as substandard, deficient, and inferior varieties. Moreover, it is an impression still fostered by the examining boards, which dominate teachers’ mindsets.
To cap it all, dispassionate observers of language also assist in maintaining the hegemony. I agree with Crystal (1999) that even linguists complain about various usages they do not like. Some onus lies with teachers too. Unfortunately, many Asian teachers of English are pedagogical schizophrenics: they themselves speak their own varieties (Indian, Japanese, etc.) of English, but unrealistically expect their students to speak American or British varieties of English. Kandiah (1991), cited in Yoneoka (2002), points out that attitudes among South Asian speakers to their own forms of English have always been self-annulling. For example, nearly sixty years after independence, Indian English finds it difficult to free itself from the weight of “Received Pronunciation”. Chaudhary (1998) rightly observes that the ability to write by the rules of Wren and Martin, and Nesfield and speak by the norms of Daniel Jones is an essential qualification for a good job in India. Many teachers believe that they speak Queen’s English or BBC English. In fact, they seem to be taking pride in this belief. I do not think teachers from other Asian countries are different. Honna and Takeshita (1998) observe that although the stigmatized view of non-native varieties is diminishing, most Japanese teachers and students equate the English language with American English and look down upon their own variety and other non-native varieties just because they differ from American variety. To cut the long story short, the dominant attitude among Asian public in general and in Asian academic world in particular is that American and British people are the owners of the English language and that their varieties are better than Asian varieties.
A corollary of this negative attitude towards non-native varieties is a similar self-abnegating perception of creative writing in English. To cite just one case, Indian writing in English has aroused diametrically opposing attitudes and approaches. Nemade (1985, p. 31) discusses it as a rootless phenomenon. He argues that it will never receive international readership because it falls short of magnificence. Criticizing it as a “parrotry” (p.33) and “mimicry” (p.36) and describing the foreign medium as “suppressive” (p.33) of the natural talent in the Indian writer, he prophesies that no Indian writer in English can ever enjoy the position of eminence because his writings lack national culture and national language. Nemade’s viewpoint finds support in Patke’s (1986) review of Jussawalla’s “Family Quarrels: Towards a criticism of Indian writing in English” in which he is little optimistic about the Indian writer’s global recognition because English is not the language of his intellectual and emotional make-up. These critics whose views demonstrate lack of solidarity and loyalty toward their own variety maintain that Indian writers can produce works of first order only in their mother tongues. They hold the view that Indian literature in English is “parasitic” and hence can never reach the excellence of vernacular or regional literatures. Patke (1986, p. 317), although hopeful of finding a good Indian writer in English, argues that the Indian writer in English has no tradition and heritage of the English language, either diachronic or synchronic, to manipulate, and therefore his literary style remains rootless.
Incidentally, the above objections could be easily refuted. First, it should be remembered that English was and is used for national integration in countries like India. Secondly, the classics of Joseph Conrad (who felt that if he had not written in English, he would not have written at all), Samuel Beckett, and Vladimir Nabokov testify to the fact that a non-native writer can write in English as efficiently and effectively as a native writer.
However, a sympathetic and understanding attitude to Indian English and Indian English literature has developed over the years. The world wars led to cultural and linguistic tolerance. People began to accept and recognize new varieties of English and new literatures in English as vital contributions to the mainstream of English language and literature. Kandiah (1991), cited in Yoneoka (2002), feels that speakers of Indian English are now gradually coming to accept their usage as more respectable. Xiaoqiong’s (2005) and Jin’s (2005) research corroborates this optimism. Xiaoqiong’s investigation into Chinese English teachers’ attitudes to both the internationally coveted varieties and Chinese English reveals that majority of Chinese teachers think that China English will eventually become a standard variety. Similarly, Jin’s inquiry into Chinese undergraduates’ preferences shows that Chinese English as a standard variety will stand alongside American English, which is a current national favourite.
This trend is due at least partly to efforts of academics and writers to promote Indian English as a valid and legitimate variety. Walsh (1973a, p. ix) describes Indian literature in English as having a past, a present, and a promising future, and he (1973b, pp. v, 1-27) acknowledges the contribution of Mulk Raj Anand and R. K. Narayan as “significant”. Iyengar (1983, p. 3) calls Indian English literature “one of the voices in which India sings”. For example, in recent years some Indian authors in English have found a place among the best authors in English (King 1980, p. ix). This recognition was anticipated by some of the literary and critical prophets like Jean Rhys, Claude McKay, Henry Handel Richardson, and Katherine Mansfield (King 1980, p. x). The large number of critical articles and journals on Indian literature in English is another proof that it is “an independent entity deserving serious critical attention” and not a “sporadic, adventitious, abnormal or invalid” phenomenon (Chindhade, 1983, p. 251).
In short, the incredibly galloping spread of English and its new social, cultural and literary functions have led to two major developments. First, using international academic events and journals, scholars have challenged the hegemony of the so-called native speakers of English, and questioned the supremacy of the native varieties. Secondly, they have attempted to legitimize the new varieties and new literatures in English. Their argument is based on the premise that once a language comes to be so wide spread it ceases to have a single linguistic superpower. Though these shifts in perception are not as earthshaking as Darwin’s seminal work on evolution, they have resulted into democratization and equalization of the different varieties of English, and have significant repercussions for language acquisition, multilingualism, instructional materials, language teaching and testing, and so on.
The Issue of Intelligibility
Smith and Nelson (1985), cited in Taylor (2003), distinguish between intelligibility, comprehensibility, and interpretability. For them intelligibility has to do with word or utterance recognition, comprehensibility with word or utterance meaning, and interpretability with illocutionary force.
This section examines the relevance of the construct of speech intelligibility in the light of two presuppositions. First, “familiar social context, shared cultural background or schematic knowledge, and insider awareness of linguistic norms”, “a willing ear” (Nair-Venugopal, 2003), and paralinguistic and nonverbal features such as intonation, facial expressions, eye contact, physical touch, social distance, posture and gesture (see Miller, 1981 and Pennycook, 1985, cited in Brown 1989) can facilitate intelligibility. Secondly, intelligibility is not a matter of “either or”. In other words, it is not speaker-centred or listener-centred; it is interactional (Smith and Nelson, 1985, p. 333). Non-native speakers have to be intelligible to native speakers; conversely, native speakers need to be intelligible to non-native speakers. In this context, let me mention the decision taken by the civil aviation authorities of India (The Times of India, February 10, 2006). According to this mandate, all expatriate pilots will have to pass a spoken English test, because as the source says, “We do not want to face a situation where these foreign pilots are not able to converse with the ATCs- Air Traffic Controllers. This can cause serious problems.” This resolution comes years after a worst mid-air collision between a Saudi Arabian Airliner jet and a Kazhakstan cargo plane, caused by a pilot’s poor understanding of English. As Toolan (1997) suggests, L1 and L2 speakers of English accommodate to one another’s use of the language and share responsibility for intercultural communication. By the same token, the negotiation of meaning between non-native speakers of English with different linguistic backgrounds stresses the “cooperative nature of lingua franca communication” (Meierkord 1998). These assumptions will underpin our discussion of the issue of intelligibility of English as a global language.
Crystal (1997, p. 2) characterizes a global language as follows: “A language achieves a genuinely global status when it develops a special role that is recognized in every country.” As Graddol (1997, p. 56) points out, English has two main functions in the world: it provides a vehicular language for international communication, and it forms the basis for constructing identities. The former function requires mutual intelligibility and common standards; the latter encourages the development of local forms and hybrid varieties. Given the forecast that English will remain a global language for several decades to come, we may then ask the question “How will English change its form and role as an international link language?” Yano (2001), cited in Yoneoka (2002), predicts three possible outcomes for the future of English as a global language: (i) Acrolect-level local varieties of English may come into existence. (ii) English may diverge into many mutually unintelligible local varieties. (iii) It may diversify into a variety of mutually intelligible dialects except in writing. The first of these outcomes seems to be coming true. Attempts to codify the varieties have accorded them acceptance and prestige. We no longer subscribe to the rigid distinction between “native” and “non-native”, and we look at the varieties in the spirit of equality and shared communicative responsibility. In fact, with the diversification of English, we are talking about training the native speaker to develop sensitivity towards intercultural communication.
Cathford (1950), cited in Nair-Venugopal (2003), states that intelligibility depends on its realization of at least four out of five aspects: selection, execution, transmission, identification, and interpretation with an elaboration-effectiveness-which depends on the hearer’s response matching the speaker’s intent of purpose. As Jandt (2001, p. 29) puts it, the components of communication are source, encoding, message, channel, noise, receiver, decoding, receiver response, feedback and context. When receivers fail to decode a message, communication stops and responses can be quite diversified.
Most of the work done so far discusses intelligibility with reference to native speakers. As a result, non-native learners and speakers are supposed to emulate the native speaker model (Taylor, 2003), because the native speaker is believed to be the sole owner of English. Hence it is the responsibility of the non-native speaker to work towards the native model (Smith 1987, p. xi). Scholars like Bansal (1969) held a one-sided perspective and thought of intelligibility with reference to external norms. They maintained that the non-native varieties of English were not only different but also deficient and unintelligible. They took British and American varieties as standard, correct, prestigious, and intelligible and suggested non-native speakers of English emulate them. However, if English no longer belongs to the native speaker and the native speaker is no longer involved in many English transactions, perhaps this is no longer appropriate. As Nihalani (2000, p. 108) states, “The typical approach in this tradition is to use the native accent selected for comparison as a template, juxtapose it against a non-native accent, and identify the features that do not fit the template.” This outlook has two implications. First, the non-native speaker should make effort to approximate the external norm set by the so-called standard variety to understand the native speaker and to be intelligible to him/her. Secondly, the native speaker is free from this responsibility. Thus, only one participant is obliged to make effort because s/he speaks a deviant variety.
The legitimization of new varieties of English has moved the debate on the issue of intelligibility from the one-sided position to a two-sided perspective. The latter perspective looks at communication between speakers of different varieties as a shared activity, a common pursuit to achieve mutual intelligibility. The central argument is that users of English as a lingua franca in international contexts should not look to native speakers of English for norms but should aim for mutual intelligibility among themselves (Jenkins 2000). It is in this context that McKay (2002) talks about standards for English as an international language with reference to intelligibility and examines the lexical, grammatical, and phonological features of varieties of English. As Seidlhofer (2003) points out, a “general shift in curricular guidelines has taken place from ‘correctness’ to “appropriateness” and “intelligibility”, but by and large “intelligibility” is taken to mean being intelligible to native speakers, and being able to understand native speakers.”
Features That Cause Unintelligibility
Nihalani (1997) states, “Two foreigners of the same nationality can converse with mutual understanding in English using their own phonetic and phonological systems. They run a serious risk, however, of being quite unintelligible to a speaker of English from the outer or inner circle. The learner must therefore adopt certain basic features of English in his pronunciation if he is to acquire a linguistic tool of international use. It is commonplace knowledge that various native varieties of English differ from each other in major ways, as much, perhaps, as the non-native varieties differ from the native varieties. Nevertheless native speakers of English appear to be mutually intelligible to a degree that does not extend to the non-native varieties. Obviously, there are features that various native accents have in common, which facilitate their mutual intelligibility, and these features are not shared by non-native accents”. Incidentally, Nihalani’s observation stands the test of validity, although I find it difficult to fully agree with his view that two foreigners of the same nationality can communicate without any intelligibility problems. In this respect, Kenworthy (1987), cited in Walker (2001), proposes the idea of “comfortable intelligibility” as a realistic goal. We could take this criterion to mean minimum general intelligibility or “What all speakers of all varieties have in common, which enables them to communicate effectively with speakers of native and non-native varieties other than their own.”
This comfortable intelligibility is what Achebe (1965, p. 30) means when he says, “The African writer should aim to use English in a way that brings out his message best without altering the language to the extent that its value as a medium of international exchange will be lost. He should aim at fashioning out an English which is at once universal and able to carry his peculiar experience…. it will have to be anew English, still in full communion with its ancestral home, but altered to suit its new surroundings.”
Brown (1989) classifies language features as (i) features that cause unintelligibility to non-native listeners from the same speech community as the speaker (for example, a Malaysian finds another Malaysian difficult to understand); (ii) features, which make it difficult for native listeners of English to understand non-native speakers (for example, an American finds it hard to comprehend a Japanese speaker of English); and finally, (iii) features, which lead to loss of intelligibility to non-native listeners from other speech communities ( for example, a Chinese listener of English finds it difficult to understand a Japanese speaker of English). Brown’s second and third categories are similar to Melchers and Shaw’s (2003, cited in Nunn 2005, p. 70) international intelligibility and his first category resembles their national intelligibility.
Seidlhofer (2001), cited in Burt (2005), observes that quite often it is features which are regarded as the most typically English, such as the agreement between a third person singular subject and its verb, tags, phrasal verbs and idioms, which turn out to be non-essential for mutual understanding. In a subsequent publication, Seidlhofer (2001) observes that certain traditionally serious errors do not hinder English as a lingua franca communication. According to Seidlhofer, these typical errors include (i) dropping the third person present tense -s, (ii) confusing the relative pronouns “who” and “which”, (iii) omitting articles where they are obligatory in native English language, and inserting them where they do not occur in English as a native language, (iv) failing to use correct forms in tag questions, e.g., “isn’t it?” or “no?” instead of the ones used in standard British and American English, (v) inserting redundant prepositions, as in “we have to study about…”, “we have to discuss about…” (vi) overusing verbs of high semantic generality , such as “do”, “have”, “make”, “put” and “take”, (vii) replacing infinitive constructions with “that clause” as in “I want that…”, (vii) overdoing explicitness, e.g., “black colour”, and “dead body” rather than just “black” and “body”. We may add several other features of Indian, Vietnamese, and Japanese varieties of English that do not cause unintelligibility. Such features are generally unproblematic and are no obstacle to communicative success.
As an alternative to inclusive and exclusive notions such as “native” and “non-native”, Melchers and Shaw (2003), cited in Nunn (2005, p. 70), suggest international intelligibility (for example, an Indian and a Korean communicating effortlessly with each other), national intelligibility (for example, a Kashmiri and a Tamil interacting without any problem) and local intelligibility (for example, two Japanese people from Okinawa island or from Kyoto city interacting smoothly). Someone who knows some English but cannot communicate in it internationally, nationally or locally is an ineffective user of the language.
However, inaccurate pronunciation that is clearly understandable is forgiven whereas pronunciation that is not understood is, and must necessarily be, perfected if the speakers wish to be understood and if the listeners wish to understand, as this is the fundamental rule of communication (Offner, 1995). Jenkins (2000) classifies the phonological features of EIL into core features and non-core features, essential in terms of intelligibility. According to her, divergences in the areas of vowel quality, weak forms, assimilation, and word stress from the native speaker realizations should be regarded as instances of acceptable L2 sociolinguistic variation. On the other hand, devoicing of consonants (“mug” pronounced as “muck”), omission of consonants from clusters (“six” pronounced as “sick”)’, confusion between short and long vowels (confusion between “ship” and “sheep”), substitution of the vowel as in “bird” especially with the vowel in “bard”, and substitution of consonants and vowels by other consonants and vowels (“TB” for “TV”; “snakes” for “snacks”; “hole” for “hall” respectively). In her opinion, it is these features that play a significant role in international intelligibility.
Poor articulation of words can also affect intelligibility. For example, most Vietnamese and Japanese learners do not articulate words clearly. Vietnamese learners tend to drop word-final sounds. For instance, they will pronounce the italicized words in the following sentence almost identically, as if they were homophones:
“Mr. Nguyen, why (/wai/) doesn’t your wife (/wai/) try white (/wai/) wine (/wai/)?”
Whereas omission is a major problem with Vietnamese learners, substitution is a big problem with Japanese learners (Patil, 2005, p. 7). For instance, there is a strong tendency among Japanese learners to replace /r/ with /l/ and /v/ with /b/. As a result, it is very difficult to distinguish between “This is a grass house.” and “This is a glass house.” An Arab learner’s problems are substitution and insertion of extra sounds. So, “pill” is articulated as “bill” and “text” is pronounced as “tekist”. The pronunciation problems of the three groups of learners can be summarily illustrated with the help of the following single example:
“I’m going to dine with six friends. We’ll have a pot of fried rice each.”
An Arab learner will most probably say:
“I’m going to dine with sikis friends. We’ll have a boat of rice each.”
A Vietnamese learner will tend to say:
“I’m going to die with sick friends. We’ll have a pot of rice each.”
A Japanese learner will likely say:
“I’m going to dine with six hriends. We’ll have a pot of flied lice each.”
Another area is vocabulary. One case in point is the use of “come” and “go” in Vietnamese variety of English. In standard variety of English, “go” means moving to a place that is far from the speaker and the listener and “come” means moving to a place that is nearer to the hearer. For example, a student may say to his teacher: “May I come in, Sir?” and “Sir, may I go home now?” In the first case, the student is moving nearer to the teacher; in the second case, the student wants to move away from the teacher. This is the normal use in English. But, in Vietnamese variety of English, the use is reversed. The student usually says to the teacher who is in school with him.” Excuse me, Sir, May I come back home now? And yes, I cannot go to school tomorrow.” (Patil, 2002, pp.14-16). Japanese speakers of English also tend to use these two verbs with reverse meanings.
Let us look at one more example. Along the lines of the words “come” and “go”, Vietnamese students use the words “bring” and “take” in a reverse way. In British English when I bring something I carry it from another place to the place where the hearer is. Similarly, when I take something, I take it from where the hearer and I are to another place. But Vietnamese students use the two words in an opposite way. As a teacher I often heard my students say: “Excuse me, teacher, I don’t have this book at home. Can I bring it for a week, please?” and “I’m sorry, teacher, I forgot to take the book that I brought from you last week. I’ll take it tomorrow.” Now, the important point here is: how do these readers interpret “come” and “go” and “bring” and “take” when they encounter them in a reading passage? Do they interpret them the English way or the Vietnamese way? My experience is that elementary and intermediate level Vietnamese learners of English interpret these words the Vietnamese way. They need to be told time and again that the usual meanings of “come” and “go” and “bring” and “take” are different.
Let us move on to grammar now. Here, mother tongue interference seems to be a major stumbling block. For example, Arabic does not have copula verb and so many Arab learners of English produce utterances such as “I student of Sultan Qaboos University Language Centre.” Vietnamese does not have relative pronouns; as a result, we hear sentences such as “There are many children don’t go to school.” Japanese word order is subject + object + verb, and nouns do not have plural forms; consequently, we hear utterances like “I vegetable bought.”
However, I think these grammar mistakes do not bother me so much as the pronunciation errors do. From the communication point of view it does not matter much whether the foreign language learner says, “I TV watch.” or “I watch TV”; “I have two book” or “I have two books.” “This is a girl beautiful.” or “This is a beautiful girl.” Communication is not affected in any serious way. But, there is certainly a communication problem when a Vietnamese learner wants to say he is going to dine, but says he is going to die; a Japanese learner wants to say he has got just two books, but says he has got just two bucks, and an Arab learner wants to say he bought a pear but says he bought a bear.
Need for a New Pragmatics
Levinson (1983) refers to (i) a universal pragmatics and (ii) a language-specific pragmatics. Thumboo (1994) suggests that there is a room for a varieties-specific or variety-specific pragmatics, and (iv) a comparative pragmatics. The varieties of English, and the literatures in them, pose problems and challenges, and offer opportunities for pragmatics. Their settings are so different that it is a daunting task to deal with them. Almost all these varieties are invariably part of a bilingual or multilingual setting. Many of them have not been analyzed yet. We need to describe their grammar, lexicon, syntax and phonology. Obviously, doing that is much easier than developing a pragmatics of each one of these varieties. Needless to say, the pragmatics of the native varieties cannot adequately describe the new varieties. As Thumboo (1991) remarks, they require a much broader pragmatics. It would be fallacious to apply one language-pragmatics, based on one semiotic. The differences in usage between varieties such as Filipino English and British English are more glaring than those between British and American English. As the new varieties grow, the existing paradigms become inadequate. Hence it would not be very fruitful to apply the pragmatics of English to all varieties of the language across the world.
Thus we need to develop a pragmatics of Indian English, Japanese English, Filipino English, Vietnamese English, and so on. Then, we can compare how, for example, politeness strategies, speech acts, and the maxims of conversational cooperation operate in the different varieties. These are tall orders. These are long journeys. Some scholars (Kachru, 1983, 1986, 1998, 2004; Platt, et al. 1984; Parasher, 1991; Gorlach, 1991, 1995, 1998; Dasgupta, 1993; Greenbaum, 1996; Mehrotra, 1998; McArthur, 1998; Enokizono, 2000; Thumboo, 2001; Bolton, 2002; Jenkins, 2003; Stanlaw, 2004; Melchers and Shaw, 2003; Robertson, et al. 2005) have travelled a few miles. I have travelled a few steps in this direction (Patil, 1989a, 1989b, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005a, 2005b). The woods are lovely, dark and deep, and we have thousands of miles to go before we fully explore the pragmatic avenues.
Speech functions, which are specific to speech communities, are a prime area of study for pragmatics. The various speech acts such as apologizing, inviting, requesting, and so on, derive their uniqueness from the socio-cultural norms of the people participating in interaction (Kachru, 1996, p. 127). There are important cross-cultural differences in the way speech acts are performed. Different cultures have different ways of doing things with words. Asians, for example, have their own ways of saying and meaning things in English. Ma (1996, p. 257) cites an interesting observation: a General Motors manager once expressed his frustration in these words: “I don’t understand you Asians. You say “no” when you are supposed to say “yes”, and say “yes” when you are supposed to say “no”.
There is no common ideal, no common criteria, of politeness for all societies and all languages. For example, the “power principle” operates differently in Europe and America than in Asia. Gumperz (1970, p. 20) illustrates how strategies such as complimenting differ from society to society. For instance, in American society compliments are very brief and concise whereas in Japanese culture complimenting is a prolonged activity involving several exchanges of praise and ritual denials. To a Japanese it seems impolite to accept a compliment with a mere thanks. This cultural difference between American brevity and Japanese prolixity might sometimes cause, to use Crystal and Davy’s (1969, p. 5) words, “general confusion, probably criticism and embarrassment as well”. Complimenting in Indian English differs from complimenting in British and American English. Unlike compliments in the two native varieties, compliments in Indian English are two-dimensional. The person who offers a compliment maximizes praise of the hearer and simultaneously maximizes dispraise of self or at least minimizes praise of self. Patil (1994) has dealt with some aspects of the pragmatics of Indian English.
Complimenting is a more prolific and prolonged act in Japanese than in many other languages. Another significant aspect of Japanese linguistic politeness is its indirectness. Japanese is an incredibly indirect language. Westerners, known as “straight-shooters”, “speak their minds”, “make things clear”; but this forthrightness is considered a bit rude in Japanese culture. The real art of Japanese communication lies in being subtle in just the right way. To be indirect is to be polite. People usually steer the conversation without being obvious about the topic of conversation. Requests are also often made indirectly. For example, “I would like to use the phone, but…” is preferred to “Can I use the phone?” another characteristic of Japanese conversation is avoidance of disagreement at all costs as group harmony is highly valued. It would be interesting to see how Japanese speakers of English iron out disagreements.
The gist of the preceding discussion is that theories of politeness, speech acts, and conversational cooperation should include socially conditioned aspects of language use and reflect cultural variability.
While talking about the teaching of English in Asia, we need to bear in mind the psychological and socio-cultural inclination of learners in most Asian countries such as Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China, Korea and Japan who aspire to learn British and American varieties of English, because of the social status and prestige that accompanies their use. This inclination is in variance with the attitudes and perspectives that scholars in the field possess and profess. In fact, most of these countries have a policy statement, either explicit or implicit, admonishing teachers and learners to prefer British or American, preferably American variety, for the economic, political and international dominance the countries of the “inner circle” enjoy. Thus the issue is more complex than Honna and Takeshita (1998) and Honna (2003) have portrayed with reference to the situation in Japan. For example, Zhang’s (2005) study examines why Chinese teacher trainees endorse the British variety of English in preference to their own variety and discusses their choice of the native speaker phonological model with reference to the discourse on Phillipson’s (1992) “linguistic imperialism”.
This state of affairs needs to change and Asian users of English (teachers, learners, etc.) should accept the standard forms of their own varieties. As Llurda (2004, p. 319) remarks, non-native teachers of English need no longer be ambassadors of British or American cultures, values, ideologies, and social conventions. There is no need to impose a foreign model on our learners. Asian teachers of English can use their own respective standardized variety of English as a model for teaching and testing purposes. It is easy to do this, because (i) majority of us are local teachers, (ii) we are in influential, decision-making positions, and (iii) we are the ones who usually set examination papers and evaluate students’ answers.
Thus it is the regional variety of English, not an external model that needs to be promoted, because it is the former that people in the region will want to use. A vast majority of Asians, Africans and Europeans learn English to use it as a lingua franca. They do not learn it with the intention to communicate with native speakers but to communicate with other non-native speakers (Kirpatrick, 2004).
Let us examine Japan’s current English teaching goals against this background. As we know, Japanese educators intend to train learners to become speakers of American English. This is unrealistic and detrimental to the case of ELT, because as Abercrombie (1956), cited in Brown (1989), says, such a goal would be appropriate if we were teaching prospective secret agents and teachers. A vast majority needs to attain just comfortable intelligibility, which amounts to accent that people can understand with little or no conscious effort. I agree with Honna and Takeshita’s (1998) view that Japan’s unrealistic goal has resulted into negative attitude to non-native varieties of English, linguistic inferiority complex, slow learning pace, and high failure rate. Japanese students are scared of speaking, because they think they will be poor speakers unless they sound like Americans. To put it differently, their exocentric or exonormative approach embodies Kachru’s (1996) interlocutor myth, monoculture myth, and Cassandra myth, or Pennycook’s (1997) “arm of global imperialism” empowered with “symbolic capital”. However, if students were given a regional variety of English to learn, educated speakers of the standardized regional variety could provide the model (Kirpatrick 2004). Equally importantly, we need to replace the teaching materials imported from the West with materials that are culturally familiar to our learners. I agree with Alptekin (2002) who suggests that teachers of English as an international language should incorporate instructional materials and activities rooted in local as well as international contexts that are familiar and relevant to language learners’ lives.
According to Kachru (1992, p. 362) “What is needed is a shift of two types: a paradigm shift in research and training, and an understanding of the sociolinguistic reality of uses and users of English.” As Crystal (1999) observes, adopting a dynamic perspective is not just desirable; it is urgent. The reason is that the pace of linguistic change, at least for spoken English, is increasing. As more and more people around the world adopt English, an unprecedented range of varieties has emerged (chiefly since 1960s) to reflect new national identities. The differences between British and American English pronunciation, for example, are minor compared with those, which distinguish these dialects from the new intra-national norms of, say, Indian and West African English. English has gradually developed new local centres for authentication of its models and norms and has become a pluricentric language with Asian and African norms and models for its acquisition, its teaching, and creativity in the language (Kachru, 1996). Therefore, a valid goal would be to enable our students to view English as the multi-colored rainbow of possibilities that it actually is (Goddard, 2001).
For English to be international means that it has developed to where it is “no longer linked to a single culture or nation but serves both global and local needs as a language of wider communication.” (McKay, 2002, p. 24). Hence it is essential that the native speaker fallacy be challenged. As McKay (2002, p. 129) rightly points out, “the concept of thinking globally but acting locally is highly relevant to the teaching of EIL. The evidence clearly suggests that the use of EIL will continue to grow, as an international language that belongs, not just to native speakers, but also to all its users. Given this shift in ownership, the time has come for decisions regarding teaching goals and approaches to be given to local educators so they can take their rightful place as valid users of English.” As Offner (1995) points out, “One main incentive to learn a second or foreign language is to convey one’s own views as understood in one’s own culture, from one’s own background, and not to be transformed into a product of the foreign language and its culture.”
Several scholars have questioned the need for English in Asian countries to emulate British, American, Canadian or Australian varieties of English, especially in respect to pronunciation. For example, Qiong (2004) argues that such a goal is undesirable and virtually unattainable. Smith (1985, p. 5) cited in Nihalani (2000, p. 112) says: “Non-native speakers must develop a fluency in educated English but they do not have to have native -speaker pronunciation as their target. In contrast, they should be trained to be examples of educated speakers of Standard English, identifiably from their country. A good pronunciation is one that a variety of educated listeners find intelligible.” In this context, it is worth noting what Honna, et al. (2001), cited in McMurray (2001, p. 1), observe. They found that Japanese students were comfortable with speaking English with a Japanese accent when they asked high school students “whether they wanted to sound like their American assistant language teacher (an American) or whether they wanted to sound like their Japanese teacher… they all quickly said that they wanted to sound like their Japanese teacher… the Japanese teacher in his class spoke excellent English with an unmistakably Japanese accent.”
The present paper is a review of the various issues surrounding the use of English in Asia. It has attempted to capture the salient features and role of English in Asia and drawn into focus some of its significant aspects such as its universal spread and subsequent formal and functional deviations, which have led to concerns about its intelligibility in the global context on the one hand, and a need to develop a wider pragmatics to accommodate its culture-specific functions on the other hand. The paper has also discussed the pedagogical implications stemming from its diffusion and diversification. In short, the paper has made a case for phonological, lexical, grammatical, sociolinguistic and pragmatic codification of the varieties of Asian English. As you can perceive, the general illocutionary force of the paper is that of an admonition to accept and promote the legitimacy of the evolving varieties, and accordingly re-orient the approach and methodology of teaching English in Asia and radically revise the teaching materials used in these countries for both practical and cultural reasons.
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