As the fields of education, research and information are rapidly expanding their functions and scope beyond the geographical, social and racial boundaries, the debates about the constructive as well as destructive impacts of English as lingua franca (ELF), a global language, particularly in the field of education, have got a more heated and complicated phase of advocacies and argumentations.
The term ‘linguistic imperialism’ stands for a dominant nation’s practice of transferring its cultural, social, political and, even, economic features and ideologies by transferring its language to other nations. Intellectuals and linguists like Robert Philipson, who wrote the famous book Linguistic Imperialism in 1992, describe the influence of the English language over third world countries’ socio-lingual horizons a continuation, in a modern pattern, of colonialism and conquest. Decades back, Nazis and Soviets also condemned this lingual imperialism declaring English the language of world capitalism.
Socio-psychologically speaking, languages have always been inseparably yoked with their respective nations’ very basic identity, cultural heritage and social pride. Being the pivotal point of their speakers’ social and communal unity and national individuality, they have played a very significant role for the promotion and infusion of patriotism amongst the successive generations of their speakers/societies. So a language’s rise and fall is directly linked with its speaker community’s socio-cultural recognition. Phillipson condemns the institutions of International Monetary Fund, British Council and World Bank for they misguide the people of third world countries by falsely showing that the English-speaking community is well-trained and well-educated in the fields of education, economy and politics.
In Pakistan, the elite class not only sends its children to Westernised English medium educational institutions, but also makes sure that the children speak English at home. If one demonstrates fluency in English, without any thought of correct usage of grammar and even is poor at general knowledge, he or she is considered to be an educated person while a learned person, in any field, on the other hand, is hardly considered to be worthy of anything unless he trumpets his command over English.
The guardians of English language’s international status vehemently assert that it is the intrinsic qualities of accommodation, amalgamation and coexistence, in English, that have made it popular and people are themselves keen to learn and use it, along with their own languages. If English has influenced other languages, it has also got influenced by them. For instance, we can take the case of South Asian countries’ altered English versions: ‘Singlish’ in Sri Lanka, ‘Pinglish’ in Pakistan and ‘Hinglish’ in India. To prove that ELF is a multicultural language, Hülmbauer writes, “It seems likely that the ELF users develop their own markers of identity (be they a common ‘European’ or ‘international’ nature or more individual ones which are created online, depending on the community of practice they are emerging).”
Henry Widdowson argues that “There is a fundamental contradiction in the idea that the language itself exerts hegemonic control. If this was the case, you would never be able to challenge such control.”
Professor Dr Juliane House, in her research journal, clearly differentiates between “languages for communication” and “languages for identification” and does not see any threat posed by ELF to other national and regional languages. Her point is valid for when a Sri Lankan talks to a Pakistani or a Bangladeshi talks to an Iranian, all of the speakers use English as a neutral global language, solely for communication purposes. However, the socio-cultural prejudice and superiority of the language may arise when an English person is conversing with a non-native speaker.
Although the contemporary sway of English language over others is beyond any cavil, based upon the fact that it is also the language of the Americans, the most developed and influential nation on the global map in the fields of education, economics, defence technology and world trade, the fact remains that the seeds of English language’s flourishing crop were sown by the British’s unjustifiable colonialism and forced occupation over weaker nations. Moreover, if people living in the developing countries have started believing that their educational, economic and social growth and future prospects totally depend upon developing English language proficiency, I am sorry to say, they are psychological slaves and under threat. This dominance of language is utterly illegitimate. In relation to the issue, we are, definitely, exposed to the risk of a socio-cultural decline because in the audio-visual labs and libraries of our educational institutions as well as language learning centres, the students are shown English movies, cartoons and TV serials and provided English storybooks, etc., to develop their listening and reading skills and for building their vocabulary. None can deny the fact that a nation’s literature, folk tales and entertainment media are the most vibrant sources of promoting its cultural norms, moral values and social ethics, and the positive and constructive process of learning a global language.
Broadening the horizon of communication and information can easily drift our students away from our socio-cultural values. Our traditional and indigenous grandmothers’ stories, full of rustic beauty and everyday characters, which have been thrown into oblivion, were basically aimed at conveying to us different moral lessons and providing awareness about our geographic, lingual, cultural and traditional peculiarities.
We are the architects of our socio-cultural future and English language or its speakers never have precluded us from sparing time for studying our native literature, enjoying our traditional dresses, rituals, foods, sports, customs, and above all, way of living. It is we who have associated language learning with morbid emotions, multiple complexes and fake attitudes.
So, the real responsibility devolves upon the shoulders of the teachers as well as the parents to ponder over this critical proposition and make sure that, the transmission of indigenous culture, ethno-lingual heritage and socio-national distinctiveness must not be sacrificed during the process of teaching the English language.
The writer, a teacher of English language and literature, is also a teacher trainer. firstname.lastname@example.org