English Plays Offense - Conjecture is not fact. Or, imperial propaganda.

Lynn Goldstein lgoldstein at miis.edu
Wed Nov 10 15:38:38 UTC 2004

I'd also like to respond to the notion of choice.  When we say that people
"choose" English what exactly  does that mean? Is it a choice when someone
knows that their economic livelihood, or their educational or professional
success depends on English, regardless of whether or  not they want  to
learn it or use it?  Is it a choice when people believe that English will
get them what they want or where they want to be, even though it may not,
and so learn/use it, again even if they really don't want to?

Looking at it this way, I  think a fair number of people learn/use
English without a choice ( or perhaps I should say through "forced"
choice) .


Lynn Goldstein
The Monterey Institute of International Studies

lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu writes:
>This seems to be a debate with surprising twists and turns.
>Underlying it, and linked to the question of bilingualism, is the
>assumption that language is a question of either - or. In Africa, the
>British Council spends large sums (yes, language wars are fought, and
>not only by the French) on promoting English, the message being "do as
>we do - use English, and be as prosperous as we are". (or in the latest
>url on this list: "English ... to remain competitive") (cf. robert
>Philipson: Linguistic Imperialism, Oxford UP). We saw it when UN
>suggested English as an official lg for Namibia (3 % of the speakers),
>or in an earlier message to this list, on Rwanda (considering English
>as off.lg., with 3 % English, as opposed to the "dominating" French (8
>%!). The fact that 98 % in Rwanda speak Kinyarwanda went unnoticed).
>My alternative is to restate the British Council slogan in this way:
>"Do as we do - use your mother tongue".
>The most competitive country of the world is actually Finland
>(according to recent surveys). Hundred years ago Finland was a poor
>colony with a school system run in a foreign language, 50 years ago it
>was still dominated by small-scale agriculture. What they did during
>the last century was to replace the former colonial language with their
>own, and build a good educational system based upon 100 % literacy,
>with a focus on science. They did not choose English. They do not
>choose English today either. Rather, they keep on choosing Finnish. In
>most EU countries, English is the compulsory first foreign language (as
>it is in Norway), but in Finland, it is not (still, if your first
>foreign language is something else than English, then English must be
>the second foreign language).
>Using people from Anglophone countries as Foreign Experts on
>multilingual and foreign language education (as is often done in former
>colonies, at least in Africa) seems very strange to us outsiders: The
>Anglophone countries are precisely the ones with school systems that
>educate monolinguals, thus a priori the ones with no experience of
>nation-wide English as a Foreign language teaching, or with serious
>foreign language teaching (by which I mean teaching where the goal is
>that the whole age cohort shall actually be able to use the foreign
>language actively). This isn't intended as an offence. In anglophone
>countries, working foreign language skills will always be a matter for
>the specially interested, for reasons we all know.
>Watching the focus on the "battle between French and English", the
>"battle against English" makes me sad. The real issue is another one:
>The right to learn the multiplication tables in your own mother tongue,
>the right to have the nature study classes being just that, instead of
>being disguised English or French lessons. At the university level we
>carry on using our mother tongue, but in most cases our textbooks are
>in English. This does not make me a bilingual (in the narrow sense),
>but it gives me English skills more or less on an average level here in
>Norway. Depriving people the human right of high-level literacy in
>their own mother tongue is the real crime here, and stopping it should
>be the main focus. The price to pay is then that the lucky ones will
>have to live with English skills not better than mine (foreign language
>skills, never used as medium of instruction).
>I am not against English (or French). Language is not either-or. The
>Hong Kongers should not learn English in order to "cater the remaining
>10 percent", but in order to, e.g., follow this discussion.
>In Finnish they have a word, "ummikko", derived from "umpi-" (closed,
>blind), the word means 'monolingual'. So yes, the Hong Kongers should
>avoid being ummikko's, with the restrictions that imply for life in
>Hong Kong, whatever language they risk being ummikko's in.

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