Tuesday, January 22, 2013

ENG 540 - Global Englishes and Popular Culture

For my first post for English 540 at Illinois State, I'll be responding to readings by Pennycook, Gee, Bamgbose, Bolton, and Matsuda.  Mostly, these readings represent an introduction to what it means to study English from a descriptive cultural perspective rather than simply a prescriptive or "language-focused" approach to what English "is" or "should be."

As a teacher in English Studies, I feel that I'm caught in this divide which is now affecting all instructors who deal with "cultural" subjects involving a literary "canon" - at what point do we focus on what's "right," and to what degree do we tell students that they must learn to independently describe the shifting norms in our increasingly global world?

In regard, Pennycook's focus on hip-hop culture in Global Englishes caught me off-guard.  Although it's clear that language and music are closely intertwined in terms of developing a cultural discourse, it had never occurred to me that one would use the domain of musical cultural as an entree to discussing linguistic phenomena.  But it fits with the "New Literacy Studies" approach that Gee describes in Social Linguistics and Literacies, particularly the idea that languages exist not as discrete phenomena, but rather as components of larger social Discourses - Discourses which are as intimately intertwined with identity and ideology as they are with communication.

This, I think, really brings up significant issues when it comes to globalization, particularly as we try to understand the context of the linguistic "coca-colanialism" committed by English in the global sphere.  Bamgbose looks at issues such as marketing and auto-correct in order to support Pennycook's major assertion that English, even as a global and colonialist phenomenon, is being appropriated at the local level in order to achieve specific commercial and cultural goals.

In this sense, I think it makes sense to look at English less as a cultural ideology in and of itself, but rather as a specific technology of communication, kind of in the same why that Windows or Mac would represent competing operating systems in the computing community.  With English, it seems that there is a popular perception that "native" speakers from the Central Core nations like the United States or the United Kingdom are somehow better qualified to use and teach English as a language.  Yet these recent linguistic studies - particularly Pennycook's examination of global hip-hop culture - are showing that English itself is not being used in every country in the same way.  It's not replacing local cultures so much as individuals of those cultures are utilizing English in order to achieve personal aims within the global sphere.

For myself, I've seen a similar phenomenon happening not only across nations and cultures, but also across technologies.  With Facebook and texting, for example, there's this continual lament from language traditionalists that students are "forgetting how to write," or that they "aren't learning English."  The real issue, though, is that language is changing (primarily through visual compression) in order to better fit the speed and informality of the online sphere - and many individuals are not comfortable with this development.  Although the dispute is often couched in terms of what students "know" or are "able" to write, I think there is a major element of ideology at work here, particularly in the sense brought up by Gee - for those individuals (particularly in my parent's generation, but in multiple generations) who grew up without mastering the internet, it makes sense to privilege the longer and more formal styles of writing as a way to undermine the efficiency of online communications.  It's not that all individuals of any given generation are doing this, but it seems that this is similar to what's happening with hip-hop, too - there is a large-scale popular culture emerging among younger generations which is built upon the technological framework of globalism, and this new culture can threaten the localized and traditional hierarchies which originally benefited from the colonial economics of globalism.  (For example, the corporations which benefited from cheap labor abroad must now compete with online entrepreneurs who require neither employees nor offices...)

In terms of global Englishes, I think this creates some serious questions regarding the future role not of English, per se, but of the spontaneous emergence of a global language.  To better understand this, I think it would make sense to look back to how the Latin of the Romans was later appropriated by local cultures to become the Romance languages - the major difference here being that there is a tighter connection between distant geographies.  In a sense, I think we can imagine this as a case of the colonialist language outliving the colonialist agendas/capacities of the empires from which these language came.

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