How does the English language vary at the individual, societal and international levels? English has become the first `truly global language. As a result of advances in technology and transport, varieties of English have spread throughout the world. This internationalization has been described by Shreeve as an `identified phenomenon. English now underpins the lives and cultures of a broad spectrum of people, with one in four people in the world now fluent users of English. Language involves making meaning and individual identity. It has been defined by Emmit et al. as mediating `between self and society […], a way of representing the world to ourselves and others. There are strong links between how individuals use different varieties of English and the social implications of why they do so. According to Swann: `Language varieties are not simply linguistic phenomena. They carry important social meanings. Many social factors have affected the English language, leading to the numerous varieties that are recognized and used today.
Variety can be seen in the way every individual uses the English language, the interaction between social groups, and the way different countries are utilizing the language. The numerous dialects in use in the UK demonstrate the diverse nature of the English language. Dialects include variations in syntax, morphology, lexicon, and phonology. It has been argued from a prescriptive perspective, by linguists such as Quirk and Greenbaum, that dialects are not true forms of English and that there needs to be a `common core of English. This is the pure and stringent form known as Standard English, which is traditionally linked to an educated society. Standardization consists of `language determination, codification, and stabilization. It is a model to be consulted; a unified code to refer to. Standard English is a publicly recognized, fixed form, a mastery of which affords `social and educational advantages. It was formed by a particular social group, the group with the highest degree of social capital, power, and prestige.
Rhys, however, perceives that Standard English is a `social dialect0+ and argues that it is not superior to other dialects. Labov states that: `all languages and dialects should be viewed as equal in terms of their ability to communicate. While a standard form of English can be seen as a social and communicative necessity useful for educational and international affairs, vernacular forms should not be discounted or regarded as inferior. Dialects represent a smaller locality and are therefore more personal. A relevant example is the use of dialects in regional BBC news broadcasting. While the national news is presented in Standard English, a code with a particular grammar, pronunciation, and register, the BBC’s regional programmes showcase a local identity that cannot be found in national broadcasting. Interviewees and `talking heads` often have strong regional accents and speak in the dialectal forms familiar to their viewers. The regional programmes are personalized to their audience and emphasize the benefits of language variation. Dialects represent social bonds and form because of linguistic choice. The formation of dialects has been explained by Freeborn: `Different choices were made among the varied speech communities forming the speakers of English in the past. These choices are not conscious or deliberate, but pronunciation is always changing and leads in time to changes in word form. The English language has fragmented into pockets of dialect due to social differences and geography. This is a microcosm of how international languages form; distance causes change. Freeborn believes that `all dialects of a language are rule-governed systems. All vernaculars are consistent, although they may not have the written grammar core that Standard English can boast. There is great variation in dialect throughout the United Kingdom. In 1921, Sapir classified his notion of `dialect drift`. He explained how `language moves downtime in a current of its own making. It has a drift. This idea relates to how language evolves; lexical and phonological elements are absorbed and new dialects are formed.
However, while language is ever-changing, it is apparent in some cases that dialects are actually becoming more similar. This is defined by Rhys as dialect leveling (2007); when `regular contact between speakers of different dialects [causes them to] lose linguistic features of their dialect. In the modern world, this leveling process is a consequence of improved transport links, migration, and the growth of media and broadcasting. The urbanization of the UK means that rural areas are not as isolated from cities as they were when Sapir wrote of a dialect drift. Advances in technology and industry mean that the boundaries of dialect, known as `isoglosses, are being broken down. People within dialect boundaries hear more varieties of English than they used to, so they naturally accommodate words and pronunciations into their speech. This process of change, however, occurs over a long period of time. Therefore, making sweeping statements about the future of dialects is difficult. Major changes to language and dialect will not be visible for decades. Different speech communities will always make different language choices, so there will always be regional variation. While language varies because of social groupings, there is also great variety within the speech patterns of an individual. Cheshire has found evidence that `speakers continually reassess the context and adjust their speaking style accordingly. People alter the way that they speak depending on the person or group that they are speaking to, the location that they are in, the type of conversation, and the topic being discussed.
Bell is adamant that the `person or people you are speaking to will have the greatest effect on the type of language you will use`. He believes that the presence of another person or group causes people to change their linguistic code. This is known as the theory of `Audience Design`. People feel the urge to fit in and adapt their language to meet their social and psychological needs. Audience Design can also be related to the idea of language performance. People take on a variety of roles in their conversations due to a feeling of being watched and critiqued. Swann and Sinka perceive that `speakers can be seen as relatively creative designers of language`. Language is a creative medium, in which the performer changes their approach depending on the recipient. The way that we utilize language and make choices suits our individual discursive requirements. People improvise with language as they try to adapt to new linguistic codes. Individuals feel the need to inhabit certain conversational personas and to adopt the linguistic features of their interlocutors. This phenomenon is an element of `Communication Accommodation Theory`. Giles and Powesland explain that accommodation can be `a device by the speaker to make himself better understood` (1997, p. 234) and that it can also be regarded as: `an attempt on the part of the speaker to modify or disguise his persona in order to make it more acceptable to the person addressed` (1997, p. 234). The concept of disguise is often associated with deception, but the linguistic adaption proposed by Accommodation Theory derives from constructive ideals. The ability to alter and weave linguistic codes in different situations is a socially integrative mechanism.
Variety in an individual’s use of language exists to meet the expected communicative requirements of society. The English language is forever evolving and is gradually becoming a global language. This is due, in part, to globalization. Contemporary globalization is often associated with the ‘shrinking’ of time and space. This has affected international trade and industry and also the way that the English language is used at the global level. Rapid developments in technological and digital communications have led to the description of the world as a global village. As the world becomes theoretically smaller, the development of English as a global language mirrors how our own standard form has developed in the UK. The world requires a stable and recognizable common code for effective global communication in sectors such as business, science, politics, and commerce. It could be argued that both Standard English and a new international standard are impersonal varieties of English. These language forms are functional; a means to an end, whereas dialect and variety within a country could be seen as representative of more personal identity. Crystal perceives that there are the `closest of links between language dominance and economic, technological and cultural power`. In the case of English developing into a global language, the dominant force in the USA, which holds economic and political power. Due to the global position of the USA, countries which hold a lower international status are driven to adopt the English language. It appears that a universal, international standard is developing from an `urgent need to communicate at world level`.
An example is Kenya, which holds English as a joint official language with Swahili. While English is `not necessarily welcomed`, it is learned in Kenyan schools and `enjoys a high status` associated with social and economic success. The Kenyan adoption of the English language demonstrates a need for their country to function in an international realm. There are opposing views on the idea that English should become the first global language. Some see it as an encroachment on culture and diversity, while others regard it as imperative to communication in a modern world.
In 1994, French legislation was passed in order to halt the advance of English into French language and culture. The `loi Toubon` (named after the Minister for Culture, Jacques Toubon), called for a ban on: `the use of foreign [English] in business or government communications, in broadcasting, and in advertising if “suitable equivalents” existed in French`. This law was a linguistic intervention, an attempt to prevent the fragmentation of the French language and to retain national identity. In this case, the `borrowings` that the French language had taken from English were becoming too frequent and were seen as being detrimental to France’s status as a historical and international power. The arrival of the internet, however, led French lawyer Thibaut Verbiest to enquire: `How can the Cuban law be applied to internet sites created in languages other than French, that may be needed for the discharge of someone’s duties. As France and other countries have discovered, the adoption of the English language for global means is a modern, national necessity.
The positive effects of English are apparent in other countries around the world. In India: `English acts as a leveling rather than divisive agent, smoothing out the intra-vernacular conflicts of a multi-lingual nation`. While language variety in every country is vital to the culture and national identity, English as an international language offers a common form to be consulted and utilized. Evidence that a global language does not encroach on national identity can be seen in forthcoming changes to the English National Curriculum.
Andalo reports that: `from 2010, it will be a compulsory part of the National Curriculum for children from the age of seven to fourteen to study a modern foreign language` (2007). The English government holds foreign languages in high regard and sees them as vital to a rounded education. The English language is a stabilizing force, rather than a dominating one. The evolution of global English is linked to linguistic `stabilization` (Trudgill, 1992, p. 117); a question of international need in a digital age, rather than a means of eliminating international language diversity and national identities. Language helps us to form ideas and process information on an individual level. It gives us our identity and allows us to make meaning within our social groups. The language will develop further as globalization continues, as we strive to share meaning and communicate internationally. Crystal has suggested the idea of a `universal bidialectal` (2002, p. 294). His perception is that: `We may all need to be in control of two Englishes – the one which gives us our mutual or local identity, and the one which puts us in touch with the rest of the human race` (2002, p. 284). However, it could be suggested that we will be universally tridialectal. There is the descriptive regional variation within our national language, the prescribed standard form required for educational purposes, and then the newer globalized form of English with which we communicate with the world. The evolution of the English language will derive from international necessity, but will not eliminate the fact that language always returns to the individual and their place in the world.
Andalo, D. (2007)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2007/mar/12/schools.uk [Accessed: 2 November 2009] Bell, A. (1997)
‘Language Style as Audience Design’. pp. 240-257, in Coupland, N. and Jaworski, A. (eds) Sociolinguistics: a Reader and Coursebook. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan Bourdieu, P. (1986).
‘The Forms of Capital’. Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. 24 (1) pp. 241-258 Chakrawarti, P. (2008), ‘Decolonising and Globalising English Studies: The Case of English Textbooks in West-Bengal, India’.
English in Education. 42 (1) pp. 37-53 Cheshire, J. (1982).
Variation in an English Dialect: a Sociolinguistic Study. New York: Cambridge University Press Crystal, D. (2002).
The English Language: A Guided Tour of the Language. 2nd edn. London: Penguin Books Ltd Crystal, D. (2003).
English as a Global Language. 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Emmit et al. (2006).
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