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Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe studied with the idea of empowering people against the mostly negative literature that had previously been written in relation to Africa. Achebe realised that these ideas had arisen as a result of studying authors that were inclusive of the British colonial canon. These authors were also actively studied throughout the colonies during the early twentieth century. During his lifetime there was still a colonial idea of Africa where the tribal inhabitants were often portrayed to be vastly uneducated and savage when compared to life in Britain.
English was used across colonial controlled countries in an attempt to educate and eventually civilise its inhabitants. As a reaction, Achebe used it to counter the effect colonialism had on his own country, Nigeria.
‘I feel that the English language will be able to carry the weight of my African experience. But it will have to be a new English, still in full communion with its ancestral home’ (Wroe, 2010).
Achebe’s statement is heavily weighted proscribing how English has to adapt when in contact with other racial groups across the African continent.
His subtle use of ‘ancestral’ is a keyword that he uses for identification relating to the origins of English. By using this word he successfully reveals its origin and further expansion in linguistic evolution leading to variations of what are now frequently referred to as ‘World Englishes’ (Osinubi, V, Zeigler, p.590). These Englishes will have to adapt to new locations by no longer being dominating or being forced in use when applied in the context of how it was administered within the countries that were under colonial rule.
The idea that Chinua Achebe wanted to relate to his readers, stemmed from his belief that if you wanted to stop the exploitative power of English, then you have to use language to do it.
One of the most obvious changes that have occurred during the last thirty years is how the use of English has diversified as a language of ‘business through globalisation’. Its overall growth as a globally accepted language is evident as it is currently used by more than a quarter of all Internet users worldwide and is matched only by Chinese. From easily accessible daily news feeds, business appears to be the new indicator of global success as markets expand into newer territories led by advances in technological evolution. As a result, huge global economic and political demands have been placed on English, that started with the Industrial Revolution. With an increased expansion to the Americas, this led to an industrial growth through promotion by businesses giving an increased focus to how companies advertised and sold their products.
As one of the largest manufacturers of raw materials, America has rapidly become a major producer in the world of business. While this legacy sadly started with Britain by being one of the contributors to the origin of the cotton industry through its involvement with the slave trade which led to colonialism, both countries saw massive growth through ‘active globalisation’. This allowed English to become a language that was used and spread by the manufacturing of products created in English speaking countries. A major step that led to it being excepted globally was through advertising especially in America. This expansion of business through globalisation was achieved by the new innovative format of media communication that was used to attract new customers. English became the common language led by media formats such as newspapers and the printed word helped by increased sales in literature due to higher standards in post-war education.
Another major platform that has recently allowed English to actively grow is through the development of the World-wide-web or Internet. As a means of communication it allows users to share ideas personally and professionally, it has now become a tool used every day by its speakers globally. Through technological advances made during the last twenty years are we now able to communicate freely to huge parts of the world. Adding to the development of ‘discourse communities’ allowing a group to operate work or leisure activities that follow a common goal using shared or common resources. As a form of communication, which is primarily used by professionals but also within groups or societies, it allows users to create ideas and conduct them through their respective community achieving standards set within their own specialised areas. The spread of communicative language is helped by the growth of digital technology as these ‘communities of practice’ are able to share ideas using audio/visuals to interact with each other on a global scale.
A casual example of how English is used in the context of a globally shared medium in which to communicate using a type of ‘community of practice’ is shown every year in the popular mass consumer program, The Eurovision Song Contest. The program is now accessible on a global scale as a multi-channel annual media event. However, it now uses English as a primary means of communication within the format of the show in two different ways. Firstly by the presenters, who may not speak it as a first language, however, they confidently use it to announce various forms of information relating to the performances and the show. But, most interestedly by how many of the various groups and singers who now use English while performing when in comparison to the multitude of other languages that could be used in this European competition. As one of the languages used in the show, its overall use alludes to its increased popularity, it has now become even more accessible to European viewers of the show.
Statistics taken from Internet World Stats 2010 show massive growth in various non-western languages through internet usage also revealing signs of increased growth around the world. What must be taken into account about these other languages are the cultural identities connected to them through localisation of the environments in which they are used. ‘China’s population is now over one billion’ with recent generations fully embracing new technological breakthroughs. The spread of English here as a business language is not as expansive as in other locations around the world simply due to the strength of the cultural identities that are inherent to China and certainly Japan. For example, both of these countries can provide their own canons of literature that are hundreds of years old and are able to compete with English literature in its own right. Japan has its own strong ‘cultural hegemony’ that utilises its own language before any other therefore English is simply regarded as a second language.
However, other countries for whom English is not the primary language are also making huge growths within the technology market upon whom their customers number in the millions. The FarEast that includes China, Korea, and Japan are all leaders in technological growth this also embraces advances made by social media. Both China and Japan are part of what has been identified as within the ‘expanding circle of countries’. English is not seen in the context of colonisation but has been embraced simply as a language of globalisation arising from an increased business over the last thirty years. Both these countries have their own distinct ideologies of language dictated through strong cultural differences. Their use of English is not seen from a first language perspective but from a bi-lingual aspect. In Japan, it is not used in a domestic policy that seeks its use in administration, but in local and pan-Japanese trade, through commerce. English is seen as a ‘lingua franca’ that is now widely taught and is identified through the use of ‘ELT or English language teaching’ .
New and various regional dialects are also now starting to be recognised alongside standard English usage such as dialect changes in ‘Australian and Indian English’ (Zeigler, Osinubi, p.590). From these changes to how people use and speak their localised Englishes it is possible to study how a country or region adopts a language to make it suit their needs, whether to provide a basis for an advantageous educational platform, as in Nigeria or, to use it within their own administrative structures. But what is evident as English becomes increasingly globalised is the need to fully understand the concept of a single Standard English giving recognition to the gradual emergence of these regional standards. British and American English, both of which are now realised as the original source of all global English varieties are clearly well established while also allowing other new Englishes to develop.
American English is regarded as belonging to an Inner-Circle country and clearly considered as one of two major originators contributing to the spread of globalising English, evolving the way it is spoken and used. However, from the ‘diaspora’ of English across the vastness of the American continent it led to increased linguistic diversity. This contrast was much more in evidence than it was in Britain because significantly greater areas and more varied types of speaker were involved. The distinctive varieties of language in North America are a product of the continent’s settlement history, with individual accents and dialects having resulted from unique mixtures of settlers from different regions of the British Isles and elsewhere. From these findings, it is possible to further analyse the evolution of these various Englishes that are found actively spoken across the North American continent.
American English has subtle variations when compared to British English, with distinguishing features to the levels of phonology, lexis, and orthography, an example of this could be theater, honor, and recognize. Standard English has these same words but with the inclusion of vowels and occasionally consonants-theatre, honour, and recognise. American words or pronunciations exist in Britain as well but these are constrained to the status of regional dialect forms often with slightly different usage conditions. American lexical innovations are now starting to be excepted in British speech as well. Word usage can be altered and changed often arising from exposure to televisual media, so the majority of new Americanisms used in Britain are usually within the lexical level. Words that appear to be spreading widely include words such as guy(s), movie and Xmas, there is also evidence of adolescent slang and fashion terms like ‘man’ as a variety of address or ‘cool’ which has now come to be understood as very good.
The spread of American popular culture, through the practice of adopting American ways of speaking, has more recently been embraced and fully used by younger generations and presumably regard this as fashionable and symbolises high status and an international orientation but it is resisted by others who fear a loss of local identities and traditions. Exposure to this relatively new format of usage reflects the global dominance of the American media and music industries, with Hollywood movies being shown and American TV serials being aired across all continents. It also results from the increase in modern facilities for travel and personal contact from tourism, business travel, also student exchange, and, increasingly, arising from the growing use of social media platforms all carried by the internet.
‘African American English is a product of diasporation, and the latter is a product of colonialism’
The term diaspora refers to the dispersal of a language as its users move or migrate away from their original geographical place of origin, therefore, allowing sociolinguistic changes to occur. A major contributor to this linguistic variation of language usage came about as a direct result of Colonialism. ‘African American English or AAE’ is a dialect of English that is highly used across the American continent which is spoken mostly by younger African Americans who use it with a growing sense of linguistic identity that unifies AAE through the use of new musical styles. Further analysis within localised inner-city areas involving African Americans suggests further ongoing evolution in patterns of change. From these changes, it is possible to study and understand the impact that settlement history, population demographics and some forms of racial motivation have within these communities.
When analysing the spread of usage within the countries where colonisation occurred, consideration should also be given to the impact the language has had on parts of Britain where English was not originally considered a first language for thousands of people. Wales has its own language Welsh, that was used and maintained by its inhabitants for cultural, administrative and educational purposes. During the industrial revolution that was taking place in Britain at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the country became the world’s leading industrialised nation. With the increased demand for manufactured products came the need for a workforce to maintain the processes it created. Internally, Britain saw huge migratory shifts in its population as the workforce travelled in the search for employment.
As a result, Wales saw an influx of workers throughout the South Wales valleys who were mostly of English or Irish descent but primarily English speaking. The sudden ‘displacement’ of the population brought changes to communication and how people were educated. New English language schools were created to teach only through the medium of English and not Welsh as was previously used in schools across the country. With this came an ‘in English only’ attitude to learning. While the changes to how people worked in Wales were not exactly arising from colonialism, the resulting industrialisation of Wales brought massive changes to its linguistic practices that allowed English to have a far higher level of equality when compared to Wales’ own mother-tongue Welsh.
Relatively simple comparisons can be made between Wales and the colonised parts of Africa where English was used as a colonial language. Firstly, an act of colonisation took place where English speakers settled in a country due to migratory reasons. Usually arising from employment-related issues or a change of living conditions. As in the case of Wales and within most of the African nations political incorporation took place whereby the new territory was taken under the control of the British Government with political and social changes made to the way people lived and worked within their own country. Only in the last forty years has Wales seen a nationalistic resurgence in regaining its social and cultural identity through Welsh being taught in schools across the country with Welsh medium education schools now considered part of the mainstream curriculum due to an enhanced Welsh language policy devised by its own Assembly.
It is this reaction to English that could introduce variations to the language that is of interest for linguistics and its users. Across Britain, the way people speak dialects of Englishes are varied and can change even within a small geographical area through the use of accent and dialect. Due to the influx of workers into the South Wales valleys, accent can vary when compared to the harder sounding original accent of North Wales where fewer incomers were settled in this region therefore, a clear division arose in the pronunciation of English and the native Welsh language that was retained primarily in North Wales. To an outsider, the North Wales accent could be considered harder to listen to when compared to the much softer sounding South Wales accent. The linguistic term, dialect, refers to the localised way language is grammatically spoken within a given region. This form of communicating can have differences in lexical and linguistic style that are varied when compared to other dialects. This manner of speaking is in contrast to an accent ‘which refers specifically to differences in pronunciation’.
From the variations of its usage around the world, there is a sense that it is constantly having to evolve and change when it comes into contact with other cultures. English has travelled across the American continent with its users applying new words to try to explain and define the various places and things they encountered. While some dialect variations helped to influence the formation of American English, it too loaned words from the native tribes of America to identify and name the locations they settled in such as ‘Alabama’ and ‘Manhattan’. It has also loaned words that have helped make up numerous pidgins when used in the context of a ‘Lexifier’ thereby creating new opportunities for communication between people who did not share a common language, as became evident during the slave trade and throughout the colonial period.
In conclusion, English as a ‘lingua franca’ has proved a powerful tool in the development of numerous post-colonial countries worldwide. Adapting to new environments but, it is also adaptable to its users as they too change the way it sounds and is spoken depending on geographical location. What is evident from recent global studies, there will be an evolution arising from new cultures as they utilise English for their own needs. With many countries experiencing civil war and ecological disasters across the African continent and the Middle East, more and more people are consistently looking to migrate away from their problems. Only now is it possible to analyse that the future of English lies with these people who will also bring their own cultures and languages. To what extent will the impact of these social variations have on a language that has easily outgrown its ‘ancestral’ (Wroe, 2010) home as Chinua Achebe said? It now has to take on the weight of not just an African experience but one that is now truly global.
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