Monday January 21, 2019

Linguistic hegemony and cultural imperialism through English

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How the west has established its cultural hegemony in the world through the English language is aptly depicted in two examples cited by Professor Alastair Pennycook in his book ‘The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language’.

Pennycook talks of the Voyager aircraft drifting in its lonely trajectory in 1977 in search of other life-inhabited galaxies, carrying recorded messages of greetings to aliens in fifty-five of world’s languages. But the principal message of greeting was delivered in the so-called universal language ‘English’ by none other than the then UN General-Secretary, Kurt Waldheim:

‘As the Secretary-General of the United Nations… I send greetings on behalf of the people of our planet.’

Meanwhile, on the planet earth from a small radio in a township shack in Johannesburg’s Soweto, Johny Clegg and Savuka crooned thus:

Bits of songs and broken drums
Are all he could recall
So he spoke to me
In a bastard tongue
Carried on the silence of the guns

It’s been a long time
Since they first came
And marched thru the village
They taught me to forget my past
And live the future in their image

Chores They said I should learn to speak
A little bit of English
Don’t be scared of a suit and tie
Learn to walk in the dreams of a foreigner
I am a third world child

(Third World Child, Johnny Clegg and Savuka)

The irony and contraction in the two events happening at the same time i.e. the UN General Secretary’s speech and the South African singer’s song could not be more evident. For while Waldheim sends greetings on behalf of the people of ‘our planet’ in English, the singer recalls how they were taught to forget their past, told to learn to speak a little bit of the universal language and ‘walk in the dreams of a foreigner’. How could English be called the universal language when the majority of people in the world do not speak it?

Professor Joga Virk told NewsGram that these facts amply demonstrated that Indian people needed to deeply reflect upon the present linguistic situation in India, so that a correct language policy could be put in place.

Verily, the plight of local languages throughout the world is more or less the same. The imperialists use similar modus operandi everywhere i.e. of subjugating native populations by attacking their culture, language, self-esteem and replacing them with their own.

Henry Kissinger, at the time of the Turkish invasion in Cyprus in September 1974, while addressing a group of businessmen in Washington, said:

“The Greek people are anarchic and difficult to tame. For this reason, we must strike deep into their cultural roots. Perhaps then we can force them to conform. I mean, of course, to strike at their language, their religion, their cultural and historical reserves, so that we can neutralize their ability to develop, to distinguish themselves, or to prevail. Thus, we can remove them as an obstacle to our strategically vital plans in the Balkans, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East, to all this neuralgic territory of great strategic importance for us, for the politics of the USA.”

British colonialists also had the same plans to establish their cultural hegemony in India. They gave India its independence in 1947 after 200 years of rule, but not before dividing the country along the lines of religion and imposing its language on the Indians. So much so that almost 70 years after attaining freedom, non-English speaking people who speak in their mother tongues are seen as inferior beings by their fellow countrymen. English defines classes as local Indian languages struggle hard to survive.

With one’s proficiency in English linked to one’s livelihood, it has become a necessity to learn the language.

Is it a well thought out and well-designed strategy to create a huge, lucrative market for Anglo-American commodities by using Anglophonic education as a weapon? Or is it just something we have to accept as a reality?

Author NS Ndebele in his paper on the English language and social change in South Africa writes, “The very concept of an international or world language was an invention of Western imperialism.”

After spending a considerable amount of time in India, the British realized in the eighteenth century that India could not be conquered militarily and that it could only be achieved through dividing them along the lines of religion, caste and above all language. The idea as first put forward by Lord Macaulay to the British Parliament on 2 February 1835 was to establish hegemony here by shaping popular consciousness, disassociating people from their cultural roots and traditions of solidarity and replacing them with their own.

Today, the majority of children in India are not being taught in their mother tongues but in a foreign language i.e. English. As a result, they are neither good in their own language nor in English.

Dr Joga Singh, Professor and Former Head of Department of Linguistics in Punjabi University, Patiala told NewsGram in a telephonic interview that one significant reason for India lagging behind countries such as South Korea, Japan, and China, etc. was the intrusion of English language in Indian education and other important domains.

The way English is occupying the language domains, the life of Indian mother tongues is under a severe threat,” Mr Singh said, adding, “The English medium instruction is producing a generation which has no appreciable mastery either over their mother tongues or over English; they cannot connect intimately with their own culture, tradition, history and people. It is not wrong to call these children as English children, for by the time they complete their schooling their competence in English is more than their mother tongues, it is meager though in English too.”

The Professor told NewsGram that these facts amply demonstrated that Indian people needed to deeply reflect upon the present linguistic situation in India, so that a correct language policy could be put in place.

“Restoring all linguistic domains to Indian mother tongues is essential not merely for saving and developing Indian languages, but it is essential for saving India. We may differ on certain points. But all Indian mother tongue lovers and the ones who have a correct understanding about language issues agree on one point that education at least up to school level must be in the child’s mother tongue. Let us all join to achieve this goal first.”

Once English is delinked from our education system, administration and Indian languages given due respect and restored to their deserving place, it would slowly start losing its relevance, he opined.

Also Read: India is free, but Indians are still colonized

Next Story

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May Survives Through Vote Of No-Confidence

If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?

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Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, Jan. 16, 2019. VOA

British Prime Minister Theresa May survived a no-confidence vote in parliament Wednesday, one day after lawmakers voted overwhelmingly against her plan to divorce Britain from the European Union.

Surviving the vote enables May to refocus on getting a Brexit deal through parliament. She has until Monday to offer a new proposal to the House of Commons, but it isn’t clear what she will propose.

Shortly after the 325 to 306 vote allowing May to remain in office, she invited party leaders for Brexit talks Wednesday night.

More talks?

May said before the vote Wednesday that Britain would leave the EU on the March 29 target date, and that the bloc would only consider extending the negotiating period if there were a realistic exit plan.

Aides to the prime minister said she will try to buy more time and return to Brussels to try to cajole EU leaders into a renegotiation.

EU leaders have repeatedly rejected the possibility of renegotiations since the deal was concluded in November, but British officials hope Brussels now may offer enough concessions to secure parliamentary backing on a replayed vote on an amended deal.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labor Party, filed a motion of no confidence in the government immediately after the result Tuesday.

Britain would have held a general election had May lost the vote. Most analysts said they expected her to survive the vote, and the minority Northern Ireland party she relies on to keep her minority government in office had said it would back the government.

Tuesday’s vote was the biggest parliamentary reversal ever handed a sitting government, with lawmakers — including more than 100 rebels from her ruling Conservative Party — refusing to endorse the highly contentious Brexit deal.

Britain, May
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labor Party, talks during a no-confidence debate after Parliament rejected Theresa May’s Brexit deal, in London, Jan. 16, 2019. VOA

The government’s defeat plunged into greater disarray Britain’s scheduled March 29 exit from the EU. Major questions remain about how and whether it will happen.

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said Wednesday that after the British parliament’s rejection of a draft agreement detailing the country’s divorce from the EU, the risk of reaching the deadline with no deal in place is higher than ever.

The vote against the agreement was the biggest parliamentary reversal ever handed a sitting government, with lawmakers, including more than 100 rebels from her ruling Conservative party, refusing to endorse the highly contentious Brexit deal.

Just 202 lawmakers backed May’s deal with 432 voting against it. The defeat dwarfed the previous 1924 record when then-Labor Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald lost a vote by 166, triggering the collapse of his government and a general election, which he lost.

After the vote, May said, “The vote tells us nothing” about what the House of Commons would agree to regarding Brexit.

Second referendum

Britain, May
A pro-European demonstrator protests in front of a Leaver campaign board opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Jan. 15, 2019, ahead of lawmakers’ vote on whether to accept British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Later, the plan was soundly defeated. Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29. VOA

The defeat of May’s plan will give further momentum to a burgeoning campaign in the House of Commons, and among Remainers in the country, for a second referendum, according to analysts. Remainers hope a replayed referendum would reverse the Brexit plebiscite of 2016, which Leavers narrowly won.

The vote on the deal — which originally was due in December but was delayed by the government when it became clear there was insufficient backing for it to pass — also leaves hanging in the balance May’s future as prime minister. Her aides maintained at the end of a day of high political drama that she wouldn’t resign.

“She is the person who has to deliver Brexit,” said British Business Minister Claire Perry, who said May didn’t need to resign.

“There will be other attempts at this. There will be strenuous efforts to improve on the deal,” Perry said.

The sheer scale of the defeat throws into doubt whether even a reshaped Brexit Withdrawal Agreement would secure parliamentary approval in the future, even if the EU is prepared to reopen negotiations.

Britain, May
British Business Minister Claire Perry arrives to attend a Cabinet meeting at Downing Street in London, Jan. 15, 2019. VOA

‘Hopelessly optimistic’

“Her Plan B, more of the same, is hopelessly optimistic,” said commentator Isabel Oakeshott.

Also Read: British Lawmakers Rejects Brexit Deal, PM Faces Vote Of No-Confidence

EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted when news of the historic vote broke: “I take note with regret of the outcome of the vote in the House of Commons this evening. I urge the UK to clarify its intentions as soon as possible. Time is almost up.”

EU President Donald Tusk reflected the frustration of many in Brussels, tweeting: “If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?” (VOA)