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Language English Countries
Discuss whether the use of English in non-ENL countries can be seen as a neutral, a harmful or a beneficial activity.
English, which is often referred to as ‘the language of the planet’ is spoken by more than 750 million people worldwide. This global phenomenon, if not spoken by millions as a mother tongue is spoken by many as a second language or taught in educational institutions as a foreign language.
The diversity of its speakers has sparked considerable amount of interest, along with the types of English used in many countries. Alongside an immense number of speakers of a single language come the various types of speaker: those who’s English is a mother tongue, those of whom whose English is a second language, and those for whom it is a foreign language. This analysis attempts to establish whether the use of English in non – native speaking countries have adverse or positive effects.
Only a few centuries ago did English exist as a form of dialects spoken by the lower middle classes in the province of Britain. Dominated by the prestige languages of Latin and French, the language of the pre-English period (-c AD 450) was Celtic, a language spoken by those living in Britain and surrounding areas. When the Romans first invaded Britain, a number of Celtic – speaking peoples inhabited Britain, even though Latin was the official language of the province.
According to the source Women in Roman Britain, ‘By the end of the first century AD the increasingly cosmopolitan flavour of the urban population will have resulted in many languages being heard in Britain with the consequence that a knowledge of Latin would have been essential for efficient communication between people who could have originated as far afield as Scotland, Africa or Turkey’ (Allason-Jones, 1989, p174). Residents who would have migrated from such countries inevitably needed a mutual form of communication in order to keep activities such as trade going.
During the pre-English period, the vast number of occurring mixed and interracial marriages would have resulted in the inevitable introduction of foreign languages into Britain. This thus establishes Britain as a multilingual community, having contact with other parts of the world. Since Latin, a language which had been a lingua franca in Britain had by this time, been challenged by the increasing number of inhabitants speaking English, it had to leave in order to find a new position, since people were still using it but were also using Celtic.
At this time, Latin, which wasn’t an official language of Britain had now been established as a language of communication by those residing in England and those migrating to England, and was now seen as a useful source of promoting and providing the existence of beneficial activities such as administration and trade. The use of Latin had by then been the dominant language of government and administration. How the use of such a universal and phenomenal language such as English had been established can only be discovered if its origins are traced.
The earliest piece of writing in English is said to be a carving found in Norwich dating from AD 400. This runic script is said to resemble the Latin or Greek alphabet, and was used in various Germanic languages, bought to England by those residing in mainland Europe. *The influence of Latin on the English Language is very high, even though Latin is a somewhat ‘archaic’ language, only now taught in prestige schools such as Eton College.
1066 was a year of deterioration not just in terms of radical political changes but in major linguistics. Often viewed as ‘a milestone on the road to civilization’, it also played a major part in the development of Modern English. During this precarious time when the entire Normandy dynasty had been gained by the King of France, regular contacts with the French court bought with it colossal changes in the main method of communication.
This conflict ‘brought about a period of close contact and often bitter rivalry’ between the English and the French which in some respects has lasted into the present century. Ideas about ‘Englishness’ often reflect whatever is considered to be ‘not French’ (p121). The consequence of this invasion has caused the English Language to contain many derivations of French, referred to as the language of ‘honour’, ‘chivalry’ and ‘justice’. During the period of the French invasion many English residents knew very little, if not, any of the English language.
Other linguistic changes which inevitably rose as a result of the Norman Conquest concerned the language of Law. This would have been written in Britain’s prestigious language, Latin, which was at the time highly associated with the aristocracy. This resulted in English being a minority written language. Put in simpler terms, the Norman Conquest occurred at the detriment of the English Language used in Britain, which was almost reduced to a minor language or even a mere dialect spoken within England.
Other effects of the Norman Conquest on the English Language included the vocabulary. Many French words were adopted into the English Language which explains the vast majority French lexicon in the English vocabulary we are used to today. Baldwin, who in his speech thinly veils his distaste for the French language adopted into English quoted (that the) ‘salvation’ for Britain (and indeed for the whole world) lay not in French-derived polysyllables such as proletariat but in monosyllables such as ‘faith’. ‘Hope’ ‘love’ and ‘work’ (Crowley, 1989 p255).
Here, he not only (possibly subconsciously) describes English as being a somewhat simple and basic language, but he compares it to French, a language which exhibits power and prestige. In line with the effects of French lexicon within the English language, century’s later English provinces, namely Canada now have both English and French as an official language. The French language, in Quebec especially remains under threat, even though it is used to teach in schools its significance is deteriorating and the constant debate whether to use it in schools or whether English taught in schools can have detrimental effects; if students who are taught both languages becomes proficient in only one of the official languages, the quality of their written or spoken English or French is likely to decline.
In France however, since English has no official status, it is exempt from the pressures Canada faces to exert the significance of learning both languages in schools. As French is taught as a foreign language in England, English is likewise taught as a foreign language in French schools, in order that no-one lacks the knowledge of a language vital for international communication, and therefore increase the number of people proficient in either official language.
An example of the use of English in countries where English is not a native language being a beneficial, almost crucial activity lies within the necessities of air traffic control. Granted, there are many standard English’s, each one being exclusive to its respective country, however if one peculiar, even creolized version remains misunderstood in such a situation, the results could be dire. In such circumstances, even though the existence of many standardized English’s could create confusion, a vast knowledge of a universal Standard English is crucial.
The development of English pidgins and creoles in effect also gives way to confusion as it clouds out the need for a ‘politically correct’ language. The slave trade had an inevitably immense effect on the development of English, as it paved the way for the use of vernaculars such as Black English and black pidgins and creoles. These dialects, in effect are not understood by many and if such a language is seeped into schools it could become deeply ingrained within a students’ vocabulary, thus hindering a students’ ability to speak, and even understand politically correct English.
It is thus necessary to question the term ‘politically correct’ language? Double negatives to the native speaker of English, is seen almost as a taboo in English writing. Its use not only portrays the writer or speaker as uneducated, but the use of such insolent English by a native speaker would regard such a person as illiterate. Other definitions of political correctness refer to the use of non – sexist or racist language, language used in such a way which is not seen to favour a certain age group, class distinction or creed.
According to the English born sociolinguist Anthea Fraser Gupta, political correctness as exemplified by ‘the deliberate use of non-sexist language’ is quite unusual. In fact, it is so rare that I and other colleagues have had the experience of having our non – sexist original changed into a sexist printed version by editors.’ (Gupta, 1994, p2). For example, if an adult male calls another adult male ‘boy’ because he is in a position of authority, this could be seen as highly demeaning, as this perfectly reflects the days of the slave trade when taskmasters referred to their slaves as ‘boy’, alongside other demeaning terms such as ‘dog’ and ‘nigger’.
When I asked a university student if being called ‘boy’ by one who came from a country where such terms were unheard of, his reaction was one of dismay, not to mention being highly insulted. Such deviations from social norms could prove to cause conflict, as this type of English usage in countries such as Angola, France and similar non ENL lands may prove to be a difficulty.
In countries such as China where English has no official status, there has been an increased amount of interest in the English Language. ‘In 1959, everyone was carrying a book of the thoughts of Chairman Mao; today, everyone is carrying a book of ‘elementary English’ (p31) This unprecedented growth in the interest of the English language in a country titled the undisputed home of technology, science and rapid invention makes it a harmful activity in terms of linguistics but a beneficial one in terms of world trade, production and communication.
An influx Chinese people wanting to learn English poses the question: How good is the quality of English used in such non ENL countries? In the Chinese product catalogue IBI Household, the descriptions used to describe its respective goods in small captions are written in English which is considered to be very poor to ENL speakers; for example, a product called Space Creator, an organizer used to store household goods is said to be ”The plastic organizer will help you to storage wisely”, instead of ‘This plastic organizer will help you to store your items wisely; Another example being a Car Air Ozonizer which ‘Remove smoke, eliminate air particulate from this compact air ozonizer.
These items are described in a childlike manner, not to mention that they hardly make sense. As a result, if such habits become ingrained in an English learner’s vocabulary, they may become incomprehensible to someone whose first language is English but more importantly, it may become very difficult to root these habits out. This is thus an example of how the use of the English in non ENL countries can be seen as a harmful activity its only reason for its use is likely to be that of English is seen as fashionable.