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As the English language is considered the new lingua franca, a means of communication for people of differing languages, it is the intention of this discourse to look at the impact that ELF (English lingua franca) has had on those countries that fall within the 'Expanding Circle' of (Indian linguist) Braj Kachru's model, 'The Three Circles of English'.
The 'expanding circle' diagram refers to those countries for which English is neither a native language, nor an imposed one (was not acquired via colonialism) but whose population have opted to learn purely for commercial and global communication purposes.
This essay will concentrate mainly on two countries; France and China. It will examine their attitudes towards ELF; including their reasons for and against learning the language (in other words their expectations and concerns) and also what value (if any) it will add to their lives and more importantly their country. The online journal/article of choice is "New lingua franca upsets French" by BBC reporter Hugh Schofield.
How often has it been said by a native English speaker "why should I bother to learn another language when everyone else in the world speaks English?"
Could it be perhaps, that this misconception and arrogant attitude is the reason why there is such a poor uptake in foreign language studies in Britain? According to a recent report in 'The Telegraph', figures from the Department of Education indicate that 380,000 teenagers (studying GCSE level courses) in 2011 did not choose to study a foreign language course. (The Telegraph, 2012).
It is undeniable fact that English, in one form or another (text, oral) plays a large role in business, science and multimedia technology etc. around the world today. However it would appear that not everyone is convinced it is worthy of a global lingua franca title. In fact, there are concerns in some countries that English (if given full reign) may begin to impinge on their native language and in turn begin to infect the national values and traditions they hold dear. And as such, the threat of linguistic hegemony (where a stronger non-native language eventually dominates a national one) is seen as a major problem and one which has to be fought. As prevention is better' than cure, several countries, including France and China have, to a certain degree, attempted to limit the amount of English (to which their countries may be exposed) by restricting the flow of English in all forms of media.
Over the years, China has had something of a "love/hate" relationship with the English language. Following the Chinese revolution EFL (English as a foreign language) was repudiated in favour of Russian only to be reinstated again as the Chinese emerged from under the influence of the Soviet Union and again back out of favour during their Cultural Revolution (Bolton, 2006, in Seargeant, 2012, p.38). However, whilst the English language is encouraged within the education system, EFL and all it brings are still regarded with suspicion - one of the concerns being that it may "spiritually pollute" Chinese values and traditions (Bolton, 2006, in Seargeant, 2012, p.39).
That being said, the Chinese have realised, that in order to compete commercially on a global scale, they must 'embrace' the English language albeit purely as a business tool. Therefore, attitudes toward EFL have changed considerably in recent years. For example, English has been reinstated on the educational teaching curriculum but only in major cities. This has led to collaborations between British and Chinese universities exchanging ideas, and adult education classes seeing record numbers of people all keen to learn English.
China has also relaxed its attitude toward the multi-media by not only publishing newspapers and other reading matter in English but also allowing their main broadcasting channel to produce programmes in English (Bolton, 2006, in Seargeant, 2012, p.42).
There could of course be another reason why the Chinese government have succumbed in more recent years to allowing ELF a place within its country other than for commercial reasons. This of course is more than likely down to 'technological determinism' "the opinion that social and personal changes can be attributed to new technology" (Allington, (2012) p.282. In other words the influence of the electronic word via the Internet/World Wide Web - providing access to the 'outside' World via the push of a button, and which to some degree the Chinese cannot police. Therefore, is China as a country which has for many years isolated itself from the rest of the World, opening itself up to scrutiny by allowing the learning of English and access to it? Without physical evidence, this is a difficult question to answer. Nonetheless when one considers the Chinese, and how tightly they monitor/police their own media, one may presume not. And yet according to Peter Foster, correspondent for the Telegraph, on the 2 June 2009 - the date marking the twentieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, China attempted to impose a blackout on all multimedia communication including many 'social networking' sites. However, such is the nature of the Internet that people did manage to get around the censors. (Foster, P. 2009, Telegraph).
So, do the Chinese really need worry about Western values polluting their own? Do they need to be concerned about Chinese youth being seduced by Western culture? In Zhao and Campbell's (1995) report 'World Englishes' they wrote "many students resent having to learn the language, and only do so because of the importance of the language for educational advancement" (Zhao and Campbell, 1995, in Seargeant, 2012, p.42).
The answer therefore would probably be "No". It would seem that many young Chinese are not as easily swayed into adopting western ways and ethics; in point of fact their attitude is a realistic one. They are fully aware that in order to facilitate advancement for their country they must learn English, albeit rather reluctantly. And the reason for their reluctance is based on their belief that a large proportion of Chinese who are keen to learn English, do so purely for their own self-interest and not for the promotion of China. (Zhao and Campbell, 1995, in Seargeant, 2012, p.42).
One Chinaman who could be accused of giving credence to their assumption is Li Yang. An English teacher whose unusual methods (which he calls 'Crazy English'), have made him something of a celebrity. He has certainly embraced an attitude which could be described as 'western' in technique. His delivery is described by Kingsley Bolton in his book 'Chinese Englishes' as 'charismatic' a word usually associated with American evangelical preachers (which in some respects, Li Yang's performances appear to emulate). Bolton also makes note of the fact that Li Yang speaks English with 'an American accent'. Similarly, his extraordinary 'classes' (sometimes held in arenas before thousands of people) along with the sale of additional teaching aids, have made him personally very wealthy (contrary to the communist Chinese ideology). However, in his defence, Li Yang explains that it is his intention to 'make the voice of China be heard widely all over the world!' (Bolton, 2006, in Seargeant, 2012, pp.43-47).
So, whilst the Chinese youth remain wary of the ELF, one cannot say the same when referring to the majority of French youth. Indeed they would appear to be embracing the English language with gusto despite attempts from certain 'elitist' sectors to arrest its advancement. With English/American loan words like 'weekend' 'ok' 'parking' and 'cool' being used on a regular basis both verbally and written, much to the chagrin of those who would wish to stem the flood.
There appear to be two trains of thought in France. On one side, there are those who believe that the French (like the Chinese) should leave behind their "old world" language and embrace the ELF as an important business tool with which to gain access to a wider audience on the world's commercial stage. Then there is a larger group who consider the different ways in which they can prevent the invasion of the language from 'perfidious Albion' (deceitful Britain). They consider those who choose to use the English lingua franca, as traitors and their decision to do so, as a form of surrender - not of themselves, but of their French values which for centuries their ancestors have fought hard to protect.
French, once the lingua franca of commerce, is championed by the 'Académie Française'. Originally formed in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu the académie is seen as an authority on the French language and continues to maintain and protect its purity. The mere fact that the French saw fit to create this department goes to show how much they value their language which they see as an important integral part of their national psyche - one is of the opinion that should they allow it to be 'watered down' in anyway, it will destroy not just the language, but more importantly their identity.
In 1995 the French even went so far as to create a law known as "Loi Touban". This law was created in order to prevent the 'over use' of English/Americanism's within varying different forms of commercial publicity (advertising etc.) as well as governmental and commercial documentation(including brochures, labels, instruction manuals). The law deems to protect the French and their language by insisting for example; that any advertisement or publicity campaign, which insists on using a foreign expression, must also include a French translation. Failure on the part of the agency to do so results in huge financial penalties. (Wikipedia, 2012)
In 2009, BBC news journalist Hugh Schofield published an article entitled 'New lingua franca upsets French' (BBC News, 2012) in which he described the disdain and 'resentment' with which the French view the English lingua franca's 'global supremacy'. Schofield goes on to describes an annual prize giving event whose sole purpose is to 'point the finger' at those French citizens or companies, who are seen to be giving credence to English over and above the French language. He quotes for example Carrefour, the supermarket chain who insists on using the English word "market" and not the French "marche". (BBC News, 2012).
This is not the first time that this type of xenophobia has raised its ugly head - when a French person has publicly shown their displeasure at the use of the ELF being spoken in the public forum by a fellow countryman. Take for instance one particularly famous show of malcontent which took place at a summit organised by the European Union. 'Jacques Chirac (then President of France) walked out in protest because a French businessman had the gall to address the meeting in English!' (Daily Mail, 2008)
More recently, according to Schofield's report, French Politician Valérie Pécresse received the top prize by the annual Prix de la Carpette Anglaise (English Doormat prize) for refusing to speak French at European meetings in Brussels because she believes that "English is the easiest mode of communication". (BBC News, 2012) The fact that at that point in time Madame Pécresse was Minister for higher education was not lost on the French press!
One of the reasons why ELF appears to have taken a firm hold on the world is due to the strength of the irrepressible global media, in particular from the US. It leaves its mark on the impressionable young across the world by flooding the market with music and films all in the English language. To protect the interests of French artists in the French music industry, radio stations are limited to the number of foreign recording artists they are allowed to play (Allington, 2012, p.221). However, despite the lengths the French have gone to, in
However with all the sanctions imposed on multi-media, and legislations passed to ensure the welfare of the French language, it would appear that this is still not sufficient. With the vast and regular improvements to internet access (quicker broadband etc.) - it has never been easier to access and download music, films and books from around the world in any language one may want.
As Marie-Nöelle Lamy commented, "English may be seen as fashionable, particularly by young French people.." She continues that in doing so, they are identifying with the "prestigious dynamic Anglo-American culture conveyed to them through TV, the Web, pop music and films" (Lamy, 2007, in McCormick, 2012. p.264). In Schofield's BBC report, he quotes the frontman of French band 'Nelson' as giving his reason for singing in English because "French does not have the right cadences for true rock." (BBC News, 2012). This statement alone confirms Lamy's observation.
All in all the irony (and one which seems to be entirely lost on the French) is that at least 500 words in the English language historically come from French 'loan words' a vestige of when the Norman dukes ruled Britain. Take for example, the etymology (study of the history of words) of the word 'language' which comes from the old Norman word 'langage'.
So why the L'académie française and the 'Loi Touban'? While the rest of the world may see France their values and insecurities as out of touch and their language as 'fossilised' perhaps, as Schofield suggests the least the French can do is 'defend their own territory and keep the ghastly invader at a decent remove' (BBC News, 2012)
Should the Chinese and French be concerned about the impact English as global language will have on their own national languages? Currently there are around '1,155 million Chinese speakers' in the world (Dalby (2001) in Seargeant, 2012, p.46) is it possible that Chinese eventually surpass English as the next global lingua franca? Chinese, it is said, is not an easy language to master. For example where there are only 26 letters in the English alphabet the Chinese has thousands which, certainly puts English ahead of Chinese in the simplicity stakes. But what is worthy of some note is that, despite English being seen as the dominant language on the Internet over the past 12 years 'Internet World Stats' have recorded a shift in figures which show Chinese in hot pursuit. (Crystal, p.163).
The French have made no secrecy of the fact that they are less than enamoured with the English language the walls they have built around their national language would certainly underline their fears about
But are they really well founded fears? Perhaps if one were to make a comparison with what is currently happening in Finland.
Until the 1960's the official languages of Finland were Finnish and Swedish. However during the 1960's English gradually began to emerge as Finland's first foreign language surpassing its predecessors to the point where it is now offered alongside the official languages within Finland's educational curriculum.
Unlike the French, Finland has no restrictions imposed on the amount of English used in Finnish multimedia, for example films are subtitled (Vertanen 2003, in Leppänen, S and Nikula, T (2007) in Crystal, 2012, p.188) as opposed to the French stance where all films are dubbed into French (providing dubbing firms with large subsidies).
And along with the rest of the world, the Finnish use English commercially as a business tool.
This lack of control has raised concerns in some areas however. The fears that the French have would appear have are becoming a reality in Finland and there is something of a divide arising between those who can speak English and those who cannot. Leppänen and Nikula cite that there are strong "nationalistic pleas for the protection of the Finnish language" and concerns that the national language may eventually lose the battle.