Wednesday, February 2, 2011

African Englishes

As I have told you before I'm taking a World Englishes class this semester and I wanted to share a couple of articles I have read for this class. Last time, I talked about South American Englishes, this time it's African Englishes.

West African Englishes by Tope Omoniyi (from Handbook of World Englishes)
After comparing English World-Wide and World Englishes frameworks, Omoniyi overviews some scholars' work (Spencer to Lucko et al. and then writes about national varieties of English in West Africa. Next, the author gives an overview of sociopolitical developments in West Africa regarding the spread of English, which made me realize the complexities of the region and language ecologies there. In the section on the future, the author mentions the two spheres of influence, Anglophone and Francophone and writes
I do not share the view...that West African English already exists as a formally recognized regional variety. There is sufficient evidence, however, that it is emergent. (p. 182)
In the conclusion, Omoniyi goes back to English World-Wide and World Englishes paradigms and writes
The distinction I made between EWW and WE in the introduction was intended to demonstrate that the latter, more than the former, entailed a politics that was relevant to life and living in sub-Saharan Africa. (p. 183)
The next article is
Michieka, M. M. (2009). Expanding circles within the outer circle: The rural Kisii in Kenya. World Englishes, 28(3), 352-364.

Abstract:This paper evaluates a range of factors that have contributed to the limited spread of English to rural Kisii, Kenya, making the presence of English in this non-urban context fall closer to an ENglish as a Foreign Language (EFL) or Expanding Circle continuum than to be expected English as a Second Language (ESL) context. Kenya is an Outer Circle country, which means that it is an ESL context where English is not only available in the school, but it is also available and used widely outside the classroom. As in most ESL/Outer Circle countries, English is the official language in Kenya and, consequently, it may be logical to assume that this language is easily available to all Kenyan users. The findings of this discussion show that due to historical, educational, political and economic factors, the spread of English into rural Kisii, Kenya is limited and clearly English is a foreign language in this rural context, despite Kenya being in the Outer circle. A discussion of the functional allocations of English in rural Kishii is included to illustrate the limited roles English plays to emphasize the fact that rural Kishii shares more characteristics with the EFL/Expanding Circle contexts than with the EFL/Expanding Circle contexts than with the ESL/Outer Cicle contexts.

Beyond complicating the three concentric circles model, this study also illustrates the inadequacy of relying on national borders in our analysis in a global world. I enjoyed reading this article very much and I thought the author's call for being more careful about our generalizations was a legitimate one. I suspect in publications urban populations and their contact with English are overrepresented. I understand the temptation to focus on numbers available. Since metropolitan areas are by definition more crowded, when we look at numbers only we tend to assume that the numbers are equally distributed. I think there is nothing wrong with using the statistics available but I just want to point out that this approach runs the risk of overlooking some interesting cases such as the one of Kishii. Anyway, this article was a good read for sure.

The next article is
Kamwangamalu, N. M. (2007). One language, multilayered identities: English in a society in transition, South Africa, World Englishes, 26(3), 263-275.

Abstract: Studies of language and identity have traditionally focused on how individuals or groups use language to negotiate, construct, manage, or project ther social identities. What seems to have attracted very little attention, though, is how, in a given society, a language is assigned not one but multiple identities at various times in its social history. In this paper, I examine the latetr issue, with a focus on English in a society in transition, South Africa. In particular, I argue that besides its identity as a global language and as we-code and they-code in the sense of Gumpertz (1982), in South Africa English carries other identities: it is an ideological we-code, a pragmatic we-code and a naturalized we-code. I describe these multiple identities of the language along with their social history in South Africa, and consider their consequences for the indigenous African languages.

The argument here is that English is a they-code for the members of the black community who do not have access to it, a pragmatic we-code for those who do have access to it, and a naturalized we-code particularly for the black elite families that are currently undergoing language shift from African languages to English. (p. 264)
I was amazed by how English moved from being the language of the colonizers, to the language of resistance and eventually became a natural language. I really enjoyed reading on Africa. I wish I knew more about the history of this continent. So much beauty, resource, wealth, poverty, resistance, diversity, suffering, and blood crammed into this continent...

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