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10.a Crystal Eng as a global lang

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the pro-official position feel that
the pendulum has swung too far in the wrong direction. From
a position where transitional programmes were being devised to
get children into the English-speaking mainstream as quickly as
possible, they now see a position where these programmes are
being used to preserve cultural identity and to reduce integra-
tion. From a position where immigrants were expected to learn
English, they note cases of non-immigrants in schools now having
to learn the immigrant language. From a position where English
was the language an immigrant needed for a job, they now note
cases where a monolingual English person would have to learn an
immigrant language in order to be eligible for a job. They fear a
society in which people will be appointed first for linguistic rea-
sons, and only secondly for their other abilities and experience.
These fears are by no means unique to the USA, of course. They
surface wherever a bilingual policy is in operation. But they are
expressed with special strength in the USA, partly because of the
large numbers involved, and partly because the democratic tradi-
tion is so strongly supportive of the rights of the individual.
Many anti-official supporters, unconvinced by the pro-official
arguments, find that there is no alternative but to conclude that
the ‘official English’ position is one of (consciously or uncon-
sciously held) elitism or discrimination. Minority languages are
not being protected, in their view, but restricted. An ‘official
English’ law, according to an alternative proposal which was for-
mulated (the ‘English Plus Resolution’, introduced in the House
in July 1995 byRepresentative Jose Serrano), would be ‘an unwar-
ranted Federal regulation of self-expression’ and would ‘abrogate
constitutional rights to freedom of expression and equal protec-
tion of the laws’. It would also ‘contradict the spirit of the 1923
Supreme Court case Meyer v. Nebraska, wherein the Court de-
clared that “The protection of the Constitution extends to all; to
those who speak other languages as well as to those born with
English on the tongue”.’ To disregard this tradition of thinking,
it was argued, could make a difficult social situation still more
difficult. The Serrano bill claimed that official English legislation
138
The future of global English
would ‘violate traditions of cultural pluralism’ and ‘divide com-
munities along ethnic lines’. By contrast, multilingualism could
bring benefits to a community, helping to promote empathy be-
tween different ethnic groups. The leading linguistics organiza-
tion of the USA, the Linguistic Society of America, in 1995 issued
a statement on language rights whose final paragraph summarized
the tenor of this approach:7
Notwithstanding the multilingual history of the United States, the role
of English as our common language has never seriously been ques-
tioned. Research has shown that newcomers to America continue to learn
English at rates comparable to previous generations of immigrants. All
levels of government should adequately fund programs to teach English
to any resident who desires to learn it. Nonetheless, promoting our com-
mon language need not, and should not, come at the cost of violating
the rights of linguistic minorities.
The ‘English Plus Resolution’ began by recognizing English
as ‘the primary language of the United States’ alongside the im-
portance of other languages spoken by US residents, and asserted
that ‘these linguistic resources should be conserved and devel-
oped’. It repeatedly stressed the value of multilingualism to the
US community: this would ‘enhance American competitiveness in
global markets’, ‘improve United States diplomatic efforts by fos-
tering enhanced communication and greater understanding be-
tween nations’, and ‘promote greater cross-cultural understand-
ing between different racial and ethnic groups’. It recommended
that the US government should pursue policies that:
(1) encourage all residents of this country to become fully proficient in
English by expanding educational opportunities;
(2) conserve and develop the Nation’s linguistic resources by encour-
aging all residents of this country to learn or maintain skills in a
language other than English;
(3) assist native Americans, Native Alaskans, Native Hawaiians, and
other peoples indigenous to the United States, in their efforts to
prevent the extinction of their languages and cultures;
7 Linguistic Society of America (1996).
139
ENGLISH AS A GLOBAL LANGUAGE
(4) continue to provide services in languages other than English as
needed to facilitate access to essential functions of government, pro-
mote public health and safety, ensure due process, promote equal
educational opportunity, and protect fundamental rights, and
(5) recognize the importance of multilingualism to vital American inter-
ests and individual rights, and oppose ‘English-only’ measures and
similar language restrictionist measures.
However, the Serrano bill made no further progress in 1996, with
political attention eventually focusing exclusively on the Emerson
proposal (p. 130).
By the end of 1996, the future direction of the ‘official English’
debate was still unsettled. The language arguments had become
increasingly polarized, and forced into line with the party pol-
itics of an election year; and the emotional level of the debate
had escalated. There seems to be something about the intimate
relationship between language, thought, individuality, and social
identity which generates strong emotions. And in a climate where
supporters of official English (no matter how moderate) came
to be routinely labelled ‘racist’, and immigrants wishing to use
their own language (no matter how cultured) were castigated by
such names as ‘welfare hogs’, it was difficult to see the grounds
for compromise. The argument has continued unabated into the
new millennium. The number of states enacting official English
legislation increased from twenty-two in 1995 to twenty-seven
in 2002, and a further round of legislation began in May 2001,
when an English Language Unity Act was introduced in the
House of Representatives (HR 1984). Opposition from the
academic linguistic community continues to be intense.
New Englishes
Salman Rushdie comments, in an essay called ‘Commonwealth
literature does not exist’,8 that ‘the English language ceased to be
the sole possession of the English some time ago’. Indeed, when
even the largest English-speaking nation, the USA, turns out to
8 Rushdie (1991).
140
The future of global English
have only about 20 per cent of the world’s English speakers (as
we saw in chapter 2), it is plain that no one can now claim sole
ownership. This is probably the best way of defining a genuinely
global language, in fact: that its usage is not restricted by coun-
tries or (as in the case of some artificial languages) by governing
bodies.
The loss of ownership is of course uncomfortable to those,
especially in Britain, who feel that the language is theirs by histor-
ical right; but they have no alternative. There is no way in which
any kind of regional social movement, such as the purist societies
which try to prevent language change or restore a past period
of imagined linguistic excellence, can influence the global out-
come. In the end, it comes down to population growth. In the
list of English-speaking territories shown in chapter 2, the num-
ber of first-language (L1) speakers in the inner-circle countries
is currently about the same as the number of second-language
(L2) English speakers in the outer-circle countries – some 400
million. But as we have seen (p. 69), the countries of the outer
circle have, combined, a much greater growth rate than those
of the inner circle: in 2002, an average of 2.4 per cent com-
pared with 0.88 per cent. So, if current population and learning
trends continue,