IAWE 2017 Plenary 1: S.S. Mufwene “World Englishes and the Contact History of English”

Please note: This post is a live blog and as such is only lightly edited. Please pardon any errors.

How many ways are there to say IAWE?

Speaking against exceptionalism in World Englishes.

11:15 Prof. Mifwene identifies “exceptionalism” in WE as being internally driven through the language that dominates the discourse, e.g., “true Englishes” vs. their “illegitimate relatives”.  Part of his argument against exceptionalism is that There’s nothing exceptional about any one variety of English because of the ability of language to change to meet the needs of the users in context dependent ways.

11:17 We must be aware of the race-bias inherent in language variation studies that have been reified in our jargon. The language of the Caucasian is just English, but the language of the foreigner, the person of color, is cast as a creole or as deficient.  Mufwene points out how it’s the unmarked form that takes on the sense of prestige of privileged.

There is an interesting phenomenon in the history of English where the people give their name to the land that was not theirs. Then the language took on that name as well.

11:21 However, it’s important to point out that it was just a victory of the Angles over that saxons that gives us English. English is born out of a process of contact between different linguistic communities and their gradual movement towards a common tongue to facilitate communication and interaction.

See, there’s nothing exceptional to English that pre-ordained it to become the language. It’s origins are contact-based. That is, is through land-hopping and contact, trade and conquest, love and hate that the English language slowly emerged. So, it is only natural that English, like any good “parasite” continues to grow and evolve as it comes into contact with new contexts. These newly emergent Englishes are not deficient. They are not less than. They’re just new.

You will find a lot of offensive material on the early emergence of creoles. It was all the African’s fault.

11:30 This is one of the dangers of the exceptionalist view of language and of English’s place in the world. This deficit view of other varieties of English has led to stratification in how we study and analyze language, language change, and language contact. Because of this, an equitable approach to the topic is needed. This is what WE brings to the table. An understanding that we live in a pluricentric world, and that all Englishes carry with the. Their own legitimacy in different contexts and should have recognition in others.

Linguistics has to emancipate itself from the prison on racism. There is something inherently racist in how we choose which versions to mark, and which to leave unmarked, and in how we carry out this marking.

11:36 Amen.

It’s the children that are driving the selection of linguistic features moving towards a perceived standard.

It’s important to keep in mind the true history of English and it’s racialized past if we are going to use World Englishes are a rallying theory for embracing equity, inclusion, and diversity.

11:45  I couldn’t agree with this more. I hadn’t considered it with the depth that Prof. Mufwene has, but he raised a very valid point. We must acknowledge and be aware of English’s racial past and how that past has been used to advocate for discriminate against speakers of other varieties of English before we can effectively advocate for all English users no matter which variety they speak.

A good opening to IAWE 2017! Lots of food for thought.

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