Globalization and worldliness


The emergence of English as a global language, then, needs to be understood in relation to this colonial history. There are several further implications of this understanding of English in relation to globalization. I have been trying to stake out a view of globalization and English that takes us beyond the dated and static theories of linguistic imperialism and world englishes. Understanding Englishes in the context of globalization suggests that various linguistic uses that used to be more localized are now occurring on a global scale; these global language uses are not determined by economic relations alone, but rather are part of complex networks of communication and cultural flows. In order to grasp such language use, we need to understand that we are dealing here with radically new conditions and theories. Such use of Other Englishes need to be understood both in terms of their historical continuity and in terms of historical disjuncture; they also need to be understood critically in terms of new forms of power, control and destruction, as well as new forms of resistance, change and appropriation.

The predominant paradigms through which we have come to look at English in the world have remained states-centric conceptualizations of English as a multinational language. Both the world Englishes framework, with its focus on emergent national standards, with speakers of English defined by national identity, and the imperialism and language rights frameworks with English imperialism defined according to the Americanization/ Englishization/ homogenization of the world (with language rights as a language-defined rearguard action) work with definitions of nations, languages, communities and constituences that fail to question the colonial origins of the terms with which they operate and lack a means to engage with current global relations.

Sonntag insightfully points out that the rights-based approach to support for linguistic diversity and opposition to the English-Only movement “has not fundamentally altered the American projection of its vision of global English…because a rights-based approach to promoting linguistic diversity reinforces the dominant liberal democratic project rather than dismantling it” (p.25). This is a crucial point because it points to a particular problem with the arguments against linguistic imperialism and for language rights: They are conducted in exactly the same frameworks as the politics they wish to oppose, or as Rajagopalan (1999) suggests, “the very charges being pressed against the hegemony of the English language and its putative imperialist pretensions themselves bear the imprint of a way of thinking about language moulded in an intellectual climate of excessive nationalist fervour and organized marauding of the wealth of alien nations―an intellectual climate where identities were invariably thought of in all-or-nothing terms" (p. 201) As Sonntag argues, “the willingness to use the language of human rights on the global level to frame local linguistic demands vis-à-vis global English may merely be affirming the global vision projected by American liberal democracy" (p.25).

And yet, we also need to understand that that the new conditions of globalization require and produce new strategies of resistance. Resistance and change is possible but it will not be achieved through nostalgic longing for old identities. As Mignolo suggests, there is another side to these global designs: there is always opposition, resistance and appropriation. Drawing on the distinction used by the Brazilian sociologist and cultural critic, Renato Ortiz, and the Martinican philosopher and writer Edouard Glissant, between globalizaçaõ / globalization and mundializaçaõ/ mondialization, Mignolo suggests that the first may be used to refer to these global designs, while the second term, which I am here translating as worldliness[1], may be seen in terms of “local histories in which global histories are enacted or where they have to be adapted, adopted, transformed, and rearticulated" (Mignolo, p.278). This, then, is the site of resistance, change, adaptation and reformulation. It is akin to what Canagarajah (1999a) in his discussion of resistance to the global spread of English describes as a ‘resistance perspective’, highlighting the ways in which postcolonial subjects “may find ways to negotiate, alter and oppose political structures, and reconstruct their languages, cultures and identities to their advantage. The intention is not to reject English, but to reconstitute it in more inclusive, ethical, and democratic terms" (p.2). From this point of view, then, there is always a response to the designs of empire, processes of resistance, rearticulation, reconstitution.

Shifting how we think about English (or language more generally) opens up several new perspectives: As Williams (1992) and Cameron (1995, 1997) have observed, sociolinguistics has operated all too often with fixed and static categories of class, gender and identity membership as if these were transparent givens onto which language can be mapped. Cameron argues that a more critical account suggests that “language is one of the things that constitutes my identity as a particular kind of subject" (1995, p.16). Instead of focusing on a ‘linguistics of community,’ (which is often based on a circularity of argument that suggests that a speaker of x community speaks language y because they belong to x, and the fact that they speak y proves they are a member of x), new work is starting to focus on a ‘linguistics of contact’ (cf Pratt 1987), “looking instead at the intricate ways in which people use language to index social group affiliations in situations where the acceptability and legitimacy of their doing so is open to question, incontrovertibly guaranteed neither by ties of inheritance, ingroup socialisation, nor by any other language ideology” (Rampton 1999, p 422). As Hill suggests, the “kaleidoscopic, ludic, open flavor” of language use in domains of popular culture profoundly challenges the methods of mainstream sociolinguistics “by transgressing fundamental ideas of ‘speakerhood’” (1999, pp 550-1).

These more recent approaches to language, identity and speakerhood open up for further question the very notion of whether languages exist in any useful sense of the word, and what indeed we are engaged in when we use language (Pennycook, 2004; Reagan, 2004). As Hill goes on to suggest, we need to get beyond the localized concept of ‘speech community’ or ‘field site,’ located as they are in modernist concepts of identity and location, and instead “attack the problem of the precise situatedness of such phenomena in the flow of meaning with macro-analytic theoretical tools" (1999, p.543).

To Appadurai’s (1996) picture of ‘global cultural flows’ - ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, financescapes and ideoscapes - it may be worth adding linguascapes, in order to capture the relationship between the ways in which some languages are no longer tied to locality or community, but rather operate globally in conjunction with these other scapes. As Kandiah (1998, p 100) argues, most approaches to the new Englishes miss the crucial point that these Englishes “fundamentally involve a radical act of semiotic reconstruction and reconstitution which of itself confers native userhood on the subjects involved in the act. ” The crucial point here, then, is that it is not so much whether or not one is born in a particular type of community but rather what one does with the language. At the point of semiotic reconstruction, English users become native speakers of a new semiotic construction of language that cannot be predefined as a first, second or foreign language.

While the boundaries of sociolinguistic thought have thus been usefully traversed in some domains - questioning ways in which language, culture, nation and identity have been mapped onto each other - most work in the area of world Englishes has failed to develop any complex understanding of current global conditions, continuing to operate with states-centric models of language analysis while excluding divergent Other Englishes. All too often we see the ‘multicultural character of English’ reduced to monolithic national cultures as represented through the ‘high culture’ activities of English language writers. World Englishes is in some ways akin to what Hutnyk (2000) calls the “liberal exoticist enthusiasm” (p 12) for hybridity in World Music, the “global sampling” (22) of WOMAD festivals. My point here, of course, is not to discount postcolonial writing in English and the questions it raises for the ownership of English, but to seek a more complex, contemporary understanding of cultural production in relationship to English, nations, culture, representation and the world. As Scott (1999, p 215) argues, the “real question before us is whether or not we take the vernacular voices of the popular and their modes of self-fashioning seriously, and if we do, how we think through their implications."

If we take a domain such as hip-hop (see Pennycook 2003), we can start to see both different ways of using and mixing languages, and different circuits of influence. Hawaiian hip-hoppers Sudden Rush, for example, who “have borrowed hip hop as a counter-hegemonic transcript that challenges tourism and Western imperialism" (Akindes, 2001, p95), have been influenced not only by US rap but also by other Pacific Islander and Aotearoa-New Zealand hip-hop that constitutes a “Pacific Island hip-hop diaspora” and a “pan-Pacific hip-hop network that has bypassed the borders and restrictions of the popular music distribution industry” (Mitchell 2001, p 31). Thus, not only is there “now scarcely a country in the world that does not feature some form or mutation of rap music, from the venerable and sophisticated hip-hop and rap scenes of France, to the ‘swa-rap’ of Tanzania and Surinamese rap of Holland" (Krims, 2000, p.5), but many of these local scenes participate in complex orbits of inluence.

Alongisde English, one of the most influential is French, producing an intricate flow of influences between the vibrant music scenes in Paris and Marseille in France; Dakar, Abidjan, and Libreville in West Africa, and Montreal in Quebec. And like many urban popular cultures, French language rap is also mixed with many other languages and influences; thus the urban French rap scene is infused with Caribbean and North African languages and cultures; in Quebec, as Sarkar, Winer and Sarkar (2003) show, rappers draw on standard and non-standard English and French, Haitian Creole, Spanish, and Arabic to make statements about ethnic, racial and linguistic identity, using multilingual code-switching to produce new, hybrid identities: “Tout moune qui talk trash kiss mon black ass du nord." And in Libreville, Gabon, rappers use “relexified French” including “borrowings from Gabonese languages, languages of migration, and English (standard and non-standard, but especially slang) ” as well as verlan[2] and “Libreville popular speech and neologisms” (p.116),so that they are “inserted into large networks of communication that confer on them a plurality of identities” using a wide “diversity of languages with their variants, along with their functioning as markers of identity (of being Gabonese, African, or an urbanite) ” (Auzanneau, 2002, p.120):

And across East/Southeast Asia, numerous cross-influences and collaborations are also emerging, mixing English and local languages. Thus Hong Kong DJ Tommy’s compilation, ‘Respect for Da Chopstick Hip Hop’ - the title itself, of course, a play on global (Respect/ Da) and local (Chopstick Hip Hop) elements - features MC Yan from Hong Kong, K-One, MC Ill and Jaguar from Japan, and Meta and Joosuc from Korea, with tracks sung in English, Cantonese, Japanese and Korean. Too Phat’s collaborative track, 6 Mcs, on their CD 360°, includes tracks from Joe Flizzow and Malique from Malaysia, Weapon X from Australia, Freestyle (US), Vandal (Canada) and Promoe (Sweden). These are some of the circuits of language use, play and invention that are the new language communities, subcultural empires that identify across national and linguistic boundaries, that borrow, shift, mix and remake language in a new state of flow and flux.



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[1] Mignolo uses the French, Spanish and Portuguese terms. I have chosen to use the term worldliness, which I used in earlier attempts (e.g. 1994) to deal with these issues, though I then used it to cover both globalization and worldliness. It may be a more effective term in the more limited sense I am trying to give it here.

[2] Verlan, as Doran (2004) explains, “is a kind of linguistic bricolage marked by the multilingualism and multiculturalism present in the communities where it is spoken, which include immigrants from North Africa, West Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. Given the marginal status of these communities vis-à-vis elite Parisian culture, Verlan can ve viewed as an alternative code which stands both literally and figuratively outside the hegemonic norms of Parisian culture and language” (p.94).


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