‘World Englishes or English as a Lingua Franca: Where does English in China stand?

Blog post based on an article in English Today 

The spread and development of the English language has triggered debates about issues related to language ideology, identity, and ELT. China is an important context where the popularity of English use and English learning has generated various debates. In this paper, I discuss the use of the English language in China from the perspective of Global Englishes (GE) and I explore the debate about whether it should be positioned from the paradigm of World Englishes (WE) or English as a lingua franca (ELF).

Essentially, the WE paradigm investigates different varieties of English in order to understand the various features of the language (including phonology, morphology, and syntax) as it is used in many post-colonial settings. The ELF paradigm focuses more on the use of English in a broader setting that, from a multilingual perspective, transcends boundaries. With regard to some shared features of the language as it is used by Chinese speakers of English, some previous studies have argued that the English used in China should be positioned from a WE perspective, and that China English (CE) should be regarded as a distinct variety of the English language. However, because of the lack of English use in non-educational settings there, and China’s geographical and dialectical diversity, it is difficult to portray specific common features of the English used by such a large variety of Chinese people. Thus, other scholars believe that the use of English in China should be positioned from the ELF perspective, with its fluid and dynamic features aiming for mutual intelligibility in terms of communication.

In my article, I first briefly review the development and status of English in China. I then move on to the ideological negotiation and attitudinal debate about the use and function of English there. From the WE perspective, I discuss the history of CE and the complexity of distinguishing CE and ‘Chinglish’ in some situations (for example, the differences between how the following phrases are expressed: ‘to accelerate the pace of economic reform’, and ‘imports of foreign automobiles have declined sharply this year’). I also summarise several previous studies that have favoured positioning CE as a variety of English from the WE paradigm. I then move on to discuss the opposing view that CE is not a variety of English. I present two key arguments for this position: first, very few teaching materials today have introduced the concept of the Chinese variety of English; second, not many Chinese people use English spontaneously for intra-ethnic communication.

We need to recognise that the use of English in the Chinese context is rather complicated. I prefer not to draw a particular conclusion about whether the use of English should be positioned from the WE or ELF paradigm. I believe that further research is needed to determine whether or not CE is a variety of English (although this will be a lengthy and complicated process), and that the debates about ideology and identity will persist. I think it is important to research people’s attitudes towards the use of English in China. As I present in this paper that the English language that Chinese people use is still rather fluid and dynamic, local features of the English used in China should be recognised and included in language classrooms. Both WE and ELF paradigms break the strict adherence to Standard English from native-speaker norms and challenge the ownership of English. I conclude my paper with, ‘we should realise that language is not a static entity in a vacuum, but rather develops and evolves through language contact.’

Read the full article here without charge until the end of April 2018

 

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