"Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit"
~ Jawaharlal Nehru

The Other Tongue: English Across Cultures

~ Ed. Braj B. Kachru
Manuel Fernandes reviews this scholastic volume published by OUP in India.

The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, listing Indian English usage, had elicited much debate in the press. Thus one saw frivolous articles about "Hinglish" jostling with letters from serious readers about how good it was to see Indian English finally honoured or about how the purity of the language is being officially sullied. The book under review is therefore timely for it demonstrates the reality of Indian English, and a host of other Englishes, which all have their place in today's world.

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Although the term "Englishes" appears throughout the book, all the writers acknowledge Braj Kachru for its coinage. In the final chapter by Kachru, he clarifies, "English now has multicultural identities. The word English does not capture this sociolinguistic reality; the term Englishes does." Kachru has done considerable work on the multicultural linguistics of English and almost all the other eighteen contributors to this book have extensively drawn from his writings.

The book itself is very scholastic and each essay has several pages of notes and references. This edition has modified the 1st edition by removing or adding chapters in order to fit it into the last decade of this century and to be prepared for the estimated 2 billion English speaking people by the turn of the century. Of these, as per statistics quoted by Kachru, about 60% would be Non-Native users i.e. those for whom English would be a foreign language (FL) or a second language (SL).

The original edition of 1982 was based on a conference held at the University of Illinois in 1978. While all the contributors are academics in linguistics or the English language, only three of them teach at universities outside the United States of America. It is not surprising therefore that the language of the book is American English (AE) or that the writers come out strongly in favour of this version of English. Kachru mentions " a vigorous and dynamic American English".

Later on when Henry Kahane is talking of the development of AE, he asserts, "Ours is the day of American English." In fact, AE was one of the first of the Englishes developed outside Britain and therefore at that time one of only two Englishes. Shirley Heath, in her essay on AE, has credited Francis Lieber, in the 18th century, with the establishment of AE as an international language and as the SL of many US citizens. Lieber's fame was in the compilation of the Encyclopaedia Americana and it is significant that this German immigrant based this on the German Encyclopaedia.

All the contributors are unanimous in their view that equal importance should be given to the Englishes of Non Native Speakers (NNS) as is given to that of Native Speakers (NS). The latter group belong to the UK, North America, Australia and New Zealand, with S. Africa and the Caribbean coming close to these. NNS belong to the ex British colonies of Africa, South and South East Asia and also other countries like China and Japan.

The book is divided into six sections. The first is the more general one and addresses itself to "the most vital concerns of students, teachers, and researchers interested in English across cultural and language boundaries" (Kachru - Introduction). These general concerns are often brought up in later sections of the book which talk about specifics like the "nativized" Englishes of Africa, China and Japan or the literature of India and the Caribbean.

The particular concern which recurs in the book is that of distinguishing between deviation and mistake. The former would be acceptable, but the latter not. But what is the standard? Asks Kachru and replies himself with a quote from I.C. Ward : "No one can adequately define it, because such a thing does not exist." He goes on to say that "non-native Englishes are linguistic orphans in search of their parents." The writers who touch on this crucial factor of acceptability are generally agreed on the criteria that whatever deviations are made by the non-native speakers should be productive, in the sense that they should enrich the language. The most acceptable way would be in the addition to the lexicon. Many words in the mother tongue of the NNS would not exist for a NS. It would therefore be logical for these words to be used even when writing in English. Thus, Chin-Chuan Cheng, writing on Chinese Varieties of English, cites examples of words from revolutionary China like "Capitalist Roader" and "Running dog" being included in the English lexicon. In reverse, the Japanese have gone to the extent of borrowing words from English and giving them their own flavour. Christmas, for example becomes "Kurisumasu", thus observing their form of no consonant clusters (James Stanlaw).

The big problem for acceptance across cultural frontiers lies in grammar and syntax. Here the criteria, offered by Larry Smith, of Intelligibility, Comprehensibility and Interpretability would be useful, at least if English as just a mode of communication were desired. English is not only used between NNS and NS but between different groups of NNSs themselves and it is important that one group should understand what the other is talking about. However, if English is being used for creative writing then this literature "must appeal to large and potentially lucrative American and British markets; yet each novel must contain exotic elements of character, theme, and setting, as well as language, if it is to succeed financially" (Ann Lowry).

Yet, how does one ensure that, "a language that is not one's own is balanced against a spirit that is one's own"?(Edwin Thumboo). How for example could Mulk Raj Anand make an untouchable speak in a totally alien language? A sampling of some of the tricks used by such writers will be found in Lowry's essay.

In his introduction Kachru talks of the failure of constructed international languages like Esperanto in gaining general acceptance. He makes a strong case for "Englishes" to fill this slot and he does it with conviction because of its wide, though often grudging, usage. The grudgers would oppose English, but still get their children educated through the English medium, for, as he puts it in his last chapter, "English has power, and they want their children to be equipped with this powerful linguistic tool." So, as Joshua Fishman puts it, "Regardless of what may have happened to the British empire, the sun never sets on the English language"

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