Recently, the Rhetoric Department of Ohio University propagated the concept of ‘World Englishes’ instead of the ‘Standard English’, in one of its MOOCs on Coursera. It suggests that English is different at different parts of the world. Thus, English in India is different from English in China or Japan or Africa. Though basically it is English, yet each of these languages is unique and different from each other in vocabulary and the accent.
Effect of culture on language
The world Englishes concept is not limited only to English. It is true with all other languages because languages reflect the culture of a particular society living at a particular time. Thus, it is an important part of human culture, which is passed from person to person, generation to generation. Language is not merely a group of sounds. It reflects our traditions and culture. For ex: In Indian culture we have a word – ‘kalash’. For a person outside our culture, kalash is just a vessel of water with a coconut and leaves. But for Indians, it is a symbol of prosperity, fortune and prolificacy, and weddings and festivals are incomplete without a kalash. It is so important that tumbling of kalash is considered to be inauspicious and even a bad omen. This symbolism cannot be transferred through mere translation of words.
Similarly, Indian culture has no equivalent word for ‘Bread’, which the traditionalists translate to ‘Roti’, which is not even close to Bread. Thus language is an identity of a particular society, which bound by a geographical territory. When this territory expands the cultures merge together, which results in a different culture. As the culture changes, the language also changes or gets enriched. This is the reason why a particular language has different flavours depending on its geographical and political territory.
This change is more so with English. It is surprising that a language which doesn’t have its own script has developed so much. Globalization has brought English in contact with different cultures. Instead of being closed and being rigid, English embraces the culture with open hands taking in the words from every culture it comes in contact with. Thus more and more new words are getting added to the English dictionary.
Role of Accent
The other dimension to World Englishes, is Accent. English is spoken in different accents and it is difficult to standardize a particular accent for English. Efforts are continuously made to neutralize the accent in the corporate world. The accent always carries the native flavor. It is because the native language is not learnt but absorbed from the environment during the first two years of life. It will have a strong impact on English which will be learnt as a second or third language.
Imagine reading a novel with different Englishes to suit different characters from different cultural background. How interesting it would be compared to the boring rhetoric of Standard English! It is also a way of respecting individuality and cultures around the world. This uniqueness adds variety and makes English vivid with full of life.
So, dear friends, welcome to the world of Englishes and use namma, guru, karma, mantra, in you new English avatar without being penitent.