Cecil L. Nelson in his article “My Language, Your Culture: Whose Communicative Competence?” states that the TESL community and some native speakers of English hold non-native varieties of English (NNVs) to be deviant. However, according to the studies of scholars such as Kachru, Kandiah, Prakrama, etc. it is not only the attitude of the TESL gurus and the native speakers that hinders the acceptance of the NNVs as legitimate Englishes for a significant portion of the non-native speakers, too, seem to hold NNVs in low esteem. Hence, the likelihood of legitimizing NNVs depends on two factors:
a. The willingness of the donors to relinquish their sense of ownership of the transplanted varieties of English (TVE) allowing them the essential freedom to adapt and evolve
b. The ability of the adopters to accept the ‘cuckoos’ thrust on their midst that have proved all too willing to adapt and serve the purpose of the cultures that have adopted them.
The issue of TVE is linked with the emergence of English as the if not one of the world languages. In order to do so English needs to transplant itself in areas in which it has not been a major player and work its way up to a key position. Kachru’s concentric circle model specify two waves of transplantation of the English language: The outer circle “involving the earlier phases of the spread of English in non-native settings” and “the expanding circle involv[ing] those nations which recognize the importance of English as an international language” (Crystal 53-54).Yet, in both outer as well as expanding circle countries the transplanted varieties of the English language maintain a prickly relationship with the adoptive cultures.
TVE undergo the usual diachronic changes that a language undergoes once it is separated from its ‘parent’ community to accommodate the new fauna, flora, etc. and the new cultural and linguistic settings. This way, TVE acquire features that mark them as specific types - NNVs. However, the very same adaptations are quoted as reasons for branding NNVs as illegitimate by some native speakers and some members of the TESL community who wish to maintain linguistic domination over the ‘others’. Nelson points out that the native speakers commit the same common mistakes/errors made by speakers of NNVs. Yet, despite their propensity to make similar blunders, native speakers have “long been on the inside looking out, and wary of admitting outsiders to the ‘fellowship’ of legitimate users of the language” (Nelson 329). According to Nelson maintaining hegemony over English is a gainful enterprise and “certain segments have vested interests in keeping English as ‘ours,’ and giving (or selling) it to ‘them’” (Nelson 328). This situation places the native speakers in an irresolvable linguistic conundrum: on the one hand, if English is truly to be a world language, it is essential to try to reach out to the non-standard varieties; on the other hand, they want to retain control over the English language. At the same time the question arises whether adopters themselves would be willing to accept their NNVs as legitimate varieties. Non-native contexts such as Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, etc. have mixed reactions to NNVs. Some consider them to be rebellious reactions to the prescribed standard while others regard NNVs as ruses used by those in the centre to maintain monopoly over the limited resources.
The ambiguous reaction towards NNVs can clearly be understood through a detailed analysis of Sri Lankan English (SLE). The establishment of English as a language and the language of power began in 1796 with the capture of the maritime areas of the island by the English. Barton M. Saunders in his web article states that the Colebrook-Cameron Commission of 1831 set up by the English had specified that “English ought to be used as its official working language [and] that English [should] be the primary medium of education [and in addition] government positions be open to indigenous people who had received such education and could demonstrate proficiency in English.” Hence, as Souza states, “The English medium education was a hard-headed investment sponsored by the government for economic, political and other good reasons”; thus, the masses were given only a cut-price vernacular primary education as a conciliatory gesture (30). The Crew-McCollum Reforms of 1918 granted the English educated native elites that made only 4% of the population the Limited Franchise which allowed them a toe-hold in the pyramid of power. Ironically, these elites later used their power to deny the masses the access to the privileges they enjoyed. The extent of the divide caused by English as the watchword for social mobility is illustrated by the fact that the contentious 1956 Vernacular Act that made Sinhala the official language had done little to reverse the majority’s attitude towards English as the language of power. In fact, Kaduwa, a phrase that has come into use after 1956, quite succinctly captures the essence of the attitude of many Sri Lankans towards English.
The strenuous efforts made by the recent governments to democratize English have resulted in those who are aware of the dynamics of the situation asking why English is in Sri Lanka, why they need to learn English, what English will do to their identity as Sri Lankans, and which variety they should subscribe to: Sri Lankan English (SLE) or Standard British English. These questions surely do not have clear-cut answers. Academics such as Parakrama, Gunasekera, and Kandiah have been promoting SLE and sporadic efforts have been made to legitimize it in the way of dictionaries and phonological, lexical, and syntax level analysis. However, on the whole, SLE evokes a mixed reaction even among the few Sri Lankans who are aware of its existence; some consider it to be a positive response to the constraints of SBE while others consider it as a ploy used by the elite to continue their domination by hoodwinking the masses with an inferior variety of the panacea. E. A.G. Fonseka, objecting actively to the drive to promote SLE, draws attention to the fact that “English … has some internationally recognized rules emphasizing appropriateness and the violation of them may restrict one’s access to international academia as well as job market” (4). Hence, as Saunders states, “the socio-political and economic opportunities that Standard English provides are not lost to the Sinhalese or Tamils. In fact, the target English appears to remain its standard form for a majority of the country’s residents”.
Sri Lankan writers seem to be profitably exploring and exploiting the unique features of SLE; yet, it is often noted that these writers are regularly branded as Commonwealth, South Asian, etc.
With the changes in the socio-political atmosphere around the world, SBE has lost much of its former clout and American English has come a long way in becoming a mover and a shaker of the world of languages. Thus, how advisable it is to cling to a purist attitude towards English is problematic. It must be noted that the monopoly over English has been cited as a central cause in the reports on the many bloody conflicts that have plagued the post independence Sri Lanka.
At present, those who use English in Sri Lanka adopt two methods in dealing with their problematic position: by adopting what they assume to be SBE through elocution classes or by adapting SBE as in the Speak English Our Way Drive, etc. Obviously, some aspects of SLE are alien to the native speaker’s frame of social and linguistic references; thus native speakers would have to extend their awareness of the nuances of SLE to meet the users halfway. However, being a very small player in the world of Englishes, SLE has an uphill battle in staking its claim.
According to Joshua Fishman and Heinz Kloss’ analyses of diglossia, it is inevitable that SBE as the superposed variety should develop an acceptable mesolect - SLE - by borrowing features from Sinhala and Tamil. Both Nelson and Passé suggest that these acquired features should not be cast aside as translation errors and incorrect usage without giving them due consideration. H. A Passé in “Ceylon English” suggests that some of the words are “acceptable as examples of local usage which does not offend unduly against English linguistic habits” (14).
Nelson proposes that the dividing factors that determine the inner circle from the outer and the expanding circles, and in turn the standard from the non-standard forms of English, are confidence and consistency. In this respect, SLE users need to develop confidence and accept that they are users of SLE and that SLE is able to fulfil their language needs. But at the same time, they need to let go of the anything-goes mentality which stems form either overconfidence or a sense of inadequacy that is detrimental to the future of SLE and be consistent - “internally coherent” and “intra-varietally communicative” - as any other “native variety” (Nelson 336). The idea, then, must be to keep within a broad framework while adapting English to suit Sri Lankan socio-cultural realities – a symbiotic relationship in which English becomes the medium that facilitates the efforts of the Sri Lankans to communicate with the rest of the world.
In conclusion, Cecil Nelson in his article elucidates the need for the native speakers and testers to acknowledge that ‘their’ language has flown the nest. With the passage of time transplanted varieties of English have evolved into NNVs in their new contexts and become integral parts of the adoptive cultures. Hence, it is essential to acknowledge that for better or for worse NNVs are here, and that they are here to stay. Only the acceptance of this reality would break the mental bondage that the ‘guardians’ of the ‘Standard English’ have over the non-native speakers and mark the coming of age of NNVs as legitimate verities of English
Crystal, David. English as a Global Language. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003.
De Souza, Doric. “Targets and Standards.” English in Sri Lanka. Eds. Siromi Fernando, Manique Gunasekera, and Arjuna Parakrama. Colombo: SLELTA, 2010.
Fonseka, E. A. Gamini. “Sri Lankan English: Exploding the Fallacy.” 30 Oct. 2006.<http://www.freewebs.com/slageconr/9thicslsflpprs/fullp126.pdf>
Nelson, Cecil L. “My Language, Your Culture: Whose Communicative Competence?” The Other Tongue: English Across Culture. 2nd ed., Ed. B Kachru. Delhi: Oxford UP, 1996.
Passé, H. A. The Use and Abuse of English. Madras: Oxford UP, 1955.
Saunders, Barton M. “(Post)Colonial Language: English, Sinhala, and Tamil in Sri Lanka” <http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:4qmIEuIw6LgJ:homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~cpercy/courses/eng6365saunders.htm+Doric+de+Souza+Target+and+Standard&cd=4&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=lk&source=www.google.lk>