English in China: The Impact of the Global Language on China's Language Situation
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The language situation of today's world is drastically different from that which existed in the past. English has become the global language -it is used more and is more widespread than any other language has ever been. At the same time we are faced with large-scale language endangerment which could result in the extinction of half or more of the world's languages. While not the only reason for language endangerment, the status of English as the global language has important consequences for all other languages and therefore deserves to be studied carefully. However, exactly what English means for other languages and cultures is far from simple and there is no general agreement on this issue. English has been seen as a destructive language, a pluralistic language and as an irrelevant language. This thesis explores the issue of global English as it applies to China. English language learning and teaching has been, and by all indications will continue to be, an important part of China's reform and modernisation. China is also an ethnically and linguistically diverse country with 55 minority nationalities and over 80 languages. What does the spread of English mean for China's language situation? Drawing on data gained through fieldwork and published sources, I argue that English in China is multifaceted, that is it has destructive, pluralistic and irrelevant elements. English is now used more and has higher status in China than at any time in the past and this has raised some concerns. However, English is not displacing Chinese language or culture. English is actually taking on Chinese features in both form and function. The Chinese language, far from being threatened, is currently expanding both in China and the world at large. Much effort has gone into promoting putonghua and there is great interest in learning Chinese in many parts of the world. China's minority languages, like those elsewhere, are under varying degrees of threat. However, English is not the main reason for this situation. At the present time at least it has relatively little presence in minority areas. Despite the fact that it is not destroying China's languages and cultures, English remains a significant issue for China and must be dealt with thoughtfully and carefully, especially among the minority nationalities. I argue that it is possible for China to acquire English without losing its linguistic diversity. Whether this can be achieved is a question of the resources and political will required to do so rather than any inherent difficulty with speaking two or more languages. To this end, the Context Approach is put forward as a possible way to improve English language teaching and learning among the minorities. In light of the results of this study, I suggest new directions for research, both on language issues in China and in general. I also argue for a new approach to our study of English as a global language and language endangerment. We need to appreciate the complexities of English on a local level as well as a global level and focus our attention more on how English can be taught to speakers of endangered languages in such a way that does not lead to language loss.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of International Business and Asian Studies
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