No English Here

As far away as Africa and Europe, and as close to home as Native
American reservations in the United States, native tongues are
lashing out against the English language’s global domination of
education and culture.

In Germany, the clamor is coming from the Ivory Towers. German
researchers often choose to publish or present their work in
English because of its broader influence and perceived seriousness,
argues biophysicist Stefan Klein in an essay for the German daily
newspaper
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (available
in translation from SignandSight.com). Yet the dominance of English
in the sciences and education has not led to better or more
informed work by non-native speakers. Klein points to findings in
Sweden and Holland, where students are introduced to English when
they first enter school. Despite the students’ long-term exposure
to the language, studies show that they score roughly 10 percent
worse on exams when the classes are given in English than on exams
in classes in their native languages.

The pervasiveness of English, however, may be most damaging to
the cultural and linguistic systems of the margins. For Native
Americans like the Sauk in Oklahoma, a century or more of
compulsory English education has left their language on the verge
of extinction. And, according to the Indigenous Language Institute,
89 percent of North American languages face a similarly grim fate.
In the Summer issue of
Cultural Survival Quarterly, which
focuses on dying native languages, Jacob Manatowa-Bailey, the
director of the Sauk Language Department for the Sac and Fox
Nation of Oklahoma, warns that if native languages don’t make a
resurgence, then ‘entire systems of thought, belief, and
practice become permanently removed from the storehouse of human
knowledge.’

In Africa, Cameroonian scholar Prince Kum’a Ndumbe III paints a
more disturbing picture of language colonization. In a manifesto
for the pan-African online weekly
Pambazuka News, Ndumbe likens the foreign
education systems implanted across the continent to organs of
‘intellectual genocide.’ Echoing Manatowa-Bailey, Ndumbe argues
that for any change to take place, ‘Africans must re-appropriate
their own languages and use them as basic vehicles for their
thinking, production, education, dreams and outlook on the
world.’

English is often touted as a means of uniting people across
cultures and allowing them to effectively communicate. But, like
other lingua francas before it, English has become a pariah,
instead of a savior, for the way its use in education excludes and
homogenizes. English-based education, Klein writes, is doing more
than threatening language diversity, it’s pushing the world toward
a global divide. ‘On one side will be those who employ an elite
language,’ he predicts, ‘and on the other, all those who miss out
on the latest developments.’

Go There >>
Dumber in English

Go there, too >>
On the Brink

And there >>
Stopping Intellectual Genocide in African
Universities

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