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World Englishes, the Media and Popular Culture

Since the arrival of English traders to Southeast Asia (SEA) in the 17th century, the English language has had a profound impact upon the linguistic ecologies and the development of societies throughout the region. Today, each SEA nation has adopted English as either a national language (e.g., Singapore, the Philippines, etc.) or as a foreign language of education (e.g., Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar, etc.). The Handbook of Southeast Asian Englishes is the first volume within Oxford’s world Englishes handbook series to provide a thorough and in-depth description of the historical and cultural contexts of English in the region, in addition to the features, functions and status of the language throughout SEA. Contributions from internationally-recognised scholars of world Englishes and SEA Englishes survey the state of research on a variety of topics and synthesise new approaches to the spread of English in SEA.

The Oxford Handbook of Southeast Asian Englishes is structured in six parts: (i) historical and contemporary English contact in SEA, (ii) detailed structural descriptions of English in SEA nations, (iii) descriptions of English-language literatures in the four SEA nations, (iv) approaches to English in education throughout the region, (v) functional varieties of English that span various nations of the region, and (vi) resources for researching SEA Englishes. The volume’s 43 chapters offer up-to-date research addressing the impact of English as a language of globalisation and multilingual dynamics that emerge in response to the language in a series of common themes throughout the volume:

  • Describes the historical spread of English throughout the region as a language of Southeast Asian Outer and Expanding Circles of English users;
  • Focuses on the impact of English upon complex multilingual ecologies throughout the region and the responses to the spread of English;
  • Examines English as a language of creativity, including literary works as well as creativity in advertising, broadcasting, and popular culture; and
  • Collects the best scholarship on English in the region in a single comprehensive volume.

The Oxford Handbook of Southeast Asian Englishes is an invaluable reference work for students, instructors, and researchers working areas as diverse as contact linguistics, TEFL, world Englishes, and sociolinguistics.

Media, especially those that are free, represent an important site for Englishes to display tension between local and global identities. There is a preference for international media standards, and these are closely associated in name with media (“broadcast standard English,” “BBC English,” etc.). At the same time, media providers attempt to localize English usage for various effects, including identity formation. Media Englishes, therefore, adopt and codify much of the “authority” of standard English and, at the same time, use nonstandard Englishes to construct “authenticity” within media performances. The chapter surveys the large number of media studies conducted from the World Englishes perspectives and identifies common themes running through them – most notably, the expression of popular culture identities in various media Englishes and the use of English as a linguistic resource within other media languages. It considers sociolinguists’ traditional rejection of the media as a motivating factor in language change and considers more recent evidence that the media provide positive norms for the acquisition of English across the Inner, Outer, and Expanding Circles of users.

Popular culture specifically (and media languages more generally) attach different degrees of importance to the authority and authenticity of English in the Inner, Outer and Expanding Circles. Commitment to the authority of media Englishes has been maintained by use of a media standard, but more recent sociolinguistic work examining language as performance has come to highlight the equal importance of authenticity in media Englishes.Whereas the authenticity of English is more important than authority in the Inner Circle, authority remains relatively more important in the Expanding Circle. Media Englishes in the Outer Circle place equal importance on both authority and authenticity.

Authenticity has long been a primary concern of sociolinguistic analyses. The emphasis on authentic Englishes significantly coincides with the development across a number of English-speaking communities of a Standard Language Ideology. As standardized Englishes are usually adopted as media languages – and frequently named after the media that use them, such as BBC English or American Broadcast Standard English – these media languages risk losing features that may signal authentic language or identities. Additionally, the pursuit of authenticity in media Englishes is amplified in the Englishes of pop culture, where authenticity must be manufactured as part of the process of creation. This chapter will explore the historical basis for the processes that manufacture authenticity in English varieties as a normal recurring process of standardization in a pluricentric model of world Englishes and advocate an acts of authenticity approach to understanding language in pop culture that has a bearing on language education.

Linguistic research has dealt with culture as one of its main concerns, but popular culture has not been the main focus. Considering how readily available pop culture is across different speech communities and how routinely it is consumed by so many people on a daily basis, it is crucial for linguists to engage in systematic observation, description and interpretation of everyday cultural and linguistic practices so many participate in. English in Asian Popular Culture discusses this important, yet under-researched, sociolinguistic component of culture by looking at a region, which is still viewed as foreign or exotic ‘other’ in Western academic discourse. The volume features six domains of pop culture: music, TV, film, advertising, magazines, and the Internet, in a variety of speech communities in Asia including China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and the Philippines. While English functions differently from domain to domain and in different cultures, each demonstrates the bilingual creativity and linguistic innovation that has developed from the spread of English into Asia. In all the cases described within this volume, English comes to facilitate the development of a modern identity across a progressive generation of Asians.

Linguistic data from popular culture has typically been overlooked in sociolinguistic literature because the data are neither ‘spontaneous’ nor ‘naturally occurring’, but instead represent a type of edited creative linguistic production. Recent attention toward sociolinguistic performance highlights the importance of linguistic data from popular culture and ways that they illustrate attitudes toward linguistic stereotypes, model iconic language behaviours, and predict linguistic innovation and changing social norms. The chapter outlines a methodological framework (and justification) for treating ‘popular culture’ as multi-modal and multilingual sites for linguistic analysis. The framework will argue in favour of two dimensions of analysis of popular culture: 1) a horizontal analysis that examines influences across different cultures, languages, nations and regions, and 2) a vertical analysis that examines influence across different popular culture genres, including, but not limited to, television/radio, cinema, music, art (e.g. comics), advertising, etc. Finally, the chapter will examine various uses of English within popular cultures of societies that are not monolingual English-speaking societies and make generalizations about the role that English in this context functions.

This chapter examines some of the social and cultural changes that have taken place in the Asian region over the past several decades to develop and sustain popular culture industries. It deals with two more case studies of Asian popular culture within a global diaspora in order to refer to the broader range of contexts in which Asian Englishes are received internationally. The chapter attempts to present a concise but comprehensive survey of the sociolinguistic literature on Asian pop culture Englishes. It opens with the observation that Western images of Asian popular culture are too limited by stereotypes of what genres and products are produced. The chapter aims to survey the large and growing literature that examines the roles of English in Asian popular cultures and draw some generalizations about how English is used in those popular cultures.

Southeast Asian countries are diverse in their histories, ethnic and racial populations, and languages. English in these countries therefore functions within a wide variety of roles and contexts that are not always very similar to one another. One exception to this, however, is the role of English within popular culture. This chapter examines the different ways that English is used across popular culture in Southeast Asia. As the linguistic expressions in popular culture are not “naturally occurring” or spontaneous uses of language, popular culture data have long been overlooked in sociolinguistic descriptions of Englishes. Therefore this chapter also proposes a rationale and methods for the study of pop English in Southeast Asia.

This study of the role of English within Japanese popular culture, and especially within Japanese popular music, suggests that attitudes toward the Japanese language may be changing. Numerous scholars maintain that the Japanese conflation of race with language establishes patterns of racial discrimination in which Japanese prefer not to use the Japanese language for inter-ethnic communication. Likewise, the Japanese language is rarely treated as a language of broader communication (i.e., global communication) by the Japanese. However, the recent development of the ‘‘language entertainment’’ genre of broadcast television actively challenges these stereotypes of Japanese ethnolinguistic identity. Furthermore, language mixing within Japanese popular music, especially mixing that results in ‘‘code ambiguation,’’ attempts to redefine ethnic identity by obscuring what language is used in pop music. These phenomena are interpreted according to possible ongoing changes of Japanese ethnolinguistic identity.

In the first season (2012) of The Voice of China — a televised singing competition presented in a ‘reality TV’ format — 186 songs were performed on the program’s stage to make the show one of the most popular in the history of Chinese television. While roughly one-third of those songs were performed entirely in Chinese, the other two-thirds contained some English elements (including a sizable number performed entirely in English). English lyrics function to achieve three linguistic goals: expressing referential meaning, voicing private feelings and directing routine speech acts. In doing this, however, some English lyrics deliberately blur the boundary between Chinese and English in order to develop an innovative and flexible style of performance.

It is somewhat difficult to have a unified response to the presence of English within Japanese popular culture. English is frequently used decoratively, as it is in J-Pop music, to suggest that songs are more internationalized than the audience they are written for. English loanwords might pepper the speech of comedians and celebrities as a joke about a particular style of cosmopolitan Japanese. But nowhere in Japanese popular culture is English more prevalent than within the television genre of ‘language entertainment’ programmes. Presented to viewers as a type of amusement, these programmes portray several characteristics — competence, yuuki ‘courage’, jigyaku ‘self-effacement’ and genki ‘enthusiasm’ — that together may be taken as the characteristics of an ideal speaker of Japanese English. This examination of Japanese television will illustrate and examine how each of these four characteristics of an ideal speaker are actively modelled within Japanese popular culture. In response to the professional and popular view that Japanese speakers are overly anxious about speaking English, the ‘language entertainment’ genre of Japanese television presents alternative images of Japanese speakers who are both highly trained in their professions and highly proficient speakers of English. At the same time, the genre also models yuuki, jigyaku and genki as personality traits that favour the successful use of English.

A recent example of the importance of lexification by English loanwords and their relationship to the acquisition of more formal varieties of Japanese English is the development of a ‘mock language’ called Lu-go, which was ‘created’ by the comedian Lou Oshiba and best described in his volume Lu-go Dai Henkan (Oshiba 2007a).2 The volume is designed to teach individuals to ‘change’ Japanese into the mock language. The notion that Lu-go requires users to henkan ‘change’ — not honyaku ‘translate’ — also suggests much about the structure of the ‘mock language’. Japanese uses different scripts in mostly complementary ways, so that any word normally written in kanji ‘Chinese characters’ could also be rendered in one of the other two syllabary scripts, hiragana or katakana. The choice of script, however, does not change the morphosyntactic or grammatical structures of a word or sentence. The use of the verb henkan for Lu-go, then, suggests that changing from Japanese to Lu-go is as simple as changing from hiragana to katakana, and that there is no need to learn morphosyntactic or grammatical structures when using Lu-go. Instead, Lu-go takes advantage of the large number of English words that most Japanese speakers know, and it simply substitutes English words as ‘nonce borrowings’ into sentences that are otherwise Japanese.

The relationship between English and Japanese to form Lu-go is thus a familiar one within the study of language contact. Japanese is the grammaticalizer language that supplies the grammatical morphology and word order for Lu-go, and English is the lexifier. Thus, if we are willing to refer to Lu-go as a new language, it is one that has evolved from contact between English and Japanese in the same way that pidgin languages are sometimes thought to arise: through relexification. Thomason and Kaufman (1988) review early and contemporary literature regarding the formation of pidgin languages and note that, although it is usually accompanied by a disclaimer that it is an oversimplification, most linguists refer to a pidgin as having the lexicon of one language and the grammar of another. As Bickerton and Givón (1976) note, the process of pidgin formation initiates when ‘the average speaker begins by gradually relexifying his original grammar’ (1976: 12). Although it is a gross oversimplification of the process of pidgin genesis, ‘relexification’ is the primary operative procedure for creating both pidgin and Lu-go. With tongue firmly in cheek, therefore, we describe the process of relexification of Japanese within the context of forming Lu-go, a pop culture mock language, as the formation of a ‘pop pidgin’.

“Code Ambiguation” is a form of language blending similar to code mixing or code switching, but, unlike these other kinds of blending, it produces an utterance that has potential meaning in both languages. Because code ambiguation purposely attempts to blur the boundary between two languages, it rarely occurs outside of creative writing. Japanese Popular (J-Pop) music uses various types of language blending, including code ambiguation, to combine English with Japanese lyrics, often in a desire to pay tribute to Western musical influences. Two types of code ambiguation are studied. The first is lyrical code ambiguation within the lyrics of the J-Pop band The Southern All Stars. Analysis of the band’s lyrics demonstrates a careful attempt to blur the boundaries between Japanese and English. The second type of code ambiguation is performance ambiguation in which the artist’s Japanese vocal style acquires features of English pronunciation. An analysis of the vocal style of Love Psychedelico demonstrates that the band is trying to Englishize their Japanese pronunciation. It is argued that J-Pop English is an emerging form of bilingual creativity.

A number of scholars have noted that contact with English has changed the Japanese language in a process of Englishization. While the most profound effects of Englishization may be seen in the influx of new lexemes, deeper structural changes to Japanese syntactic structures and phonology have not been observed with great regularity. A review of previous research on Englishization suggests that syntactic effects of Englishization in Japanese are to be expected. The Japanese ukemi ‘passive’ voice construction has been hypothesized to have been Englishized and close attention is given to those claims. This article examines a corpus of news media texts that can be divided into two sub-corpora: those composed in Japanese and those translated from English into Japanese. The indirect passive appears more frequently in texts originally written in Japanese, and in the sub-corpus of translated Japanese its use is limited by the types of verbs that are passivized. The sociolinguistic nature of English in Japan, where the language is taught to nearly every student in the country, suggests that Englishization effects on the passive construction have produced contact-induced variation that could be the earliest signs of change in progress.

Evidence of linguistic contact with various languages and cultures can be found throughout the English lexicon. One result of language contact is that English speakers sometimes borrow words from semantic fields that reflect the nature of the contact between the two cultures (McKnight 1923, Serjeantson 1935, Chan and Kwok 1985, Cannon 1987). For example, scholars usually explain that the large number of Latin loanwords borrowed into Anglo-Saxon as religious terminology ­— words like Present Day English altar, chalice, litany, or mass — reflect the importance of Roman Christianity in England during that period. Similarly, nautical terms borrowed from Dutch during the Early Modern English period — words such as commodore, cruise, deck, reef, or yacht — suggest that Dutch prominence in seafaring had a significant influence on English speakers. Borrowings from Chinese languages also form general semantic fields which reflect the nature of contact between Chinese and English speakers. Words borrowed from the Mandarin dialect of Chinese typically reflect Chinese ‘high’ culture: terms associated with philosophy, religion, history, politics, art, and literature. Borrowings from the Cantonese dialect include a large number of words for various foods. Finally, the Amoy dialect serves as language source for English names of several kinds of tea — the word tea itself being a borrowing from Amoy.