日英･英日同時または逐次通訳(主な顧客：富士通, ソニー, TBS等)
[学歴] 学士号：カリフォルニア大学、バークレー校 修士号：モントレー国際大学
第６回：『The Primacy of Cultural Context; Language Change Revisited』
The teaching of language is inextricably the teaching of culture. Among children born and raised on American Armed Forces bases in Japan, it is common to encounter students who speak fluent Japanese with their friends, but whose manners are coarse. This is the result of the colloquial variety of Japanese that the students acquire off base, when playing with their friends. As they acquired the language naturally, following the example [of their friends’ speech], it is not the students’ fault that the [concomitant] manners are rude.
Those who put themselves in the target culture, and who pay close attention, can begin the study of that culture, by which they can determine what kind of things are considered impolite, and what kind of things are seen as polite and good. To ensure that my students do not develop in that way [the coarse manner above], I teach [appropriate] manners in my Japanese language classes as well. (Higurashi 1996: 59)
Successful language learning and teaching require cultural awareness. As Higurashi states, cultural awareness is an essential component in language teaching, and, necessarily, so it is in language learning. I came to this conclusion myself in 1991, and I have seen it as the most salient, prevalent feature in my subsequent experience, research, and discussions. In this paper, I will describe how my regard for cultural awareness has been significantly reinforced through my introduction to sociolinguistics, and how my concept of language change has been revised.
I found my statement of purpose—for one of my applications for graduate studies in applied linguistics—to recall my thoughts on language as I had expressed them that day:
“I am confident that my career objectives will continue to evolve through my experience at the institute, but I am equally certain that the following goals will remain constant: to facilitate the smooth, precise exchange of ideas and information—through a common language—across cultural and linguistic boundaries; and to compare and contrast different languages and cultures in an effort toward mutual understanding and respect.”
I had developed this goal after over a decade of language teaching, learning, translating, and interpreting, primarily in Japan, the US, and Mexico. I respected the cultures of the communities in which I lived, and I felt respected in turn. By taking the time to express ourselves clearly, my counterparts and I were able to understand one another. I still see this as vital today: paramount among the functions that language serves are the articulation and expression of ideas, concepts, and needs to others. Language most certainly does not always allow for a “smooth, precise exchange,” even without dramatic cross-cultural dynamics involved, and language is nothing like static. It forms and backforms, obeys and disobeys patterns that would allow for prescriptive rules to be drawn, and language grows, relentlessly.
The sociolinguist knows that language is not a fixed, inert instrument, and sees the folly in attempting to force artificial conventions on language, or the individuals who use it. I myself have taught prescriptive grammar in schools and companies in Japan, and I have voiced my concern over the possible deleterious effects on the English language of the sloppy or truncated lingo peculiar to the World Wide Web (WWW) or Internet exchanges, such as in chat room discussions. I have found, through discussions and readings in several Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) classes, and in this introduction to sociolinguistics, that my concerns were off the mark. Aitchison (1998), for example, states that “continual language change is natural and inevitable, and is due to a combination of psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic factors” (p. 439). She points out that “self-proclaimed experts who argue that language is disintegrating have not considered the complexity of the factors involved in language change. They are giving rise to purely emotional expression of their hopes and fears” (p. 431). She characterizes the notion of guarding the language from decay as well intentioned, but misguided. Aitchison suggests that this fretful hand wringing is as pointless as worrying about the yearly changes in the songs of the humpback whale: both types of change are natural, and not wrong. She cites Darwin, on language, “the better, the shorter, the easier forms are constantly gaining an upper hand, and they owe their success to their inherent virtue” (Darwin 1871, in Labov 1972, 273). I thought that it was interesting to think of the fittest language surviving: new incentive to clean out superfluous language, especially when writing. But Aitchison criticizes the construct, showing that it does not recognize political and social influences, misplacing emphasis on progress or decay. This was similar to the misconception that I had had, that certain kinds of language change—namely, extinction—were “bad.” While I had not worried so much about an imagined “decay” of a supposed “correct” English, I had thought that the death of a language was simply a bad thing, that it necessarily accompanied the death of a culture. In this way, I now see, I too was oversimplifying. Aitchison uses Gaelic as an example of a language that is dying not because it is decaying, or becoming more complicated, but because it is being “ousted by English” (p. 433). This focus on the political, social, and cultural elements that language comprises was recurrent throughout our discussions and readings, and helped develop my hunch into a more informed opinion. Natural displacement of a language is no more appealing to me than language death is, but it is helpful for me to view this kind of language change as natural, albeit regrettable. Taking a broader view of the social and historical context in which all languages grow has been important and informs my approach to prescriptive and descriptive grammar, slang, jargon, argot, borrowed words, and the like. Various features and changes of language deserve treatment in context, rather than judgment against some fixed standard.
Over time, I have learned that language without cultural context might be meaningless. As Cohen (1996) puts it, “the teaching of second language words and phrases isolated from their sociocultural context may lead to the production of linguistic curiosities which do not achieve their communicative purposes” (383). I have seen and heard many such “linguistic curiosities” at different stages of linguistic development. I recently saw a person whose mother tongue was not English try out an English phrase in a business meeting with a native speaker of English. He hoped to agree with what the English speaker had been saying by introducing the phrase in English, then explaining in detail why he agreed in his mother tongue. The phrase was meant to be the business axiom: “keep it simple, stupid.” The phrase that the businessperson managed to utter was: “I’m stupid!” After a bit of laughter and clarification, the speaker made his point clear, and the two agreed in the end. It may be that this speaker had learned the phrase in isolation, in a word list, for example, and had not had the opportunity to practice it in a natural, appropriate context. This is a clear illustration of the importance of cultural context and authentic use of new terms and features in language learning, and where possible, it follows, in classroom language learning as well. Had the speaker practiced the phrase (“keep it simple stupid”) a bit in context, for example, he might have communicated more smoothly and efficiently, rather than taking even longer to get his ideas across. This vital practice is facilitated in the classroom.
I see the classroom not as a microcosm of the surrounding culture, but rather, as an integral part of the surrounding community. We are not teaching and learning a rarefied lingo for use behind closed classroom doors, after all, we are teaching and learning language to actively engage in many facets of society. We aim to develop tools and skills for the purpose of communicating with others, at a range of different levels, depending on individual learners needs and goals. It would be self-defeating, then, to isolate the classroom from the real-world interaction, or vice versa. Pennycook (2000) likewise rejects the tendency to:
view classrooms as isolated spaces; classrooms are not “just classrooms,” and suggests that instead “classrooms are sociopolitical spaces that exist in a complex relationship to the world outside…as sites of struggle over preferred social and cultural worlds, as domains imbued with relations of power. From this perspective, an understanding of the social politics and cultural politics of classrooms is not just about describing what is going on; it is about making critical interpretations and suggesting possible alternatives” (pp. 90–91).
Culture does not merely influence the discourse in the classroom, they are one and the same. The discourse in the classroom is a part of the culture; it constitutes culture. Likewise, the culture outside of the classroom does not shape the classroom discourse, but rather comprises the classroom discourse. Pennycook depicts the relationship as one in which “the walls of classrooms become permeable, with social relations outside classrooms affecting what goes on inside, and social relations inside affecting what goes on outside. Indeed, we need to reject the common but unhelpful terminology that contrasts the ‘real world’ with our classrooms: our classrooms are part of the real world” (p. 92) Rather than trying to rein in language, tag it with prescriptive terms, and pretend that it behaves as a particular group wishes, the sociolinguist observes how language does work, and appreciates the dynamic cultural contexts in which it flourishes. One useful means of allowing the real world to flow into the classroom, and vice versa, is to use authentic interactive materials. Bringing in material on current events such as the World Trade Center bombing allows for learners to engage in meaningful discussion in the target language precisely as they would in their L1. Newspapers and magazines are a readily available resource, as are the rich multimedia resources available on the WWW, for example.
I see CALL environments to be uniquely suitable to appreciate, reflect on, and incorporate these dynamic cultural contexts in language learning and teaching (C1). The vast and growing resources available on the WWW, for example, offer learners and teachers vivid, varied, current, as well as historical language in a fantastic range of contexts, and in the form of text, audio, and video of ever-increasing quality. I myself regularly check broadcast news sites that offer high-quality video on demand with coverage of the latest world and regional news. Vilmi (1999) also describes the rapidly evolving cyber-culture as an optimal site for language learning. She predicts a sea change in methods for teaching languages, presently for English, but for all languages soon. She looks forward to ousting the current “artificial teacher-student-classroom peer environment,” where learners are preoccupied with improving accuracy and grades, in favor of “dynamic student-teacher-global peer situations” (p. 440). She notes that classroom lessons will always play an important role, especially when learners tackle a new language. However, according to Vilmi (1999), once learners have the basics, they need to get into authentic arenas:
They need to use their language skills to exchange ideas, learn about other cultures, get expert advice from people living in totally different environments, make personal contacts, and learn the technical and social skills necessary for surviving in today’s rapidly evolving world. Autonomous learning, made possible by technology, is a significant aspect of this new approach to global education. (p. 440)
I read this again, from a sociolinguist’s perspective: as a description of a unique cultural context for communication that epitomizes the rapid, continuous pace of language change, and the intricate network of elements involved in all communication. Opportunities to expand cultural and linguistic awareness via the Internet and computer technologies are boundless and booming.
Even the Peace Corps is focusing on digital communications as well, as noted in Dewan (2000). Both the Peace Corps, and “Geekcorps,” a volunteer program modeled after the Peace Corps, aim to bridge the digital divide. “The Peace Corps began to include information technology among its specialties, sending 10 volunteers to Belize” (p. 7). The Geekcorps was formed to bridge the “digital divide, and provide instant access to vast information in developing countries via Internet connections." A sociolinguist might add that cyberspace may be viewed as another environment in which natural language change occurs. This is particularly interesting to me as I have been personally interested both in potential linguistic bridges for the digital divide for many years. I have had the opportunity in various settings to learn about the concerns and possibilities of technological advances on language learning, cultural awareness, and international communications.
Cowell (2000) describes a high-tech, dynamic, diverse, polyglot society evolving in Dublin, centered around the IT industry “the real rocket thrust of the economy here is the big American information technology companies…in Europe, language is always an issue, so the trade-off is between wanting to have an efficient operation of a certain size versus doing it in a particular country where the language skills are present” (p. 1). The thriving industry is firmly based on the multilingual high-tech staff, who are seen as integral to continued success “we live and die by internationally traded goods and services” Jim Whelan, of the Industrial Development Agency said (p. 1). Here, the sociolinguist might recognize the possibility for rich linguistic development among the bilingual and multilingual speakers of a range of languages, availing themselves of the latest technologies.
Mohn (2000) embraces multilingualism as a natural outgrowth of our time, stating that as more and more people move to and from other countries, it is natural and positive to make the effort to learn the language and culture of one’s counterpart. While it is conceded that English is the “lingua franca of the global economy…just a little bit of effort” toward learning about the language and culture of one’s counterpart may make a significant positive impact. It is supposed to send “a subliminal message that ‘we are equal’” (p. 1). This is one of the essential premises upon which sociolinguistic observation is built.
Among the concepts that I have a sharper view of, owing to my study of sociolinguistics, the constant nature of language change, and the essential role of cultural awareness in language learning and teaching stand out, and these concepts have already influenced my work in research, lectures, seminars, and my orientation toward language learning and teaching altogether.