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Postcolonialism and English in the world

Unit 2 English in Diverse World Contexts

John ORegan

on 25 January 2018

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Transcript of Postcolonialism and English in the world

To appreciate postcolonialism, and the subject of World Englishes itself, it is useful to know something about postmodernism, poststructuralism and colonialism before you start.
Postcolonialism and English in the World
We are living in an age of the posts

Everything seems to be post something

Postmodern architecture, postmodern theatre, postmodern art
Temporality: the idea that post is a period after something else. Thus postmodernism is the period after modernism, and postructuralism is the period after structuralism.
So, postcolonialism must be the period after colonialism? E.g. post-1945 decolonization process?
A narrow view - Postmodernism is also indicative of an attitude or stance. Life as:
contingent (accidental)
multiperspectival (having more than one meaning)
Kaleidescopically diverse
Inasmuch as the world is considered to be comprehensively disordered, in flux, and having no unifying purpose, so there are architects, dramatists, writers, artists and others who introduce this perceived absence of coherence, order and purpose in life into the work that they produce. This is why their work often defies ‘standard’ categorizations, because as ‘postmodernists’ they do not conform to ‘standards’, and indeed, go out of their way to reject them as oppressive and ultimately totalizing. The safe certainties of modernity can no longer be relied upon, and are a deception.
Levelling of high and low cultural forms
Human undertanding
The whole is the true (Hegel)
Langue - the system of language: Saussure, Chomsky
The method of modernism
Poststructuralism may be understood as that aspect of postmodernism which is devoted to the construction of meaning; that is, as language (speech and writing), as discourse (in all its semiotic forms), and as social practices (i.e. the rituals, conventions and routines which people daily enter into). Where the system (langue) sets limits and defines meanings, actual meaning production (parole) is seen to be infinitely indefinite and multiply interpretable.
Poststructuralism therefore rejects fixed meanings and interpretations (particularly of texts) in favour of indeterminacy, multiplicity and fluidity in interpretation. Where structuralism wishes to ‘fix’ the categories of the totality (in order to describe them), in poststructuralism everything is dynamically fluid and in flux, and so defies simple categorization or definition.
By placing the emphasis on the system, Saussure and Chomsky strip language of its human investment in order to be able to focus upon what they see as the immutable ‘structures’ which underpin it.
Because everything is in flux, and also because of our historical and discursive ‘locatedness’ (i.e. inside history and inside discourse), there is no Archimedean (i.e. outside or ‘all seeing’) view of reality possible. In these circumstances all knowledge is necessarily relative for poststructuralists, and this is why interpretation tends to be privileged over the notion of ‘true knowledge’, because all stances are subjective.
Is everything relative?
Colonialism 1550-1945
The subjugation and rule of a territory’s people and lands by a nation whose seat of power is external to that territory, and also often at a distance.
British Empire - a quarter of the earth's surface and territories in all the major continents.
Global spread of English
750m speakers of English as a foreign language
2bn learning English around the world
Pax Britannica 1850-1945
Pax Americana 1945-?
US led economic and cultural globalization 1945-today ‘Pax Americana’: ‘McDonaldization’ (Ritzer, 2010), Hybridization (Nederveen Pieterse, 2010)
English as the first language of globalization
Language death?
Postcolonial literature and thinking – at least about the English language – constitutes a challenge to and deconstruction of the processes and assumptions upon which the language of the colonizing ‘core’ has been introduced and settled upon the colonial ‘periphery’. More generally, postcolonialism offers a counter critique to ‘benign’ narratives of colonialism – as for example a ‘modernizing’ and ‘civilizing’ force – and of ‘celebratory’ narratives about the global spread of English (e.g. Quirk, 1990; Crystal, 2003; McCrum et al, 2004; Graddol, 2006). These narratives have a tendency to present English as a ‘gift’ to the world and as uniquely qualified to be the preferred language of international communication (see Phillipson, 1992; Pennycook, 2001, for forceful critiques). In this rather unreflexive process ‘fixed’ assumptions or ‘discourses’ about colonialism and unfettered globalization are uncritically reproduced at an ideological level that affects the manner in which the Anglophone core engages with the ex-colonial periphery.
The truth (if we can still use such a term) is actually much more complex than that, but it hinges on the perception in poststructuralism that when truth is claimed (by governments, by individuals, by different kinds of organizations and groups, etc.), this truth by its own inexorable logic has the capacity to become a totality (viz. Orwell’s pigs in ‘Animal Farm’), and so evolve into a totalitarian injunction by which the suppression of alternative perspectives (or ‘truths’) is legitimated.
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