“English and Us”
In this essay, I would like you to consider what kinds of insights Mary Louise
Pratt’s essay, “Arts of the Contact Zone,” and its concepts of contact zone,
community, transculturation, and autoethnography might contribute to your
understanding of the roles of English in the world.
Citing Benedict Anderson and what he calls “imagined
communities,” Pratt argues that our idea of community is “strongly
utopian, embodying values like equality, fraternity, liberty, which the
societies often profess but systematically fail to realize.” Against this
utopian vision of community, Pratt argues that we need to develop ways
of understanding (even noticing) social and intellectual spaces that are
not homogenous, unified; we need to develop ways of understanding and
valuing difference. (Bartholomae and Petrosky 501)
For this essay, I would like you to think about the role or roles English plays in
society/societies in creating communities and contact zones. You can focus on a
particular location that you’re familiar with (such as your home country, an
educational system with which you are familiar, Northeastern University, etc.) or
you might try to look at a wider range of locations (citing, for instance, the videos
about English in India and “We No Speak Americano,” in addition to locations
with which you’re more familiar). Your task is to locate a particular group of “us”
and analyze how that group uses (and/or is used by) English. What role or roles
does English play in that group? Does it help create a “utopian vision of
community”? Does it contribute to contact zones in which there is conflict or
disparity between differently powered groups? Who benefits from English in this
group, and who doesn’t?
You’ll have to describe in detail the group or groups that you’re looking at. You’ll
also have to define the terms from Pratt that you use in your essay. Assume an
audience that isn’t familiar with your group(s) or with Pratt.
Your essay should eventually have a thesis that is supported by what you say,
but for the first draft, which we will share in class, what you write might be more
“loose.” Think of your first draft as exploratory—a place where you can think
about what you want to say, rather than worrying so much about how to say it.
(We’ll worry enough about how to say it later on in the writing process.)
Bartholomae, David, and Anthony Petrosky. Ways of Reading: An Anthology for
Writers. 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011.
The links from the videos are:
Role of English in the World
The role of English in the world remains of understated classicism. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Mary Louise Pratt has put important effort to ensure that the understanding of English language is felt by communities and generations. In her essay “Arts of the Contact Zone”, the author argues that basic components of the contact zone such as auto-ethnography, transculturation and community. This might contribute highly to understanding the role of English. In this essay therefore, I undertake to discuss this role with regard to Pratt’s basic components of the contact zone.
The contact zone is defined as the“the social spaces where cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other” (Pratt, p.34).However, this happens in context of “highly asymmetrical relations to power, such as slavery and colonialism and their aftermaths” as they have lived centuries now(Pratt, p.34). The idea of contact zone projects the very importance of language in communication, interactions and collisions. Needless to say, this is what forms the basis of English language in the current age domains of humanity.
Pratt has come out well particularly when citing Benedict Anderson and what he calls “imagined communities”. In her argument, the author states that the idea of communities is “strongly utopian often embodying the values of equality, liberty and fraternity”. Unfortunately, despite the quality of this idea, generations that often profess them are the same ones that systematically fail to realize them. Therefore, as her recommendation, Pratt asserts that communities should attempt to observe, notice and understand these literal ideologies. What is more, she encourages complete understanding of both social and intellectual spaces that are not combined and homogenous (Pratt, p.12).
Even though according to Pratt the terms “community” and “contact zone” are different, I believe that there is an important relationship between these two terms. This is because, as Pratt supports, a classroom setting can be considered as a community. However, at the same time it can also be considered as a “contact zone”. In order for a contact zone to occur/exist, there is a need for a community; a classroom community (and vise versa). Consequently, we can understand the existence of the communities of contact zones. Moreover, it relies on the equality of the diversity of the classroom community and the issues that a contact zone provides. In addition, the members that create the community usually share the same goal.
Onegreatest roles English play in society in creating communities of contact zones is by allowing easy collaboration between and among groups of different intellectual and social classes. When different groups share a similar language, they interact freely and navigate across a similar path (Gallagher, p.43). This stems from the fact that they believe and follow the same course of communication and hence, requiringpersonal understanding and overall interaction. During this interaction, even the most marginalized and hidden voices can be heard and considered in community growth.
Another role English plays in society in creating communities of contact zones is by allowing emergence of other similarly related languages. According to native African people, a classic exampleis the fact that Swahili stemmed from Arabic and native African languages. When Arabs came to trade in Africa shortly after colonialism, the two groups of cultures produced giving rise to a common, unified Swahili. This scenario is not different upto now. Although not fully recognized, many areas across and within the world have marginalized languages that created from English and other languages. These languages prove the existence of communities of contact zones.
China, a country that has its own independent linguistic areas, is now participating in global economic growth. Its forces has been felt across United States and now, many Chinese companies work shoulder to shoulder with U.S. This entrepreneurial, commercial and industrial harmony between China and many English-speaking countries has been caused by the power of English. It is only through English language that the community of contact zone between China and these countries has been created leading to global growth in virtually every sector (Hutchings & Kevin, p.92).
Additionally in India, there are many videos inEnglish. This has opened the film market extensively going by the fact that India is a tremendously populated nation. French and Italians also appreciate English as seen in many movie translations. Needless to say that this is another greatest role of English in the creation of communities of contact zone. Because of these language-powered films, these countries now interact conventionally and many times welcome non-English speaking people to participate in the creation and direction of films and theatrical performances (Gallagher, p.49).
Despite all the general examples above, I have also experienced a personal situation, where I can understand and connect some of Pratt’s terms. This was when I decided to take an Italian class, where everyone in there could speak fluently Italian, as they were all native speakers.Even though I could speak and they could understand me, I was extremely shy and therefore, I could not participate or talk comfortably in front of all of my classmates. As the time passed, I felt more and more comfortable as they could make me feel like them and not care about my mistakes. It is obvious that in order to communicate with my classmates, we had to talk in English. This experience shows how the classroom, from my point of view, was a contact zone, because it was not the place that I could feel comfortable or people who have the same culture and beliefs as me; it was a totally new experience for me. However, for my classmates who were native Italian speakers, it was just a community, where they would share the same culture and background. Furthermore, at the end I was glad that I managed to be a part of their community. This would not have happened without English. I was very glad that I had the ability to speak English and I could talk to my classmates and even make friends.
With these examples of roles of English in the creation of communities of contact zones, it creates anideal vision of communities. The interaction has been of major influence in areas and regions that experience conflict and disparities between differently powered groups. Many cases of disasters and natural crises are solved universally for the common good. This has been enabled by the power of English in the creation of harmony and healthy interactions within and across nations.
However, it is important to note that not all groups benefit from English. Apart from China and Japan, a good number of Asian countries such as Brunei, Bangladesh, Laos, Oman and Mongolia have failed toappreciate the diversity of English language. As a result, they are not beneficiaries of opportunities powered by English-speaking nations. This failure comes in many ways. One, their products do not reach a wider market, their individual potentials and abilities are limited to their countries alone, brilliant students do not benefit from extensive international scholarships and finally, talents in sports and related activities are not appreciated. As a result, these groups find themselves under the enclaves of abject poverty.– Maybe delete that paragraph? Doesn’t make sense. Too complicated.
Therefore, I believe that Pratt’s argument about transculturation and communities of contact zones remains quite instrumental. In addition, the author terms transculturation as a process through which members of marginalized groups select and invent from materials offered by a dominated culture (Pratt, p.16). One of the effects that this might cause, is the fact that Pratt’s argument and knowledge of languages gives everyone freedom to participate and benefit from a common language. This argument, oversimplifies Pratt’s argument, as the selection and adaptation of materials from a dominant culture by a dominated culture cannot always lead to new ways of expression that might not be accepted by the dominant culture.Finally, this component of contact zone and the benefit of English language by spread groups have created a whole new concept. These ideas are intended to interact and contrast with communities and trigger much of the thinking about communication, language and culture.
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