Changing English

The Spread of English

The Adventure of English is a BBC television documentary series uncovering the history of the English language. It is presented by journalist Melvyn Bragg. This is the seventh episode in the series: The Language of Empire.

Of all the languages in the world, why has English become the world’s lingua franca? Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase ‘global village’ in the 1960s to refer to the way people were reaching out to connect with one another – but he could not have known at the time that the unifying language of this village would be English. To really get into our study of Time and Space, we will find out how English became the language of the global village by looking at the convergence of three groups of factors: historical factors, economic factors, and popular culture:

Class Activity

Watch The Adventure of English (Episode 7 above) either in class or for homework. Test your powers of observation and recall by running a class quiz. Split into three or four teams and nominate one quizmaster who runs the quiz and is allowed to see the answers:

Areas of Exploration Guiding Contextual Question

The Danger of a Single Story, a talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, has been viewed over 8 million times.

All varieties of writing can be seen as a product of the environment in which they were produced. Writing can be affected by the political climate, major events, popular trends and more. Part of this resource explores diversity in English language works and texts, and considers the impact of the British Empire and ‘linguistic imperialism’ on countries and writers.

Learner Portfolio

Create a diagram showing how English spread to become a global language. Annotate your diagram with written information about the factors that influenced this spread.

If you would like an idea of the kind of work you might try to produce, here’s a fantastic example of a visual guide summarising key information from the reading in this section designed by a student.

Paper 1 Text Type Focus: letters

At the end of your course you will be asked to analyze unseen texts (1 at Standard Level and 2 at Higher Level) in an examination. You will be given a guiding question that will focus your attention on formal or stylistic elements of the text(s), and help you decode the text(s)’ purpose(s). Letters are an interesting text type, as they are normally written with a specific reader in mind. Depending on the relationship between the writer and reader, letters can be written formally, informally, (or properly-improperly) and for various purposes. The letter writer will often make use of individual stylistic features to create all kind of effects, from outrage, to humour and everything in-between. Use these practice texts to familiarise yourself with the different features of Letter Writing and add them to your Learner Portfolio; you will want to revise text types thoroughly before your Paper 1 exam. You can find more information – including text type features and sample Paper 1 analysis – by visiting 20/20. Read through one or two of the exemplars, then choose a new paper and have a go at writing your own Paper 1 analysis response:

Body of Work: Babu English As ‘Tis Writ

British commentators during the colonial period sometimes expressed amusement at the kinds of English used by their subject populations. Babu, or Baboo, English of India attracted particular attention because it aspired to poetic heights in vocabulary and learning, despite being full of errors. Linguists today find a great deal in common between Babu English and the ornate style used by many British writers in past centuries. In 1891, journalist Arnold Wright collected examples of this dialect, and published them in his book Babu English As ‘Tis Writ, extracts of which you can study as a Body of Work.

Towards Assessment: Individual Oral

“Supported by an extract from one non-literary text and one from a literary work, students will offer a prepared response of 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of questions by the teacher, to the following prompt: Examine the ways in which the global issue of your choice is presented through the content and form of two of the texts that you have studied. (40 marks)

IB Language and Literature Guide

An extract from Baboo English As ‘Tis Writ would be an unusual, but possibly very effective, choice to bring to your Individual Oral. The author of the work would be ‘Arnold Wright’, as he edited and collected this text, although you should specify the primary texts he presents which may have particular authors. You might like to investigate the Field of Inquiry of Power, Politics and Justice and your Global Issue might be ‘Language and Power’. Because English spread around the world on the back of the powerful British Empire, and is now the language of American corporate success, English has become the language of those in power (a tradition continued in International Schools where English has become associated with an ‘elite’ style of education despite it rarely being the first-language of a host country). Babu English developed out of the need for English colonialists to teach a servant and administrative class the language of trade. Speak to your teacher about ideas for literary pairings before you start to plan your presentation. For example, the begging letter could be paired nicely with extracts which demonstrate an unequal power dynamic between speaker and listener. Ideas include, but are not limited to:

  • Shaw’s Pygmalion – try pairing Doolittle’s Act 1 interaction with Higgins when he tries to persuade Higgins he owes Doolittle money with the servile language revealed in this Body of Work.
  • Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – compare the ‘servile’ or ‘flowery’ style of Babu English to the way Antonio and Bassanio interact with Shylock when they want to borrow his ducats.
  • J.G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun – Jim is a British expat in China on the eve of the Japanese invasion, and he and his family inhabit a peculiarly English world. A passage from the early chapters of this novel would be a good choice to bring into this assessment.
  • Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet – this is a play about the power of language and would make an ideal, if unusual, pairing with Wright’s collection. You might like to examine how Roma uses language to seduce and deceive Lingk in Act 1 Scene 3, or how any of the men try to exert power over one another through the way they speak.

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