The culture of Britishness what role does language Essay

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There is the question of the role of dialects, and indeed other languages, in British national identities that challenge the uniformity of the language. For Fairclough (1992:202) there is now a growing acceptance of accent and style variation in the language of Britain, a phenomenon that leads to an even greater emphasis on internal national differentiation. For Wallwork (1978:31) processes of differentiation involved in the everyday production of language have long been used to assign social standings to individuals and groups.
Perhaps the differences that occur in regional and social class dialects have traditionally been the most widely investigated (Edwards, 1976:23), but there is a growing trend towards studying other sub-forms of language, particularly those associated with ethnic groupings in the UK. Edwards (ibid:27) suggests, in line with Wallwork, that speech differences often help to ‘locate’ the speaker in the appropriate social strata. This process of ‘locating’ can be applied to people of various ages, genders, ethnic groups and social classes. In fact anyone who ‘speaks’ can be socially located, through his or her use of language, in Britain today.
An extreme example of this is found when a recent immigrant, with little or no knowledge of English, is immediately identified as a foreign ‘other’. There are, however, a multitude of other individuals and groups that maintain and adapt their otherness in terms of language in different ways. These people challenge the assumptions involved in some aspects of Britishness, by not only integrating some of their own cultural style and speech into everyday British language types, but also by ‘switching’ their own use of language in response to the environments that they find themselves in (Wallwork, 1978:61).
Such a phenomenon is witnessed in Britain by the adaptation of Afro-Caribbean Creole languages in day-to-day life. This creolised form of speech has been associated with ‘bad’ English, in that it is often taken as a dialect of the standard form, but for Wallwork (ibid:64) it is unintelligible to most other English speakers. The fact that some Caribbean Creole languages are in fact derived, in part, from French further supports the argument that it is a language that is as different from English, as Italian is to Spanish (ibid).
For the original immigrants who spoke Creole in the UK, it served as a one of the processes by which they were viewed as ‘others’ by many in the white population. Dabydeen (1990:306) argues that the perception of a different culture coming into Britain, displayed by, amongst other factors, the strange ‘otherness’ of speech, led to a continuation of the contempt for black culture that had been witnessed in colonial times. In response to this the children of these original immigrants adapted their parents Creole into an urban patois, which Dabydeen (ibid) sees as resistance to white domination.
A similar response can be seen in reggae sound systems that use, or deliberately misuse, western technologies in order to re-create an essentially black phenomenon. By adapting and re-ordering Standard English through the medium of their parents’ Creole speech, young blacks are reacting against the dismissals of white language and all that it entails (ibid:307). The link between language and music can be seen in the 1970s and 1980s with the increased popularity of reggae music, as well as the Ras Tafari philosophy associated with it.
By adopting this particular style, many young British-born Caribbeans also practiced the Jamaican patois that many of its practitioners spoke, and so the various Creoles of the Caribbean were gradually substituted for a more British-Jamaican form (Pollard, 1994). For Sebba and Tate (2002:78) this reason, alongside a shared experience of ‘blackness’ in the UK, meant that the cultural expression found in the Jamaican based patois speech, was utilised by many in British-Caribbean communities, regardless of their origin.
Another point here is that localised forms of English dialect are also used, and these are often interchanged with the patois depending on the nature of the conversation taking place. This represents an important factor in the use of language with regards to nation and culture, in that there exists a duality of British-Caribbean identities (ibid:77). Young blacks in particular may adopt the patois style when addressing each other in what can be said to be a discursive performance, and this also may be the case when attempting to achieve a local identity, such as in the workplace.
The use language in this case is one that displays both local and global, or pan-Caribbean, identities. For British-Caribbeans, regional English dialects are used to designate the local, of being British, whereas the use of patois indicates a more global, but at the same time ethnic, identity (ibid:80). This is one particular example of where language is a key factor in constructing both ethnic and national identities in British society. In conclusion, language is used in order to both separate and unite people in social activities, and is therefore a vital method of categorisation in human behaviour.
The term ‘language’ can be used in a number of different ways. It can be a set of grammatical laws, something that has aesthetic value, or simply used as a metaphor. In terms of their application languages can aid the construction of identity, in that they mark out the other in terms of what belongs and what does not. In this sense languages can be associated with a particular locations, and so they are closely linked to ideas of the nation-state.
Such nation-states often represent a hegemonic struggle that is bound up with the need for a formal grammar when communicating, and this was the case with the rise of English in the UK and its various colonies. In a manner that sought to cultivate both respect and prestige, English became a language of commerce and industry, as well as representing high culture and politics in the regions where it was spoken. The rise of English as a dominant British language, has seen the decline of other British languages, despite attempts to revive them, and also the Anglicisation of many colonies.
In recent years, however, the way in which English has come to embody British national identity has been challenged by both the influx of other languages, and the threat to the standardisation of the language from new forms and styles of speech. The process of differentiation that allows English to demarcate the ‘other’ is being adapted, as demonstrated by the British-Caribbean example, in order to deal with the multiple identities that exist within Britain today.
The way in which language has affected such identities is therefore crucial to any notions of culture and nation in Britain.
References Algeo, J. (1992) “Sociolinguistic Attitudes and Issues in Contemporary Britain” in Machan, T. W. & Scott, C. T. (1992)(Eds) English in its Social Contexts: Essays in Historical Sociolinguistics” Oxford: Oxford University Press Billig, M. (1995) Banal Nationalism London: Sage Chomsky, N. (1986) Knowledge of Language New York: Praeger Dabydeen, D. (1990) “On not being Milton: Nigger talk in England today” in Burke, L., Crowley, T. and Girvin, A. (2000) (Eds)
The Routledge Language and Cultural Theory reader London: Routledge Day, D. (1998) “Being Ascribed and Resisting, Membership of an Ethnic group” in Antaki, C. & Widdicombe, S. (1998) (Eds) Identities in Talk London: Sage Downes, W. (1998) (2nd Ed. ) Language and Society Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Edwards, A. D. (1976) Language in Culture and Class London: Heinemann Edwards, D. (1991) “Categories are for talking” in Theory and Psychology, 1, 515-42 Edwards, J.(1985) Language, Society and Identity Oxford: Basil Blackwell Fairclough, N. (1992)
Discourse and Social Change Cambridge: Polity Press Fishman, J. (1972) Language and Nationalism: Two Integrative Essays Rowley, MA: Newbury House Kachru, B. B. (1986) “The Alchemy of English” in Burke, L. , Crowley, T. and Girvin, A. (2000) (Eds) The Routledge Language and Cultural Theory reader London: Routledge Milroy, J. (1992) Linguistic Variation and Change Oxford: Basil Blackwell Paulin, T. (1983) “A New Look at the Language Question” in Burke, L. , Crowley, T.and Girvin, A. (2000) (Eds)
The Routledge Language and Cultural Theory reader London: Routledge Pollard, V. (1994) Dread Talk Kingston, Jamaica: Canoe Press Sapir, E. (1933) Language cited in Downes, W. (1998) (2nd Ed. ) Language and Society Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Sebba, M. & Tate, S. (2002) “‘Global’ and ‘Local’ Identities in the discourses of British-born Caribbeans” The International Journal of Bilingualism, Vol. 6, No. 1 Stewart, W. A. (1968)
“The Functional Distribution of Creole and French in Haiti” cited in Downes, W.(1998) (2nd Ed. ) Language and Society Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Snyder, L. L. (1976) Varieties of Nationalism: a Comparative Study cited in Billig, M. (1995)
Banal Nationalism London: Sage Tate, S. (2005) Lecture notes on “What’s Language got to do with it? ” taken from “The Culture of Britishness” at Manchester Metropolitan University Thomas, L. (1999) “Attitudes to Language” in Thomas, L. & Wareing, S. (1999) (Eds) Language, Society and Power: An Introduction London: Routledge Wallwork, J. F. (1978) Language and People London: Heinemann.

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