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Monday, December 19, 2005

50] Language of Imperialism

The language of imperialism
Azly Rahman
Dec 19, 05 3:46pm


As in capitalism’s seed of destruction, in any language there is the seed of its own imperialistic tendencies. We must look at the long-term impact of the use of the English language in the teaching of Mathematics and Science.

Language, as linguistic anthropologists would agree, is not only a mirror of reality but also shapes consciousness and installs ideologies. The Hindu-Buddhist languages of Sanskrit and Pali did it to Southeast Asia. The Arabic language did it to the Islamic world. All institutions we see around us are built out of the transplantation of concepts. And now this language of Celtic-Germanic origin called English is advancing the “civilising and consuming mission” of the postmodern Anglo-American Empire.

Some language will teach us to be more spiritual, some will train us to be more technical, and some will educate us to be good consumers in the global capitalist market. Language policies produces the homo economicus (the economic human being) who then produce ideologies that then produce institutions of knowledge/power that will then inscribe better institutions of mind control and ultimately rob humanity of its freedom.

From logos become flesh become machines in the landscape of humanity.

"McDonaldisation of English"

What we see around us is the consequence of what sociologist George Ritzer would call the “McDonaldisation of Nothing” in which materials sold and consumed has no real value. What McDonaldisation of products, goods, and services – spread through the use of the English language – are goods that satisfy wants and not basic needs.

This is the epoch of the global reach of the English language that is neither neutral nor spiritual. The English we are asked to use to teach Mathematics and Science may further shackle our nation in a more complex Center-periphery, Metropole-submetrople, Coloniser-colonised, Brown skin –White mask relationship – if we are not careful with our policies. The English language in its present form is advancing the cause of the military-industrial complex of the Anglo-American empire of this millennium.

Already, our economic and ideological landscape is predominantly English. We argue that we are slow in technological innovation and therefore we are behind, arguing that the process of translating bodies of scientific and technological work is at a turtle’s pace whereas our material development projects are moving at break-neck speed. Therefore, the argument goes, we change policies of teaching the two languages, not realising the long-term base-superstructural implications we will see in decades to come.

"English-speaking geeks"

We will create more than just the new Malaysian administrative, English-speaking elites of the Eton mould and gung-ho multicultural corporate raiders and robber barons of the Wall Street ethos, but also a new breed of English speaking and geek-talking cybernetic beings that are technologically-savvy and ready to collaborate with foreign capitalists to plunder our nation’s economy, displacing local cultures and creating linguistically-deranged citizens.

What is happening to the Multimedia Super Corridor and the future of Biotechnology Malaysia project is a good example of the impact of our obsession with the lingua franca. We fear that we may not be able to “compete” in the “world market” that speaks English to global power. But are we gearing up our education system to merely meet the ideology of globalisation? We are chasing “progress” but sacrificing “human development”, making 60,000 graduates unemployed and unemployable?

Even worse, the children of the multicultural poor will continue to struggle with the complexity of the bilingualism in the educational conveyor belt of a win-loose Malaysian education that filters human beings into class stratification so that the winners will become successful technocrats and cybernetic Malaysians whose allegiance is to globally-linked English-speaking corporate elites.

"Children left behind?"

The children of the multicultural poor will continue to be left behind year after year in the hands of teachers who not all of them are proficient in English. These teachers will be handing them watered down concepts of these two subject areas and hence unable to bring the students to the commanding heights of the study of Mathematics and Science. A teacher affects the lives of hundreds and thousands of students in his/her lifetime.

How might we create a good scientific and technologically-based middle-class when there are still problems with the teaching language itself, especially when it is taught to children in their formative years? This is what we are confronting as the fundamental issue of language, national and technological development. We are caught in a debate on language. We must understand how it colonises our physical and psychological consciousness turning nations into beings and nothingness in the matrix of the evolving empire.

The debate over language rages on - whether Mathematics and Science need to be taught in English. Language, from the time of independence continues to become a contested terrain in education and social development. What more if we are talking about the language of technological progress – of Science and Technology.

What is the real issue here? Where will the English language bring any nation if we are to adopt it into building our ideological-technological landscape? Is the English language neutral? Or is it imperialistic, carrying with it the lifeline of the Anglo-American Empire, in an age of globalisation that is creating dire human consequences and threatening our fragile environment?

"Reconstructed neo-colonialism?"

Who owns the means of the production of scientific knowledge? Who owns the global production house of knowledge? Who owns the most advanced knowledge base of informatics in this Age of Information? The language of business and industry, of marketing and advertising and of cutthroat competition thrives on the power of the English language. Major multinational corporations continue to spread their wings and bury their tentacles of imperialism by structuring nation-states with the lingua franca called English.

Look at the landscape of Malaysia – her hypermodern urban landscape. What do we see? Installations of ideologies that transplanted the English language onto the otherwise lush forests, exploited hence by those who profit with the aid of the English language. Who owns the means of producing highbrow, lowbrow, and popular culture?

How do we Malaysians enculturalise these industries and get caught in the conveyor-belt of global-ideological production? But there is still the progressive strand in the English language – one that will build foundations of civilisations better than the philosophy of Oriental Despotism, be it derived from the Malay, Chinese or Indian cultural philosophies. It is the strand of liberalism and humanism of the language that needs to be brought to the linguistic forefront of our national language policies.

It is the dimension of the critique of capitalist greed that needs to be enculturalised and used as a foundation for our education system.

We have not started exploring because we are busy blindly adopting the technocractic aspect of this language of Anglo-American corporate dominance, so that our power elites can profit from the creation of “globally-linked” and “governmental-linked” companies that will continue to plant the seeds of destruction – through borrowed words of a language that has spread through guns, guts and glory.

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