Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a conference in southeast Asia on Globalization, Language and Education. On this occasion, I got into a hot debate with a Malaysian lady who holds a professorship at an Islamic University in her country. When I learnt that her university uses English as the main teaching medium even though both professors and students native language is Malay, I contended that the English language thwarts or even contradicts, at least partially, the objectives set by those who created such a educational system.
English is being considered by many as some sort of Esperanto even though its qualities are far from matching those of Esperanto, which was especially designed for international communication and which can be fully mastered in less than 10% of the time people have to devote to the acquisition of a second language, but the main problem with English lies elsewhere. English is the vehicle of the most horrendous propaganda machine that was ever conceived by man. As opposed to what happens with other main world languages, the English speaking world is mostly centered on one country : the USA, whose designs on the world scene have never been so forcefully asserted. There is virtually neither American TV network nor widely distributed American newspaper or magazine that does not carry a message which aims at facilitating the implementation of American ambitions abroad. Any student worldwide who studies English as a second language from this type of material tends to be turned into a sympathizer of American ideas about rearranging the world in a sensible way, which needless to say, incidentally but automatically happens to always serve American interests abroad.
The interesting thing to observe about all this is that, gradually, someone outside the US who is exposed to this type of propaganda develops a view of the world roughly equivalent to that of an American. In other words, even if American views of country XYZ are strongly biased, the English language student in that country will develop similar views. If, for Americans, country XYZ is on the rogue state list, the study of the English language using standard press clippings and audiovisual materials will provide that student with distorting glasses through which he will see his own country in the same way. He will thereby acquire the same set of stereotypes. If the American press decrees that the average bloke in your country is a rough underdeveloped brutish character, chances are that our English language student will look down upon him as so. If you evaluate Brazilian aerospace industry through American media, you will most likely conclude that it is a big waste of money. If you look at the attempts by various non-aligned nations to acquire a modern well-trained and well-equipped defense force, the English language student will most likely place them on the rogue State list. Thats the beauty about American propaganda ! It does work by reprogramming peoples minds through the acquisition of English as a second language. You pay to be brainwashed and you feel happy about it !
Of course, there are those who read the writings of Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag, Lester Thurow, Howard Zinn, Lyndon LaRouche or James Petras but I bet that these are not part of the prime teaching material they use at the American cultural centers and at the various branches of the British Council. Using English to provide some sort of an education to be exempted of American values is a self-defeating exercise, no matter what. It is somewhat amusing to observe that some of those who are committed to reduce American influence over peoples minds often have selected English to carry their message. Even more so when people who have made this choice confess that the US is their worst enemy !! The fact and the matter is that modern English is a mental straitjacket while the intention is mental emancipation and knowledge acquisition !! In his book entitled The English language, published in 1985, Robert Burchfield wrote : Any literate, educated person on the face of the globe is in a very real sense deprived if he does not know English. Poverty, famine and disease are instantly recognized as the cruelest and least excusable forms of deprivation. Linguistic deprivation (English of course) is a less easily noticed condition, but one nevertheless of great significance. Well. NOT QUITE !
In her book entitled : The rape of imagination (Le viol de l’imaginaire), the Malian Aminata Traoré explains that, in Africa, the elites minds have been reprogrammed in this fashion so much so that this so-called elite has now given up on the very principle of national preference in trade and commerce that was enforced up until recently in all African countries. In some of the poorest ones where misery, disease and famine often strike, the elite now denies preference to fellow citizens and national companies when it comes to spend tax revenues ! IMF economics and other tenets of free trade percolate so well through the acquisition of the English language that what was pragmatism before has now turned into ideology that people are eager to apply even when it leads to their own self-destruction ! What Aminata Traoré calls symbolic violence destroys collective memory and imagination. For someone who studies it as a second language in most of the developing world, English quickly denies people the right to think for themselves by themselves. It results in cultural alienation and dispossession. In Africa more than anywhere else, the ideas that English carries destroy solidarity and social cohesion, dumbing down people to the point where they accept western rules and regulations to organize their economic landscape even though local conditions totally prevent their application. Everywhere, the messages that English carries dispossess people of the rights to master they own destiny by turning them away from the very issues that are crucial to them. English is the medium of choice for globalization, by proceeding first with the brainwashing of the political and intellectual elite. Instead of resorting to expensive yet ineffective measures against distasteful cultural invasion and economic exploitation through globalization, these can best be fought off by eliminating English as a second language. In that sense, English appears to be more a disease than a blessing for international communication ! In 1996, the Miss Universe pageant in India triggered a tide of protests from nationalist Hindus and feminist organizations. In lieu of a declaration of dissent, an Indian tailor died by setting fire to himself and throughout the country, thousands of street demonstrators were arrested. A few days ago, the same pageant got under fire from fundamentalists Muslims in Nigeria but the true nature of the protest was not about women nor feminism, it was about cultural intrusion, unwanted westernization and economic colonization. Again, the eradication of English in those two countries would be a lot more effective as English indeed carries the germs and the means of what boils down to mind enslavement.
Still inexistent a few years ago, this type of awareness is on the rise in former British colonies. In India, the English language has become the main target of the nationalists who want to eradicate its use totally from India. A few years ago, M. Mulayam Singh Yadav, who was then defense minister vowed in Chennai (Madras) that his supporters and himself would not rest until English is totally eliminated from the country. On May 15, 2000, the American magazine Newsweek carried an article about the decision taken by the authorities in the State of Bengal to downgrade English to non official status for all official government transactions.
At the Taiwan conference, someone pointed out to English as some sort of tool for modernization and economic progress. I immediately reacted to this by asking the audience to sample neighboring countries for their knowledge of English. Who, I asked, do you think scores best on English tests in southeast Asia ?. Obviously, The Philippinos come far ahead of everybody else in the area, in this respect. Yet, from an economic standpoint, the Philippines are a basket case. Another one of these stereotypes that we can undo so easily.
We also have to deal with this other delusion that leads people who learn English as a second language to think that they, too, will be able to run some international organizations in the globalized new world order, through their newly acquired English. The truth and the matter are that any international organization that uses English as its working language cannot help fall back into the control of native English speakers. This can be easily verified whether the purpose is political, economic or scientific.
The predominance of French in 18th century Europe helped Napoleons armies conquer and loot a number of countries. With French came a steady stream of eager collaborators to the French rulers that Napoleon sprinkled all over Europe. The idea that fighting the spread of French would weaken the French empire came naturally and French initiated its decline on the European scene precisely at that time. Of course, French was at first used to coordinate military action against France. It was in those time the only foreign language that Austrians, British, Russians and Prussians would share at a level of fluency approaching that of their own mother tongue, a situation bearing little resemblance with what we have nowadays with the pidgin called international English. It was in French that most of the European elite became politically conscious at that time and started rejecting the shackles of the French imperium.
Whether English can play such a role to make American influence dwindle remains to be seen. English is to the brain what fast food is to the stomach, fulfilling basic needs, not aiming at elaborate thinking. However, it is quite obvious that the spread of English goes hand in hand with world colonization under American leadership that we call globalization. English is of great help for the Americans to install the type of parasitic relationship that their country needs to keep on plundering world resources and collecting through the widespread use of an overvalued dollar a tribute on most developed nations.
The belief that English is a neutral language that can help with international communication is just wishful thinking. Those who oppose US international politics often do not realize that they can already inflict serious economic damage upon their enemy by outlawing English in their own quarters. Saddam Husseins Iraq has switched to the euro and a basket of other currencies for international trade to reduce its dependence on the dollar but it has not yet targeted English for elimination as a second language even though the generalization of the latter might be much more effective against the US than the destruction of the twin towers in NYC.
Any simple scholar previously anesthetized by American propaganda through the English language and awakening to reality would discover a totally different new world. Instead of a American superpower, he would discern a bankrupt country that keeps on living on an ever growing pyramid of debt. Instead of a scientific powerhouse, he would discover engineers and researchers whose level in math and basic science does not even match that of a candidate to a Bachelors of science degree in modern Japan. In lieu of a terrifying military force, he would find out that at least half of the so-called smart and surgical weapons of the American arsenal do not even work and that the soldiers who man that big military establishment are scared shitless by the perspective of any military confrontation with a serious enemy on the battlefield. He would see that the best performance of the US army occurs when bombing civilians from an altitude of 30,000 feet.
In Setting up the monopoly of knowledge (La mise en place des monopoles du savoir), I demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that the widespread use of the English language in scientific and technological fields in countries where English is not a national language results in the pirating by English-speaking nations, particularly the USA, of their best scientific accomplishments. For reasons that I explained in the book, it also tends to dry up creativity and keep research efforts within lines defined mostly in the US, therefore reducing further the visibility of the non American scientists. English also allows anglophone nations to rewrite the history of scientific developments to a certain extent by crediting native English speakers with the most important discoveries and inventions. Little by little, we learn that ONLY this marvel of socio-biological evolution that the Anglo-Saxon is after God is behind the creation of the modern world.
That and many other inconveniences not listed here form what we call the world of English for those who did not have the divine privilege to be born of genuine English-speaking parents !
It is no exaggeration to state that the world will definitely fare better when the spread of English will be limited to English-speaking countries only !!
(Author of ’La mise en place des monoples du savoir’, L’Harmattan, ISBN : 2-7475-1771-3, Paris, 2002)