English for the 21st century

Just back from visiting the wonderful Mikko Laitinen and colleagues at Linnaeus University, Sweden, where I gave this talk:

English for the 21st century
Putting Continental Europe on the map of World Englishes

Since the latter decades of the 20th century, the field of World Englishes (WEs) has succeeded in drawing attention to the emergence of new varieties of English around the world. The focus is typically on Asian and African Englishes that have arisen in postcolonial societies such as India, Singapore and Kenya. Why has Continental Europe largely been ignored? In view of the vastly increased roles and uses of English in regions such as Scandinavia, I discuss the notion of European Englishes in the WEs paradigm. Drawing on research on the case of the Netherlands, I show how Continental Europeans, too, can be agentive shapers of English who reconstruct the language for their own ends. In addition, I shed light on how new methodological tools can facilitate investigation of such Englishes and thus complement our existing picture of English around the world.

Appointment angst

 

Observant, Maastricht

It’s that time of year when universities around the country are swamped with kids trying to figure out where to go study. I say kids, but many of them are not much younger than I was when I started teaching in Maastricht, almost ten years ago.

I don’t say that to show off. In fact, at 23, I was a relatively old graduate by Australian standards. Start a degree right out of school and you’ll be done by 21. In the Netherlands, students are often just warming up at that age. The bachelor-master system may have been partly introduced to discourage students from loitering around for the better part of a decade, but the old system died a slow death, at least in people’s minds. Since the old degree amounted, in today’s terms, to both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, a bachelor’s alone counts in the Dutch collective psyche as just over half a degree.

I was an unhappy teacher, and not only because I was monumentally unqualified. There were two problems. First, teaching involves a considerable amount of interaction with the other human beings. Second, it is unpleasantly dependent on both students and teacher showing up in the same place at the same time. It didn’t bother me if the students wanted to congregate somewhere; the fact that I had to be there too was the real thorn in my side.

Don’t get me wrong: I love work. Adore it. My problem is with things being locked in: dentist appointments, meetings, events of any kind. The fact that I must make myself respectable and enter the world is only part of it. It’s the psychological aspect of obligation that bothers me; the prospect of a fixed agenda item looming on the horizon, no matter how innocent. Friday afternoon coffee with a friend, say. ‘I literally can’t breathe’, I’ll tell Rutger-Jan, waving my diary in his face. ‘I can’t even.’ Even a Sunday afternoon Skype date to watch my one-year-old nephew rub peas on his face is enough to give me heart palpitations – although at least I don’t have to get out of my pyjamas for that.

 

 

 

A wonderful career choice

Observant, Maastricht

So Karl Andree, the Briton sentenced to public flogging in Saudi Arabia for alcohol possession, has been released. I’m reminded of lecture I attended years back in Sydney, by a journalist who’d likewise just been released from a Saudi jail. It was the only lecture I enjoyed of my entire journalism degree.

Looking back, my choice for journalism was a touch naïve: Hey, I like writing! I’d have preferred the creative writing major, but back then I still imagined I’d like to get a job some day.

I hated the programme from day one. It turned out that all those journalism students actually wanted to be journalists. Me, I wasn’t cut from the right cloth to ask a grieving woman, ‘Mrs Johnson, a comment? How does it feel to mow down your own son in an SUV?’ For an investigative piece on the theme of ‘hardship’ I interviewed a friend who lived on a farm. A photojournalism piece on urban spaces became a montage of walls in the city. Some had fanciful curls of ivy or interesting graffiti, but mostly they were just bricks or wood. I would zoom in artistically on the knots. ‘That’s your character right there,’ I told the lecturer.

The journalist who came to talk to us had been arrested for showing an ankle in public, or maybe it was eating babies – I don’t recall the details. For punishment, she was driven out into the desert and tied to a stake. They meant to stone her or lash her, one of the two.

At the thought of her husband and children back home, the journalist went mental. She started hollering and thrashing about and lifting up her burka, shrieking, ‘Look at this! Look at it! What is oh so fucking evil about this?’

‘Well,’ said the journalist, adjusting her seat on the stage of the lecture theatre. ‘After this performance they took me to be quite insane. They bundled me back in the car, drove to the consulate and couldn’t kick me out fast enough.

‘Journalism, though,’ she continued, turning from the moderator to face us, ‘really is a wonderful career choice.’