Ontological Data Prompt

This is a series of extracts from a personal blog about free web applications.

Read the text, paying attention to the different ways the blogger (Young), and two commenters (Swookiee and Mani) write.

Free nuts: top 10 free proxy softwares

Young: To visit YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and some other websites that are blocked in China, sometimes I use free online proxy tools, but most of the time, I like using free proxy softwares, since they are faster and free of ADs. Among those free proxy softwares, below 10 are the most popular... [...] Swookie: [...] the problem with most of them is that the client login is being blocked, the cyberghost forum suggests a workaround for their software with hotspot, the thing about hotspot is that the are not that fast, and use deep package scanning to past you website with ADs, not really cool, cg on the other hand is waaay faster since they have a premium servers in Germany. You have to turn on hotspot log on to cyberghost then turf off hotspot and logon to the cyberghost server. you definitely can just try an connect to cyberghost straight ahead mybe thall work, it's a bit difficult for me to be testin it since im not in china [...] Mani: tnx. Iran as like China have limited the Internet but now a days world just like a littel village. It's very good feeling that i can help from someone that who far a way thousends kilometers. maybe someday humans live in FREEDOM. Goodluck my Brother.

 

Notice


Question

What different features of the three bloggers’ use of English caught your attention? Make a note of features where the writers used English (a) appropriately and effectively, showing complex knowledge, and (b) in ways which differed from ‘Standard’ native-speaker norms.

Comment

The Englishes of these bloggers (Young, Swookiee, and Mani) include a number of appropriate grammatical, lexical and spelling choices, including:
  • ● technical vocabulary (e.g. proxy tools; client login, deep package scanning, workaround)

    ● metaphors (e.g. paste…with; the world as a village)

    ● lexical chunks (e.g most of the time; on the other hand, the thing about X is)

    ● spelling and capitalisation for added emphasis (e.g. ADs; waaay faster; FREEDOM, Brother)

    ● creating informality through features of spoken language (e.g. just try an connect, mybe thall work, testin it) and lexical choices (not really cool)

    ● typical features of computer-mediated language (e.g. use of lower case throughout; cg[abbreviation]; tnx)
There are also some quite complex grammatical structures and discourse features, e.g.:
  • ● I like using free proxy softwares, since they are faster and free of Ads

    ● the thing about hotspot is that the are not that fast

    ● It’s very good feeling that i can get help from someone that who far a way thousends kilometers
We also noticed the following features that are not typical of native speaker usage:
  • software used in the plural

    ● definite articles and plurals on nouns (e.g. the thing about hotspot, you have to turn on hot spot log on; It’s very good feeling)

    ● the verb be (e.g. its a bit difficult for me to be testin it; world just like a littel village; someone that who far a way)

    ● word order (e.g. below 10 are the most popular; you definitely can just try; far a way thousends kilometers)

    ● subject-verb agreement (Iran as like as Chine have…)

    ● complex conjunctions (as like as, that who)

    ● word boundaries (e.g. now a days, Goodluck)
And also some phonetic spelling and possible typos, probably due to fast typing:
  • ● the are not that fast

    ● turf off hotspot, mybe

    ● little

    ● thousends


React


Question

How do you react to the different ways these three short blog extracts are written? What do the differences suggest to you about the nature of English?

Comment

From a plurilithic perspective, we observe that the bloggers are successfully communicating: exchanging specific technical information, opinions about the various technical options, general comments about the value of the blog, the current state of the world, and their hopes for the future. But they don’t need the same English to achieve this communicative success. Young’s usage is the closest to ‘Standard English’ and is more formal in style; Swookiee’s is more casual, with many features of spoken language; and Mani’s has the most variability and non-native features. Each is different, but all contribute to the interactants’ multiple, overlapping purposes.

Specifically, the non-native features in the writing of all three bloggers do not seem to make it difficult for them to understand each others’ meanings, even though they are different from forms we teach students to write (and speak).

Taken together, the variable forms but successful functioning of these blog posts suggests that it is not a single, fixed, monolithic code which allows English to do its job, but rather a collection of different resources, spread across users and uses. From this perspective, English is not one thing, but many. It exists in different forms: it is plurilithic.


Reflect


Question

What are the implications of this for you as a teacher?

Comment

The bloggers’ writing provides evidence of the many different forms of, and ways of using, English among its vast number of users, both native speakers and non-native speakers.

There isn’t one single form or usage for words and structures in English (or any other language). Making an appropriate choice of word, spelling or structure depends on multiple factors, including: modality (speaking/writing and the grey areas between these), place (geographical location, online/offline), topic, and (institutional) relationships/roles.

The complexities of the interactions between these factors mean that there are multiple possible appropriate choices—even within a single genre like a blog, as this example shows—and therefore that English cannot be ring-fenced, with ‘Standard English’ inside the fence and ‘Non-standard English’ banished to the outside. As we have suggested in earlier sections of this course, languages (including English) have no centres and extremely fuzzy boundaries.

What are the teaching implications? Perhaps that your students should learn the subset of features of English that will help them achieve their communicative goals, whatever these goals may be and however some of these features might be labelled or judged by certain users. When students ask you whether a word, structure or pronunciation is (correct) English or not, you can only honestly answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in relation to specific tasks and contexts of use—never absolutely. As the blog extracts demonstrated, there is a very wide spectrum of possible registers and users of English.

Not being able to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to students’ questions about correctness might feel a bit strange; students often expect—and we feel we should be able to provide—answers that are always true. So what can we do instead? Well, we can try and encourage our students to: (a) notice the contexts of the words, structures and pronunciations that get used in real situations; and (b) focus on achieving their desired communicative effect, without always worrying about whether something is judged ‘correct’ or not.

To tell students that a particular word choice, spelling, structure or pronunciation is always (or never) correct (part of ‘Standard English’), would be simply untrue: this is an ontological fallacy, because it assumes that a single correct version of the system exists.