The Reading Room at the British Museum

Recently Read: Language wars, critical friends, and websites quoting me

This week’s collection of noteworthy items looks into what happens to the language of post-colonial polities; reports on the inevitable clash of cultures when authoritarian regimes and the last bastions of free speech share office space; reminds readers of the value of critical friends; and looks into the advantages of blogging.

English in Ghana

The first story in this week’s collection is an article published in the Guardian in 2012, but I only discovered it this week, through Nicos Sifakis’ curated page on English as an International Lingua Franca. The article describes how the people in Ghana are beginning to increasingly use local varieties of English, and that local standards are emerging to replace the Queen’s English. Here’s an extract:

…a backlash is growing against the old mentality of equating a British accent with prestige. Now the practice has a new acronym, LAFA, or “locally acquired foreign accent”, and attracts derision rather than praise. “In the past we have seen people in Ghana try to mimic the Queen’s English, speaking in a way that doesn’t sound natural. They think it sounds prestigious, but frankly it sounds like they are overdoing it,” said Professor Kofi Agyekum, head of linguistics at the University of Ghana.

More to read: The processes described in the article are similar to the hypothesis I outlined about the re-emergence of Scottish English, in the event that Scotland breaks away from the UK (the recent referendum may not be the end of that story, it seems). English as a Lingua Franca, a nascent research paradigm in linguistics, studies the emergence of local varieties, although it is still in its infancy, as I argue here, and it’s still the focus of some controversy.

Confucius in Chicago

Elsewhere in the world, the University of Chicago appears to have severed its ties with the Confucius Institute, the Chinese government agency that has been tasked with teaching the Chinese language and promoting Chinese culture abroad. The rationale of this decision, described below, offers a prompt for some reflection regarding the intrusion of non-academic entities in higher education and their impact on academic freedom.

The University of Chicago has suspended negotiations to renew its agreement to host a Confucius Institute after objecting to an unflattering article that appeared in the Chinese press. The decision follows a petition, signed by more than 100 faculty members this spring, calling for the closure of the institute. The petition raised concerns that in hosting the Chinese government-funded center for research and language teaching, Chicago was ceding control over faculty hiring, course content, and programming to Confucius Institute headquarters in Beijing.

More to read: As hinted in the extract, concerns about the operations and policies of the Confucius Institute have been expressed in the past as well. Some background information can be found in this article. In Greece, there have been some objections to what is perceived as an incursion of Chinese in public education (as I describe here), but it seems that the arguments invoked were mercenary rather than academic.

Critical Friends

Changing topics, there are some interesting thoughts on how critical friends can support doctoral students in this blog post by Su Lyn Corcoran, a fellow University of Manchester student investigating Kenyan street children. What follows is some advice on how to forge such connections:

So how do you find such kindred researchers? For me it has been more of an accident than a plan. The most important way is to network. Going to events such as seminar series or conferences (that are carefully selected to tie into your own work) and talked to people (rather than take a position standing observing from the corner – I am not overly sociable but I push myself to speak to at least two people at an event), invited other researchers to coffee to talk over specific aspects, take part in or set up a reading group (can be immensely helpful) and maybe even organised your own conference (the key to my friend finding), all help you to widen the reach of your own research, but also find people who can offer you more subject specific assistance.

On blogging

The last extract in this collection is a feature on blogging, by Sylvia Guinan at WizIQ, which lists the benefits of blogging to oneself, to others and to the future of education. The feature also contains flattering comments about myself, and as modesty forbids reproducing them here, I will copy a part of the opening statement instead:

When you start your first blog and publish your first article, you are putting yourself out there beyond the comfort zone. You are acting, exercising, and setting your difficult, quirky, off-beat thoughts and feelings free. This is dangerous and exhilarating. Only dangerous if you refuse to recognise the new you typing itself onto the page, saying things you’d never have said otherwise.
It’s exhilarating when you realise that you are making a great difference…

More to read: For additional thoughts on why to maintain an academic blog and some practical advice, you may want to read a recent post that I wrote; for a comprehensive and authoritative explanation of why academics blog, you can do much worse than read what Pat Thomson and Inger Mewburn have to say.


Featured Image Credit: ceridwen @ geograph.org.uk, CC BY-SA

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