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Towards A Sociolinguistics Of Communities

By Author: Solo Chen
Total Articles: 129

While these criticisms demonstrate the limitations of the Three Circles model, it must also be recognized that the major assumptions of the model correlation between socio-political history and local status of English, the centrality of the nation-state, and the privileged status attributed to (traditional) native speakers are 'real', in the sense that they point to prevalent language ideologies that influentially shape and constrain local uses of English across many contexts around the world. This is where we locate the utility of Kachru's model despite its problems, and this is what motivates us to suggest a refraining of the model as Five Fingers Shoes one that represents the system of ideological forces that delimit local creativity and utility of English in the world.

In fact, a language-ideological turn is important for understanding the status of English in the world, as the pursuit of 'descriptive precision' (in terms of coming up with more specific labels and categories) is of limited value in the absence of any understanding of how those categories emerge and function via the mediation of language ideologies.2 For instance, while complaints that the model fails to recognize more than just national varieties are well founded, the answer to this patently does not lie in trying to identify more and more varieties of English. To appreciate this, we need to only observe that the label 'Indian English' is a convenient cover term for a range of regional and social varieties that sometimes go by names like 'Marathi English', 'Hindustani English', 'Boxwallah English', 'Babu English', and 'Kitchen English' (Schneider 2007: 168). And, clearly, even any attention to a regional variety such as 'Marathi English' is equally open to the objection that this label, too, overlooks the variation in regional linguistic practices, and so on.

Such moves are problematic because they assume that both languages and speakers of those languages are 'amenable to counting' where '[t]o abstract languages, to count them as discrete objects, and to count the speakers of Five Fingers KSO such languages, is to reproduce a very particular enumerative strategy, one that reduces "significant sociolinguistic concerns to the level of arithmetic", and overlooks "the problematic history of the construction of such languages. We therefore need to constantly remind ourselves that labels for varieties are a result of simplification of complex sociolinguistic situations and thus represent convenient generalizations that are grounded upon particular social positions (Irvine and Gal 2000). In fact, understandings of how particular grammatical constructions belong to specific varieties are usually the historical products of broader socio-political acts of labeling: particular constructional repertoires become categorized as belonging to variety A, while others are classified as belonging to variety B. These meta-discursive regimes or representations about language reflect socially invented understandings of language, in particular, conceptualizations of varieties as 'separate and enumerable categories'.

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