Quick thoughts: EIL and TBLT

A 26 segment × 3 exposure (78 frames in total)...

Hong Kong skyline (Photo credit: Wikipedia).

There are more Indian than British speakers of English, and it is now possible to find English speakers in just about every country.  What does this mean for English? What does this mean for me as a teacher?

The first, and most basic observation is that students should learn about the Englishes they are most likely to encounter. That is, someone doing business in Singapore is likely to need to understand American, British, Australian, Hong Kong, Singaporean, and Malay varieties of English.

How can I possibly expose my students to this variety? And if English is now pluricentric, and I am a Malay English teacher who wants my students to be able to actually use English in their lives, what can I base my curriculum around?

Perhaps this is one area that Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) can be particularly helpful. Instead of focusing on abstract language constructs or grammar points, Task-Based Approaches focus on learning language by doing things. So, for example, models of successful interviews (which, in a plurilinguistic place would likely be heterogenous in nature) can be used as input for the task of doing interviews. This sidesteps the need for one model or variety of English to be used (and tested).

TBLT has been criticized as too Western or as being inappropriate to other contexts. Here is an example of the ways TBLT can aid in both localization and globilization (or glocalization if you prefer).

Ainokea: pidgin polysemy

One of the basic properties of words is that they are polysemous: they have many meanings. Take the word get: you can get a table (meaning procure or reserve a table) and you can get sick (meaning become ill).

People also make moral judgements about language–we expect that people express their beliefs and attitudes towards the world through language, and we judge people based on how they talk.

Enter Ainokea.

For those of you not from Hawaii, Ainokea is a Hawaiianized/Pidginized version of “I no care,” which at first glance seems to be the pidgin “translation” of “I don’t care.”

[Note: This Hawaiianized/Pidginized rendering of the Pidgin phrase could be described as Pidgin written in Hawaiian orthography, as it matches the sounds of Pidgin if they had been written in the Hawaiian language. It also matches the Odo orthography (a writing system used by some linguists to describe Hawaiian Creole English or “Pidgin”). The Odo orthography more closely represents the sound of Pidgin than “I no care,” but we could discuss other aspects of the choice to “Pidginify” or Hawaiianize the spelling: does it represent a separatist attitude between Pidgin and English? Is it simply word play? The choice of adding the Hawaiian islands seems to evoke a kind of local-ness, but that’s a post for another day.]

Ainokea t-shirts started popping up about 5 years ago around Hawaii, leading to a sort of moral panic. Some of my teacher friends from the mainland banned the t-shirts in their classrooms saying “in this classroom, we care.” Similarly, the first response I saw was characteristically Christian:

Aikea: I do what HE like (note that the pastor was giving a sermon on “Ainokea”).

Ainokea became shorthand for all kinds of social ills: lack of respect and self-centeredness; meth-heads and lazy localspolitical and social indifference; a “beavis and butt-head” attitude; lack of engagement with the outside world; lack of empathy; the loss of aloha. Even the mayor putting his feet on the desk signified his ainokea attitude. Here are some examples:

Some helpful folks are planting aloe and mother-in-law’s tongues at the base of trees where the ainokea crew dump their hot coals.

The City’s attitude: “We don’t care what the Mainland is doing,” Honolulu Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka said. Ainokea is right Mr. Yioshioka. For the record, I see the numbers and Aikea (emphasis added).

But here’s where the polysemy comes in. I was out with some friends trying to decide where to go for dinner, and the response? Ainokea, it’s all good. So I started asking my pidgin-speaking friends “what does Ainokea mean to you?” The majority emphasized that it meant you were easy going and flexible. The same T-shirt company prints this definition:

ai-no-kea 1) free from worry or doubt 2) relaxed or casual in style or manner 3) the state of being unrestricted 4) hakuna matata Hawaiian for “carefree”

For most speakers, “care,” has both the meaning to look after/feel affection for as well as concern and anxiety. The T-shirt company and many of the defenders of the shirts argue that the shirt is concerned with the second meaning; critics argue the first meaning (and some of the people wearing the shirts have this opinion).

Either way, Ainokea often references certain kinds of localness. From the Hawaiian islands on the logo, to the localized spelling, it evokes localness, though whether that means carefree and easygoing or lazy and selfish is contested. This yelper invokes several resources: heineken, skankin’ to island reggae, slippahs, flower–all marks of a certain kind of local-ness, though one that only someone very familiar with Hawaii (and who may even sometimes identify as local) would choose to use.

I still don’t get the whole “Ainokea” concept and why it was or is so popular. I think it’s stupid, personally. My girlfriend gave me a Ainokea tank top for my birthday. Seriously. When was the last time she ever seen me sport a pua in my ear, two different color slippahs, a heine in one hand and a pitcher in the other, skanking to “it’s a two person party tonight”?

What is interesting to me is that many of the criticisms of ainokea are by locals. So we have a contested form of polysemy–when we see this T-shirt, we see different meanings. But is it the case that the more “pidgin” you are, the more you see the latter and the less you see the former? In Hawaii, Pidgin and English are rarely mutually exclusive–they influence and shape each other. So after all the talk surrounding ainokea, has that meaning changed?

and then there’s this:

(“I no more hair” would translate as “I don’t have any hair”)

Rampant Linkery

It’s been far too long since I’ve posted anything. Here are some links I’ve found interesting.

A superb blog by a brilliant former classmate of mine with his thoughts on language. Come see some old maps. Benny Lewis, one of the many polyglots telling Americans how to learn languages has some good solid advice. Language diversity, the paucity of true language universals, and what this means for our understanding of cognitive science. Glenn Greenwald reviewing a movie on the dangers of obedience to authority. How to deal with creepy dudes. Homophobia and Hip-hop. The problem with men explaining things to women.