Old Language, New Model: Is There a Community of English Speakers?

Countries where English is an official or de f...

Countries where English is an official or de facto official language (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Saki Miyata

In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson discusses the rise of nationalism in Europe through the study of language and the establishment of official or vernacular languages. A “revolution in European ideas about language” (Anderson 1991) evolved right after the discovery of the civilizations other than European, which were thought to be much older than the European civilization.

The “revolution in European ideas about language” included the beginning of the first scientific study of language, including comparing grammar, classifying language into families, reconstructing language by scientific reasoning of “proto-language” (Anderson 1991). These studies of language created new fields of professions, which pushed further increase in printed language including dictionaries. In addition, Anderson states that the so-called middle class population “visualize in a general way the existence of thousands and thousands like themselves through print language” (Anderson 1991). Here, it implies that the population sharing the same vernacular language or readable language were able to imagine a community.

I was particularly interested in the concept that sharing the same language creates communities. Anderson states that “power and print-language mapped different realms” (Anderson, 1991). To give an example, a German speaking population was imagined as a community, including every German speaker meaning both native German speakers and the population who did not come from Germany but was able to speak the German language. Can we apply this to the current English speaking world? The English speaking world includes the United States, Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries that use English, as well as immigrant populations. Although their countries may be different, these groups of people all share and understand the same language.

If sharing a common language means to belong to the same community, can ESL (English as a second language) students be included in the “English-speaker’s community” as well? Can accents such as “British-accent”, “American-accent”, and “Australian-accent” all be classified as one community? In order to investigate who belongs to this “English community”, the ownership of English is questioned. Pavlenko and Norton interestingly state that “In many English-speaking context, the ownership of English by white immigrants is contested to a significantly lesser degree than by racialized newcomers” (Palvenco and Norton, 2007). Does this imply that the English language belongs to whites?

Do different language have different degrees of unity? Is it true that the smaller or lesser the population which shares a language, the stronger sense of community? In Japan, one of the criteria to be recognized as Japanese is to be able to speak the Japanese language. In Japanese society, the Japanese language is considered unique and it is true that Japan is the only country that uses Japanese. However, English is used or learned all around the world. For example, in Canada, being able to speak English was not considered important when determining who is Canadian.

Another question is how well do we have to know the language in order to be in the community? If Benedict Anderson’s statement of imagining a community by sharing common language can be applied to the English speaking world, then these members are increasing drastically through the globalization.

For further research I would also like to investigate what for and why these people “wants” or feel necessary to join this community of the English language.


Education for immigrant students: A reflection of society

by Jicheol Yang

Education for international students takes a role to reflect what society wants (Cage, N., 2008). Kanno (2006) analyzes four different kinds of educational institutions focusing on bilingual education in Japan. Kanno assumes that school vision and its education construct identity of students through bringing the idea of imagined communities. The idea of ‘imagined communities’ here takes the role that learners of second language have expectations or images of the communities where they will participate later.

Kanno reveals how visions of different four bilingual schools have decided their students’ paths after graduation. The schools concentrating on Japanese obviously follow what Japanese society wants and the other focuses on other languages. These results, at least for me, make the idea that the education supports immigrant students to realize their imagined communities with proper curricula for the imagined communities of the students. Thus, bilingual students are forced to be suitable to meet what society requires.

If you see the author’s work, schools makes their program become more adaptable for Japanese society to embrace their students. One school only operates its curriculum in English, but that school is actually based on western society, not Japanese base. Students attending that school mostly go back to western countries for their education and job. In that sense, students who imagine their future in Japan tend to have greater Japanese proficiency than in their original language, and others who expect their lives in their passport countries or other countries without Japan have a tendency to learn curricula with their mother tongue. This shows how international students and schools shape themselves to fit the society’s requirements, the imagined communities. Namely, imagined communities reflecting what society asks have influence to build students’ identification for their future.

The Korean case is more obvious to show that what society needs has serious influence on school programs, even governmental policies. The increasing number of multicultural children from international marriages, mostly between Korean and Southeast Asians, and the inflow of international students are dramatically increasing in Korea. There are several movements to make multicultural schools, but those schools are not for multicultural students and immigrant students to be comfortable with their multicultural background when they grow up in Korea (Lee, B., n.d). It is for them to have Korean proficiency and Korean value through education to reflect what Korean society wants.

For example, students of Chosun ethnicity that come from China have tried to learn Korean to have Korean nationality and work in Korean companies. It is because they have to prepare for their imagined community that is mostly Korean society. Multicultural schools that those student attend, thus, make their students become fluent in Korean. Therefore those schools focus on how to make bilingual students suitable for Korean society. Imagined communities happen in different way by status of students.

As in the previous cases, relatively poor students attend the multicultural schools to assimilate into Korean society, but the rich attend international schools that reflect the high level that Korean society requires. This means that richer immigrant students attend higher level  international schools. For example, Korea has fewer bilingual schools, but the most famous school for bilingual students is the Seoul international School. It is fully operated in English rather than Korean.

It is because of the tendency that Korean society requires students to have English proficiency even more than Korean. Although it was built for international students and some Korean returnees, there are also many Koreans attending the school who are born in Korea. The reason is that having better English proficiency certainly grants high-position jobs in Korean society. Also, Korean society evaluates that English is worth worth than Korean forces Koreans to enter those sorts of schools even through illegal ways (Lee, H., 2013). So, Korean society gives international students different imagined communities.

In short, schools make their curricula for immigrant students to assimilate into the imagined communities that the students dream. The curricula have changed by following what society needs and the situation of students. Namely, education plays a role that makes immigrant students assimilate to be suitable in certain positions in which the positions meet the situation of students rightly.


Cage, N. (2008, November 4). Education: A reflection of society. Retrieved June 24, 2014, from http://voices.yahoo.com/education-reflection-society-2091572.html

Kanno, Y. Imagined Communities, School Visions, and the Education of Bilingual Students in Japan. Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 2, 285-300.

Lee, B. (n.d.). Multicultural international school. . Retrieved June 25, 2014, from http://pocheon.grandculture.net/Contents/Index?contents_id=GC05001685&local=pocheon

Lee, H. (2013, April 10). 168 students did Illegal admission to foreign school [외국인학교 부정입학 163명 “출교”… 하비에르국제학교 절반가량 ‘무자격’]. The Kyunghyang.

Learning in Hong Kong—in English or Cantonese?

English: Hong Kong colonial coat of arms ‪中文(香...

English: Hong Kong colonial coat of arms ‪中文(香港)‬: 香港盾徽 ‪中文(简体)‬: 香港盾徽 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


by Liz Ma

I am writing a paper on education system in Hong Kong and Chinese immigrants. I want to know how exclusive (or not inclusive enough) the education system is, especially the medium of instruction, i.e., Cantonese and English. Here, I recognize as Chinese immigrants those who migrated from China, in particular, those who migrated after 1997.

Hong Kong used to be under British rule, thus the official language of the public sector and government departments was English, instead of Cantonese or Chinese. The foreign language was highly engaged in the general public’s life. The language environment gives rise to two problematic issues. The first is that parents debate hard on whether they should send their children to EMI (English Medium of Instruction) or CMI (Chinese Medium of Instruction – here I mean Cantonese).

Back in the days of British rule, being accepted to EMI schools was a prerequisite for “the winning group”. The reasons behind parental preference, if not the child’s own choice in most of the cases, are multiple. However, the most powerful pull and push factor is that English was the official language in Hong Kong and outside the border. Positions in the government (still running the pension system) and foreign invested companies (highly paid jobs) were the easiest way to achieve promising career prospect. To get those keen competitive positions, the least requirement was high English proficiency. If you were able to master the language, you enjoyed a higher chance of promotion, and being appointed as an overseas manager.

Flag of Hong Kong (1959–97) ‪中文(简体)‬: 香港殖民地时期旗帜

Flag of Hong Kong (1959–97) ‪中文(简体)‬: 香港殖民地时期旗帜 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Similar to the Chinese boom in many countries nowadays, English is a very preferable foreign language in Hong Kong. Not to mention how attractive going abroad is, most students holding a foreign degree (the United States and the United Kingdom are the top two choices for studying abroad) get a very sound job when they return. Some top government officials can speak very fluent English, Anson Chan was one of the well known ones. Therefore, we can see how people look towards English speakers (even if they are Asian rooted). People believe learning English means knowing how to achieve a successful life. In Hong Kong, Cantonese makes you normal, while English helps you to stand out of the crowd, to become elite.

We can see a discrimination created by government in silence, because of how the system operates, how discrimination is rooted and generated and confirmed by parents and then among students. EMI schools are desirable. It is true that most of the top ranking secondary schools are EMIs. The top university in Hong Kong puts more emphasis on scores on English subjects rather than Chinese subjects during their admission and interview process.

As for Chinese immigrants, most secondary schools do not provide support to them when they first come to Hong Kong. As I mentioned above, English is viewed as more important when compared with Chinese. Chinese immigrants in classroom therefore become the inferior group, and in term of attention from teachers, naturally less than their classmates. It might also because of teachers’ poor level of Chinese. It is a fact that Chinese has never been a must to learn. The situation has changed gradually in recent years, I believe.

I am still doing research on the subject, but it seems the first issue takes up the main part. Information now in my hands contributes, more useful for building up the first issue.

The Dilemma of Multicultural Education

Anonymous student post

As I have noted in the previous blog post, Singapore is dealing with problems that have appeared due to the cultural and linguistic diversity brought by immigrants. Besides the declining use of ethnic mother tongues as well as individuals’ cultural identities, there are other results that have been observed due to English-speaking bilingual education. Those are the social mobility in society and the country’s conflicting ideals.

According to Nakamura (2009), people’s English ability has certain influence on upward mobility in society. In her research, it has been proved that those who use English have higher incomes than those who use their ethnic mother tongues daily. As we have discussed in class, there is a certain social structure in Singapore that creates this situation. The structure of “the higher education you get, the higher income and social status you get in the society” is especially notable in Singapore.

If we keep this fact in mind and look at the university education, you would notice that almost all of the university courses are offered in English, hardly any in the ethnic mother tongues (except for the language classes). There is no doubt that if you cannot use English, you will fail to get into the university and thus end up having a lower social status. In addition, even if people could use English, their income and status depends on what type of “English” they use. If they could only speak in “Singlish” (Singaporean English), then, their income would be lower than those who can speak in “British-like English”.

This shows that linguistic ability is what creates Singapore’s social hierarchy. In other words, immigrants tend to do better by assimilating (using English) rather than “staying ethnic” (using mother tongues).

Although it is obvious that there is a top-down pressure of speaking a “proper English” in the society, there is still many campaigns or programs that Singaporean government tries to keep ethnic diversity, as they recognize it as their national strength. One example is that in 1979, the government started the “Special Assistance Plan School” for Chinese schools in Singapore (Lee, 2008). This school offers a higher education in Chinese for the purpose of not diminishing the Chinese cultures, values and norms. Also, as I have noticed while studying in National University of Singapore, there were many opportunities for students to be aware of their cultural identities such as cultural weeks, which students with different ethnic groups introduced their cultures to others.

In my opinion, “Singapore as a multicultural country” is in a dilemma in that people are encouraged to keep their ethnic identities but they cannot do better in society if they actually “stayed ethnic.” In conclusion, this type of gap between “linguatocracy” (Nakamura, 2009) which refers to those who can speak “proper English” and immigrants who could only speak in their mother tongues will be apparent in any other countries that are expecting to open up themselves for immigrants. We could learn from Singapore’s case and think of the way to conduct educations in the diversified society.


Lee, E. (2008). Singapore: the unexpected nation. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Nakamura, M. (2009). Shingaporu ni okeru kokumin togo. Kyoto: Horitsubunkasha.

English Education and Preservation of Ethnic Diversity in Singapore

English: National Institute of Education, Sing...

English: National Institute of Education, Singapore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anonymous student post

Large numbers of Singapore’s population are immigrants. Since the country got its independence in 1965, there have always been new immigrants coming in from all over the world who become members of the community. As a result, it has become very ethnically and culturally diverse. Just looking at its population, according to CIA World Factbook, there are 74.2% Chinese, 13.3% Malay, 9.2% Indian, 3.3% other (2012 est.) Some scholars believe that this cultural diversity brought by immigrants is what has made Singapore so economically successful. (Yin, 2013)

Adjusting to this type of diverse environment, Singapore sets four different languages for its official use. So when I was there, I could see many public signs, written in those four when I was there. It was certainly a surprising experience for someone who has been lived in Japan, which only has Japanese as its official language.

Following this astonishment, a new question came up to my mind as a student who was studying in a university in Singapore; that is, how do the educational institutions deal with this diversity?

In this blog post, I would like to see the current language education system in Singapore and observe the outcomes.

Firstly, the Singaporean government heavily focuses on education as it contributes to economic development and unification of the people. They decided to offer basic education in two languages, one is English, other is their ethnic mother tongue languages from where their roots are from, such as Chinese, Malay or Tamil. The reason is that government believes educating people in English will be useful in the process of future economic development foreseeing the globalization; and other languages to preserve their cultural identities. (Nakamura, 2009)

This has worked out successfully for the first aspect. English has contributed Singapore becoming the hub of Southeast Asia. It also has become the symbol of nationwide unity that connects people with different cultures and enabled them to communicate with each other. Now they even created so-called “Singlish” (Singapore-English; mixture of English and languages of different ethnic groups exist in Singapore), which could also be considered as part of their national identity.

However, for the second aspect of preserving diverse cultures through learning non-English languages, is not functioning as it was expected. As a matter of fact, less people are using their ethnic mother tongues in Singapore as they no longer use them outside their communities. Because cultures could not be transmitted onto next generation without the languages, it has become a problem. This is also leading to the changes in individual’s identities. As their language ability for non-English languages declines, their identity as a member of each community declines, too. Thus, this is now seen as a challenge how to keep their languages and cultural diversity in this country (Nakamura, 2009).

In addition, there is an issue that social mobility in the society is somewhat depending on their English ability. I will further discuss this point in the later blog post.

In conclusion, through this outcome of bi(multi-)lingual language education in Singapore, we could observe the difficulty of uniting people with different cultural backgrounds under one national identity whilst preserving the cultural diversity. This type of phenomenon is what many nation states would be expecting to see in their countries as more and more international migration occurs in the world. How to protect the cultures and languages while adjusting to the flow of globalization is a difficult question to find a solution.


Nakamura, M. (2009). Shingaporu ni okeru kokumin togo. Kyoto: Horitsubunkasha.

Singapore. (2014, May 1). Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved May 25, 2014, from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sn.html

Yin, D. (2013, June 6). Singapore Needs Immigrants, Says Jim Rogers. Forbes. Retrieved May 25, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidyin/2013/06/06/singapore-needs-immigrants-says-jim-rogers


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Globalization of Names

by Aki Yamada

Have you ever heard English names for non-English speakers? Or, have you ever introduced your friends like “Here are my friends, Christine, John, Sophia and Mason. They are all from China!!” Actually, this was my experience when I studied abroad in America and I wanted to introduce my friends to other friends. I did not feel strange about their names at that time, however, now I think it was greatly impacted by globalization. Globalization is the emergence of worldwide markets and communications that increasingly ignore national boundaries. As one of its influences, globalization has made huge impacts in cultural areas in countries, such as music, movies, radio, books, and also people’s and companies’ names. Therefore, I want to discuss why people (especially Chinese) can change their names to English names, and to compare to the Japanese case.

Firstly, in Japan, it is quite rare for Japanese people to change their names by themselves because Japanese names are so simple and easy to remember for English speakers. Thus, they do not feel necessity to change their names. In addition, if you want to change your name, it is possible, but you need to go to a domestic court to get permission for that. However, usually it is difficult to go through these processes because you need a clear reason to change your name. As another reason why Japanese keep their name is that they have own pride and honor of their names. We think this name was given from my parents so we should keep our name carefully.

On the other hand, in China, there are some reasons that why it is easy to change their names into English names. First, for English speaker, it is really tough to read and pronounce Chinese names such as Yeo Wern Xin and Yanxiao. Second, changing their names is a right and duty of Chinese people, which is defined by the Chinese constitution, article 99. They only require doing some paper work to change their name. So, I can say it is much easier and carefree things to change their names. Third, people change their names for their job hunting, which is deeply related to the tough pronunciation of their names. Above, those reasons, compared to Japanese, it is quite common to change their name in global society. And, possibly, it is good way to change their name to get used to global (English speaking) society sometimes. However, as Japanese, to know real name is most important thing to communicate other culture in global world.

“Gaijin” to Japanese: What Japanese Often Expect from Foreigners

by Satona Kato

comediansTerry Kawashima argues that people have a consciousness about race, and this consciousness depends on their background. We can see this by comparing various ways of thinking about shojo manga characters by Western people and Japanese people.

In Japan, many people put the people who are not Asian (Japanese, Korean, Chinese, South East Asian) into one category called “gaijin”. Many Japanese people do not think about the country where the “gaijin” were born. Furthermore, they tend to stereotype that sort of people have specific skills. In Japan, some of the people who are unilaterally labeled as “gaijin” have experiences that they are wounded or feel alienated, especially the people who are multiracial or who were born and grown up in Japan.

As you know, in Japan, multiracial models on TV have been popular. Recently, multiracial comedians become popular as well. They do not act like fashion models. They make people laugh by talking the story about the incident happened around them only because they are multiracial. First, Japanese are surprised that they can speak fluent Japanese and cannot speak English or another foreign language. Japanese also laugh at the characteristics the multiracial comedians share with other Japanese.

They had had many troubles and unique experiences which happened just because they are “hafu.” If we listen to their stories, we can know how hafu people are treated by Japanese. For example, Anthony, he is one of the ‘hafu comedians’. He is American and Japanese. People laugh at the fact that his hometown is Tokyo and his father managed a Sushi shop. He has knowledge about sushi because his home is sushi shop, but when he goes to a sushi shop, the master of sushi shop offered him ‘California roll’ and he was surprised. He has had other interesting experiences. He is bad at English, and when he was an elementary school student, he decided to go to English conversation school. On his first day of English conversation school, when he entered the classroom, other students misinterpreted him as an English teacher and they said “Hello, how are you?” to him.

I want to tell you about one more ‘half comedian’, Ueno Yukio. He was laughed at because of his obvious Japanese name. He is Brazilian and Japanese. When he plays soccer, the opposing team judged Yukio was a good soccer player by his appearance and many defenseman surrounded him. The opportunities to watch TV programs in which many ‘half comedians’ gather and talk about the things often happen around them are increasing. According to them, following things often happen: 

  • are judged to be foreign people
  • are often stopped by the police 
  • are asked by Japanese to sing foreign songs 
  • are laughed at by Japanese when they sing Japanese songs
  • are often expected to have high athletic ability
  • have difficulty getting a part time job
  • are invited to BBQ parties or Halloween parties
  • are called ‘Bob’ or ‘Michel’ 
  • are treated as tourists everywhere

Of course their nationality is Japanese and most of their hometown is Japan. Why they are laughed? Why do Japanese people stereotype their abilities? When Japanese look at people who look like “gaijin’’, Japanese often expect some specific skills because they have some assumptions. They think that people who have white, black, or other foreign appearance have foreign names and can speak foreign languages, and cannot speak Japanese at all.

It is true that hafu people are not a majority in Japan and many Japanese have little familiarity with thinking about race. That’s why people have expectations about the skills hafu people have. If hafu do not have these skills, Japanese laugh at them and hafu are unilaterally discouraged. 

Sharing Culture

by Alexander Austad

As a globally intertwined society, what would be different if entertainment didn’t spread across borders in such a huge way as it does today? This question struck me after having discussed the export and import of media like movies and TV shows in sociology class.

I’m a Norwegian living in an international dorm in Japan, where I communicate with people of various nationalities every day. When I came here I was astonished by how easy it was to get along with everyone, as we quickly started joking around with this and that, often involving references from commonly known shows, music or what have you.

In Norway, a huge part of what is broadcasted on TV is from English speaking countries, and ever since I was little I have been playing video games in English, as most games do not get translated to Norwegian. I have always been grateful that I have been able to understand English from a young age thanks to this, but there is a cultural aspect to it as well that I had not thought of before.

If I was perfectly able to speak English, having learned it in school without any help from the media, chances are I couldn’t as easily had a lighthearted conversation with my friends here in my dorm, and I would most certainly feel slightly out of place if everyone around me was talking or sharing laughs about stuff that I had no idea what was.
With the huge flow of media comes the aspect of inclusion, and this on a different level than what we get from sharing for example intelligence and research across borders.

So does this mean less culture or more culture?

Norway is a small country, population wise, and we cannot really compete with the big dogs in the media industry, like Hollywood. This means that people like me will be kind of Americanized, if you will, and I have even been told here that I am “pretty much an American”.

Chatting with English native speakers here, while I feel like I may be lacking a cultural identity of my own at times, it is merely just that other people don’t see it as much, as I am adapting to ‘them’ when I’m here and not the other way around. I have my own set of references which I can only share with my Norwegian friends, and quite frankly I think that’s enough.

You shouldn’t just learn the language, because with it comes a culture, and I think the entertainment industry, although not necessarily the best source for portrayal of accurate culture, is a very important source, as it is about having shared common experiences with other people, and shared experiences is often what carries conversations.

Are foreign languages a threat to the host country culture and language?

by Glenn Soenvisen

In the mid-90’s a new term, “Kebab-Norwegian,” was coined in Norway; it meant the dialect of the Norwegian language which contained relatively many loanwords from non-western immigrants. This term was soon picked up and used vigorously by the media, where it sometimes was stated as a reason for the deterioration of the “real” Norwegian language. In some extreme cases it was even stated that the verb was put in the wrong place when speaking “Kebab-Norwegian” and female and neuter gender nouns became male. Some even said that it brought unwanted culture into the country, stating that degrading non-western words for “females” were used to refer to females in general. In short, some people perceived “Kebab-Norwegian” as a threat to the “real” Norwegian culture and language. Therefore, we needed assimilation of the users in order to retain our national identity and values.

What I find funny about this, though, is how little basis there are for these utterances. For one thing, “Kebab-Norwegian” is only used in the eastern parts of the Norwegian capital Oslo by immigrant youth and their possible native Norwegian friends; it’s an ethnolect rather than a dialect, and there has been no proof of it spreading to other parts of the country, as is only logical since ethnolects are associated with specific ethnic or cultural subgroups. You could say it is an in-group way of speaking.

And that brings me to another thing worth pointing out: the ethnolect in question is spoken, not written. Sure, users may write it when chatting online through facebook and the like, but those services are closed networks and not available to everyone. Furthermore, even Norwegians may write in their own dialects in such contexts, but it doesn’t seem to affect their ability to write correctly written Norwegian when needed.

Moreover, considering that “Kebab-Norwegian” is almost exclusively used by youths, the users of it are most likely bilingual, or even trilingual, having learned “real” Norwegian from a very young age, as well as English which are being taught from early elementary school level. Keeping this in mind we can take a look at what Alejandro Portes writes in his feature article “English-only triumphs, but the costs are high:” bilinguals outperform their monolingual counterparts in almost all cognitive tests.

In short, immigrants speaking “Kebab-Norwegian” should have no more difficulty in using suitable language to suitable situations on the same level as native Norwegians do. That learning two or more languages at the same time makes for underdeveloped ability in both/all is a thought for the 1930’s.

Besides, even Norwegians themselves mess with the genders of the nouns. I myself use all three genders (male, female, neuter), but in some parts of Norway the female one doesn’t exist. There’s also often the case that nouns can be used as both male and female. What’s more, the new rages in the language debate is that native Norwegian children are more and more using the sound sh [ ʃ ] where kj [ ç ] should be used and, to a lesser degree, using the word hvem (who) where hvilken (which) should be used.

Lastly, it’s not like degrading words for females in general is exclusive to non-western languages. I dare say that bitch is, unfortunately, used extensively in informal spoken English and Norwegian both.

Of course, foreign languages may have influence on the national language and culture, but only in minor ways, such as adding words which we don’t have any words for in our own language, replacing interjections, or introducing new foods. However, this cannot be considered a threat at all. Rather than threatening, the influences enrich and enhance, like an add-on to your browser. If “Kebab-Norwegian” really was a threat, one can wonder why the English influence, which is much bigger, hasn’t made us all speak “Norwish” yet. There is no need for complete assimilation.