English in Mobility: The Question of Negotiation
2011 Watson Lecture: Suresh Canagarajah
Though the global spread of English is being studied well, the dominant models of scholarship structure the language differences into manageable systems. The spatiotemporal life of English and the challenges in negotiation across transnational spaces need more analysis. Recently, the school of Sociolinguistics of Globalization has developed the construct of spatiotemporal scales to study traveling texts and codes. This construct enables us to address the portability of semiotic resources and changing indexical orders with greater insight. Also, unlike romanticized orientations to transnational relations, this construct enables us to address the role of power in shaping the uptake of resources in shifting social spaces. Sociolinguists in this tradition show how the resources that enjoy power and prestige in certain local contexts receive lower status as they move to other social contexts, especially in western urban communities. Despite the usefulness of this orientation, the approach suffers from certain limitations. It presents a stratified vision of social spaces, ignoring the possibility for renegotiating status differences and hierarchies. Its normative orientation to languages prevents it from accommodating the possibility that new language norms and practices might emerge, leading to revised orders of indexicality. For these reasons, it is also insensitive to agency in mobility, unable to theorize how people may renegotiate norms in elite and privileged contexts. Constructs in rhetoric, such as contact zones and rhetorical listening, usefully complement these sociolinguistic models, enabling us to address issues of agency and collaboration in meaning production. To illustrate the value of this modified approach, I provide a closer look at the negotiation strategies in the global contact zones, analyzing data from two research projects: i.e., African skilled migrants in English-dominant communities and international students in American classrooms.