English or Englishes?
Some time ago, I was sitting comfortably in an armchair listening to my favourite radio station BBC4 when, suddenly, I heard an utterance which gave me so much food for thought. I heard a guy say, “There is no single English language. There is the English of the classroom, the courtroom, the bedroom, the church…” The person who said those words was Stephen Fry, a famous, yet controversial, British journalist, author, comedian, and (most importantly to me) a language enthusiast. The program was Fry’s English Delight, a strongly recommendable documentary series about various aspects of the English language.
I decided to take a closer look at diff erent kinds of English mentioned by Fry, excluding English of the bedroom, for pretty obvious reasons.
‘English of the classroom’
I have been a teacher for nine years. I have experience working in primary school, secondary school, and university. Undoubtedly, ‘classroom English’ is diff erent depending on the age group we work with, but I did not have any problem with compiling a list of expressions which I am sure each teacher of English uses during their lessons and which rarely can be heard outside the classroom context, for example:
- Let’s start our lesson.
- I’m waiting for you to be quiet.
- Let me call the roll.
- Who is absent?
- Open your books at page X.
- Who wants to read the homework?
- I’m afraid that’s not quite right. Have another try.
- You have X minutes to do that exercise.
- Have you fi nished?
- Any questions?
- Let’s check the answers.
- Do you follow me?
- Are you with me?
- Turn to page X.
- Do exercise X on page X for your homework.
- Close your books.
- One more thing before you go.
- We’ve run out of time, so we’ll continue next lesson.
- That’s all for today.
‘English of the court’
Never have I been to court myself, but I have watched a few fi lms set in a courtroom, among them one of the most touching of all the fi lms I have seen in my life, namely, Philadelphia. The phrases below I wrote down while watching this famous trial of Andrew Beckett, played by Tom Hanks, against his employer.
- Do you swear to tell the whole truth, so help you God?
- Just answer the question, please.
- No further questions at this time, Your Honour.
- No more questions, Your Honour.
- Excuse me, Your Honour, but is this for the record?
- Not to my knowledge.
- You’re not answering the question.
- You haven’t ruled on my objection, Your Honour.
- Your Honour, this line of questioning
is vital to the issue of credibility.
- Your Honour, I object!
- The witness will please respond to the question.
- I’ll withdraw it, Your Honour.
- Your Honour, may I approach the witness?
- Remember that you’re under oath.
- Your Honour, may I have five minutes
- Your Honour, it would unfairly influence the jury.
- You may record the verdict.
‘English of the church’
Let’s focus on Catholic Church as the dominant one in our country. Little eff ort is needed to prepare a long list of expressions used only in a religious context, during mass or any other form of religious ceremonies. Interestingly, language used in church seems to be very highly conventionalised, as the whole mass, with the exception of sermon, is based on responses which from the linguistic point of view can be called prefabricated, well-rehearsed, automatized chunks of words. Let us mention just a few:
- Dear brothers and sisters!
- God bless you!
- Let us pray.
- In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
- The Peace of the Lord be with you.
- Lord, have mercy.
- What God wants to tell us in this scripture passage is X.
- Jesus reminds us in today’s gospel that X.
- Today, our Lord invites us to X.
- Jesus is trying to teach us today X.
- The Gospel according to Mathew/Mark/ Lucas/John.
- Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!
- Go in the peace of Christ!
- May almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
So, English or Englishes?
Looking at all the expressions above, can we agree with Fry that there is no single English language but rather many Englishes? I am absolutely sure that this is not the case. It defi nitely is the same language, as it is based on the same phonological, syntactical, and morphological rules. Nevertheless, I do see Fry’s point. Indeed, from the lexical point of view, the expressions vary considerably.
Fry’s remark about diff erent English used in diff erent fi elds of life should make us, teachers of English, aware that it is our responsibility to equip our students with the vocabulary and phrases they will need in their future life. May Fry’s words remind us what Yorio aptly noticed more than thirty years ago, that is, “The task of second language teachers is to develop competence in second language learners in those areas where they want or need to develop competence. Language teaching objectives are, in consequence, dependent on language learning objectives” (1980: 433). To show how greatly the objectives might vary, Yorio gives examples of four potential learners. One of them wants to be able to read medical journals in English. Another plans to study in an American University, yet another wants to live in Toronto as an immigrant and make a living as a briber. The last mentioned wants to work in a hotel in Egypt that caters to English speaking tourists. In order to satisfy the objectives set by a particular learner, the teachers needs to adjust their lesson plans, having goals of each learner or group of learners in mind.
Is variety the trouble of teacher’s life?
Foreign Language Centre at John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, like many other University Language Centres in Poland, has noticed the need of introducing English for Specifi c Purposes (ESP) as an essential part of university education and currently provides courses such as Business English, Psychological English, Legal English, and Pedagogical English and still thinks of broadening its off er for the students from diff erent departments of our University. Who teaches those courses? We, that is graduates of English Philology. What does it mean to us? Great challenge. Never studied Psychology, never studied Law, never studied Economics. I personally do have to prepare a lot to teach diff erent ‘Englishes.’ But, would I say that this variety creates trouble for a 21st century teacher of English? No, I would not. I would rather stick to the British saying that variety is the spice of life. Because it is, isn’t it? It is hoped that this article will encourage all those who teach ESP to share their ideas and interesting lesson plans to be published in The Teacher.
- Yorio, C.A., 1980. Conventionalized language forms and the development of communicative competence. TESOL Quarterly 14 (4), 433–442.