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Book Review: Communicating with Asia: The Future of English as a Global Language [Part 1]

A geopolitical map of Asia expansion is vast stretching out the continent into six large subregions namely the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia and North Asia. Hence, the slogan ‘Asian Century’ epitomizes a variability of interests in Asia as this continent receives considerable attention from numerous angles such as political, financial, military, cultural, ecological and tourism. Therefore, ‘Communicating with Asia’ written by Gerhard Leitner, Azirah Hashim and Hans-Georg Wolf looks at Asia predominantly from its communicative and linguistic aspects. The book documents the role, status and development of English across Asia in the post-colonial age and how it facilitates communication within the region and wider world. Furthermore, I found chapters in the book are interesting as for the light it shed on a number of other Asian languages that hitherto have been neglected for readers to have a better understanding of languages habitats in this continent.

          Divided into three parts, the authors briefly chart the transformation of English from acting as a colonial government’s means to disenfranchise the local population as an important asset for global modernization and integration. Part one looks at the evolvement of the societies after achieving independence, in particular, how they seamlessly integrated English as a national identity whereas the second part emphasizes on the occasional competition between other major languages in Asia. Last but not least, the third part takes a broad look at the application of English in specific contexts, most notably as the lingua franca for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and increasingly as the medium of instruction in the tertiary education sector.

          On a global scale, there is no competitor for English yet in sight for the foreseeable decades, its future as a world language by far, is secured. Nonetheless, there are possible changes on the way underneath, as exhibited from Graddol’s (2006) projection into the future of world languages. He confirms that the results of applied researches into macrosociology and macroeconomics of languages in Asia showed that some of Asia’s languages escalate rapidly in terms of regional and global standing. This can be further seen from a list of most important ten foreign languages needed in the United Kingdom published by the Simpson’s ‘Languages for the Future’ journal report. To quote: ‘among those ten languages, five belong to Asian languages which are Arabic, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Turkish’ (2017).

          The first part of the book comes away with a pretty solid grounding on English in selected regional and national habitats with a glance at the role of outward-bound communication needs. Most remarkable is in the case of Singapore which in less than 50 years, the country succeeded in stabilising a local variety of English that is accepted by its citizens, known as Singlish, which is an abbreviation for Singaporean English. Hence, credits should be given to the government’s ‘Speak Good English’ campaign as an effort in tandem to recognising the importance of English for the country’s economic survival (Siew, 2016). Perhaps as a further sign of globalization and linguistic self-confidence, young Singaporeans have begun to fuse British English syntax with American phonology in their daily conversation (Tan, 2016).

          However, this rapid development is in contrast to the neighbouring country, Malaysia, whose policy of switching from English to Bahasa Melayu (BM) and back to English as a medium of instruction over the years in educational sector has produced less consistency in its policy execution. This is due to the current education and language policy in Malaysia that have been reinvented through Vision 2020, which one of its goals is to transform Malaysia into a global education hub has created additional pressure by the government for the shift to English-Medium Instruction (EMI). This policy is implemented as an effort to increase foreign student intake through a variety of partly government sponsored exchange mobility programmes within the coming decade (Low and Tan, 2016).

          Furthermore, a subchapter written by Rahman (2016) describes a similar uneven usage of English in Pakistan, where the language possesses elite status as the language of the judiciary, government and education, in which, it also indirectly acts as a class oppressor. Being a world language, English is very much in demand for its modernizing role, therefore, being cognizant of its empowering potential, English has become both a class oppressor and a class changer in Pakistan. As the case may be, perhaps, one of the few positive remnants of colonial rule is that English may have caused divisions in the past but today it bounds people of distant and diverse backgrounds together.

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