Date: Fri, 27 May 2005 03:07:27 -0700 (PDT) From: Joseph Afful Subject: The English-Vernacular Divide: Postcolonial Language Politics and Practice
AUTHOR : Ramanathan, Vaidehi TITLE: The English-Vernacular Divide SUBTITLE: Postcolonial Language Politics and Practice SERIES: Bilingual Education and Bilingualism PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters Ltd YEAR: 2005
Joseph Benjamin Archibald Afful, Department of English Language & Literature, National University of Singapore
Ramanathan's 143-page book investigates the use of English language and a vernacular (Gujarati) in a major developing country with a postcolonial tradition, paying particular attention to tertiary education. The writer shows how power, domination, resistance, and negotiation play out in very complex ways through this English- vernacular divide in this socio-educational landscape of India. The text is structured in six chapters, with each chapter introduced by an epigraph. It also includes a table of contents, preface, afterword, appendices, references and index.
Chapter 1: Introduction: Situating the Vernaculars in a Divisive Postcolonial Landscape In Chapter 1 the writer explores two crucial themes: setting and voicing. As part of this larger purpose, the writer describes her varied and changing roles in the research, study, and write-up of her topic of investigation. The author then briefly describes three pertinent strands that are to be investigated in the remaining chapters, namely, what she calls "politics of divergent pedagogic tools", pedagogic practices, and tracking. Ramanathan concludes this chapter by arguing the relevance of the entire research to Applied Linguistics, in general, and the Teaching of English as a Second Language, in particular.
Chapter 2: Divisive Postcolonial Ideologies, Language Policies and Social Practices The writer begins Chapter 2 at a more general level by showing how complex and far- reaching the interaction of thought patterns, historicity and presentness, and the overarching assumptions of the Indian middle class are, in contributing to the widening chasm between English language and the Vernacular in the Indian educational system. At a specific level, the author invokes Mahatma Gandhi's views and the Remove English Lobby to delineate the use of English and the Vernacular in the Indian educational set-up. These two factors influence India's language policy in education, although this rather tends to exacerbate the chasm between English-medium and Vernacular-medium schools, as pointed out by the author.
Chapter 3: Divisive and Divergent Pedagogical Tools for Vernacular- and English-medium Students In Chapter 3, the writer explores the pivotal role of textbooks in the delivery of education and examinations in India. Employing a critical discourse analysis approach of state-mandated sets of textbooks for grades 5-7 in all vernacular and English-medium K-12 public schools, the author notes key similarities and differences, with the latter highlighting the gulf between the vernacular-medium and English- medium students, empowering one and disempowering the other.
Chapter 4: The Divisive Politics of Divergent Pedagogical Practices From the critical discourse analysis employed in the previous chapter, the writer in Chapter 4 employs the ethnographic approach in exploring the pedagogical practices, procedural display, and social conventions of an English-medium private business college and a vernacular-medium women's college whose students, according to the author, are differently motivated because of their different backgrounds. Whereas the former privileges choral response, correct answer and evinces a clash between medium and content in the teaching of Literature, the latter extols group work and active participation as well as grammar in a business context. Nonetheless, the writer reveals that both groups of students have different concerns, with students in the women's college expressing difficulty with their apparent insufficient knowledge of English and students in the private school expressing unhappiness about the university assessment procedure.
Chapter 5: The Divisive Politics of Tracking Here, the writer examines the tracking system in a Jesuit institution. According to the author, although the aim of the Jesuit institution is to handle the inequality in educational system through tracking the underprivileged into streams a and b, the literacy practices associated with tracking provide yet another disturbing insight into the chasm between students of English-medium institutions and vernacular- medium institutions, as those with a head start in English obtain relatively easy access to the privileged courses. Despite this, the writer portrays the determination of the catholic institution in seeking ways to empower the underprivileged in India by taking pride in the use of the vernacular.
Chapter 6: Gulfs and Bridges Revisited: Hybridization, Nativization and Other Loose Ends In the final chapter, the writer draws all the issues raised in the previous chapters together, noting the limiting, disempowering, ambiguous, inconsistent, divisive, and complex nature of the Indian socio-educational landscape with respect to language use. The author then teases out the implications of this complex landscape for nativization, the conflict between content and form, and the relationship of the vernacular in relation with English language teaching. The author ends the book with the firm belief that delineating the English-vernacular chasm in the Indian educational system is an important step, while conceding that there are still more issues for students, scholars and teachers to consider.
Appendix Here, the reader can find four materials: details of research data, dates pertaining to educational policies on language use, some differences in English textbooks used in English and Vernacular- medium schools, and examples from English Literature curricula and examination papers
On the whole, this book is a worthy contribution to the literature on postcolonial studies, in general, and bilingualism, multilingualism and sociolinguistics, in particular, on three counts. The first point to note is the lucidity and clarity of the language that is used throughout the book. This is especially evident in the explanation of the concept "voice' and the description of the socio-educational landscape of India, in general, and the delineation of the setting of three educational institutions, in particular. Second, it is clear that the writer has taken pains in organizing her material, by employing various visual features such as headings, sub-headings, font sizes, and metatextual elements to render the book reader-friendly. The foreword, afterword, and especially appendices equally add to this almost perfect organization of the text, thus facilitating understanding of the writer's arguments. Related to the above is the use of endnotes, which makes it easy for the reader to follow and appreciate the writer's arguments. The final admirable feature of this text is the smooth-flowing manner in which the writer deploys an admixture of ethnographic, sociolinguistic, socio-historical and critical discourse analytical approaches in developing her theme/s.
Despite these strengths, there are a number of issues worth drawing attention to. The first concerns the use of metadiscoursal elements. Given the painstaking manner in which the writer addresses organizational features of the text, I find some metadiscoursal elements disruptive and, worse still, redundant. For instance, the reader gets the feeling that the section entitled "Chapter-wise Breakdown of the Book", essentially metadiscoursal, is not serving a useful purpose, given the amount of textual space allocated to the exposition on the three strands (pp. 12-17). The second set of concern relates to methodology. Although the writer attempts to justify the selection of three educational institutions, the reasons do not appear convincing. In particular, the choice of the women's college raises a number of questions related to gender that are not adequately addressed. In my opinion, a vernacular-medium mixed college would have been a better choice. In the end, one is left with the feeling that that the choice of these tertiary institutions in the study has been motivated by convenience, to put it mildly, and by an ideological stance, to put it crudely. Third, the writer employs critical discourse analysis in her exploration of pedagogical tools in Chapter 3, but it is not clear whether she is drawing on an eclectic mix of approaches or one, given the different approaches in critical discourse analysis (McKenna, 2004), with scholars such as Fairclough (1995, 2003), van Dijk (1997), Wodak (1996), and Kress and van Leeuwen (1996), representing some of the major emerging strands. Finally, there are issues of editorial nature, though of less significance to the arguments in the book, which readers with sharp eyes can easily spot. They include the following: a) Sections of Chapter 6 appeared in ....and is reprinted here" (p. xi) b) "...multipronged enterprise whose general functioning include..." (p. 3) c) "The raw materials on which this project is based consists of..." (p.11) d) ".... indeed, all those interviewed said they had did not have much trouble" (p. 22) e) "Chakrabarthy (2000:247) states that there at least two kinds..." (p. 24) f) What are social practices and how to do they work themselves..." (p. 25) g) Gandhi's views regarding the value of the vernacular...is partially (p. 29) h) "...all those interviewed said they had did not have much trouble (p.52) i) "... the preface for the EM texts in Grades 5-8 insist that ...." (p.54) j) "...students in Shri Lanka..." (p. 60) k) "Thepremises..." (p.68) l) Almost all instruction in the first-year...are devoted..." (p.102) m) "...that he felt could proceed" (p. 102) n) "... the college hosts a three day cultural festival..." (p. 107) o) "...they attempt to breakdown alien western concepts..." (p. 117)
I also find the use of "hang out" (p.69) and "mill" (p. 69) somewhat informal. On page 19, the writer writes "Chapter 4 will call attention to..." instead of "Chapter 5" .There are also a few sentences where the omission of one stop or the other tends to create problems as in "The indigenous curriculum was considered inappropriate for another reason as well which was that..." (p.44) and "The social service coordinator at the WC, herself a (VM) graduate of the college credits the organization..." (p. 83).
Overall, despite the few concerns expressed above, Ramanathan's book is worth recommending as critical reading for readers interested in postcolonial studies, language-in-education policy, sociolinguistics, bilingualism, and multilingualism. It is well researched and provides helpful bibliography which curious readers can follow up.
Fairclough, N. (1995). Critical discourse analysis: The critical study of language. London and New York: Longman
Fairclough, N. (2003). Analysing discourse and text: Textual analysis for social research. London: Routledge.
Kress, G. and van Leeuwen, T. (1996). Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. London. London: Routledge.
McKenna, B. (2004). Critical Discourse Studies: Where to From Here? Critical Discourse Studies, 1 (1), 9-40.
van Dijk, T. (1997). Discourse as interaction in society. In T. van Dijk (Ed.), Discourse Studies: A multidisciplinary introduction -- Discourse as social interaction (Vol. 2, pp. 1-37). London: Sage.
Wodak, R. (1996). Disorders of discourse. London: Longman
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
A research scholar at the Department of English Language and Literature at the National University of Singapore, Joseph Benjamin Archibald Afful is due to submit his doctoral thesis on the interface between rhetoric and disciplinary writing at the undergraduate level this year. His research interests include discourse/text analysis, sociolinguistics, the teaching of English as a second language, and the interface between linguistics and literature.