A subject as intricately multifaceted and heavily embedded in theoretical academia as World English is unfortunately often perceived as inaccessible for many individuals, despite it being a phenomenon that carries the weight of global intersectional history, culture, and political connotations, as well as significantly affecting the daily lives and linguistic development of English speakers today. The globalization of the English language through imperialism and colonialism unveils itself economically and socioculturally in countless respects, both implicitly and explicitly, whether it is used as linguistic policing and regional, colloquial reinforcement or as a popularly requisite professional skill that serves as a standardized marker for one’s comprehensive educational growth and intelligence. That is not to say that English is globalized solely through imperialistic means; there are multiple approaches to the diverging discourses on how globalization and its effects such as sociolinguistics are spread, which will be explored further. In addition, this essay will critically analyze and interpret my intimate experience of the socioeconomic manifestation of English implementation and execution while living in Guam, a linguistically diverse community in which various cultures regularly intersect and overlap, as well as how this experience was largely shaped by the globalization and the historical and political precedents that fall under it, created by the naturalized, discursively imbalanced space shared between Guam and the United States, following its territorial annexation and heightened military strategic value post WWII.
When discussing world English, it is imperative to keep in mind that language is but only one factor in globalization, a concept that Lynn Ink, who researches extensively on this subject, proposes as “Globalization, the processes involving the worldwide exchange of peoples, ideas, capital, and information, is perhaps most commonly delineated as an economic phenomenon arising from the development of global capitalism; yet it has also been widely recognized as a dynamic with social, technological, political, cultural, and even ecological dimensions” (139). The approaches in how globalization might be propagated can diverge into opposing discourses of critics who contend that globalization is best understood as a predominately an extension of Western imperialistic assertions and those who maintain that globalization is more accurately a composited system of mutual exchanges, rather than being solely defined as having one sustaining power being the unifier in global economy. Lynn Ink further elaborates on the basis of each discourse, stating the foundation for the former proposition could be in part “recognizing the predominant role the U.S. holds in the exportation of mass media images” (141) as well as the “globalization as an ‘outgrowth, or continuation, of colonialism’ led by the United States and positions its effects on local culture as ultimately threatening in the “corporate buyout of high culture’” (141). Ink postulates that this argument contains both “discussions by theorists who alternately denounce and celebrate globalization as Western domination through economic and hence cultural trends” (141) and how critics popularly perceives “globalization as an ‘outgrowth, or continuation, of colonialism’ led by the United States and positions its effects on local culture as ultimately threatening in the ‘corporate buyout of high culture’” (141). This can be understood as critics proposing how Western standards, specifically America’s, continually generates and perpetuates its commanding economic and cultural global position through various mediums that are then appropriated into other economies.
On the opposing half, there is the interpretation of being “Rather than another form of one-way colonization, globalization is viewed as a dynamic exchange among cultures” (142) and “a more interactive process that allows for the agency of all involved in worldwide developments” (142). Instead of having America hold the decisive word on the progressing course of globalization, this presents the idea that globalization a mutual sharing experience in which all engaging parties are equal to each other and can freely trade their economic and cultural codes. These differing hypotheses complicate the discourse of globalization somewhat, as it becomes clear that there are multiple differing factors that influence what is understood as subjectivity and its process of diffusion and how varying the interpretations of these might be. Here is where the English language comes into significance as one of these influencing factors; it is utilized constantly with social and economic applications globally. In many respects, English is often perceived and understood as a world language; a communicative form firmly planted in both one’s personal life development and the professional employment sphere. When applying this to a culturally varying place such as Guam, the relationship between its community and the English language can be described as interchangeable in the sense that the occurrence of English is being used in a specific alternative dialect, with terms and slang that might have linguistic roots from different sources, but are all commonly utilized and understood by any person living on Guam, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status.
In my personal life, I had the experience of being raised in a traditionally Korean household, thus having rather prevalent ties to Korean culture and its values. This, in addition to the fact that my educational background consisted of attending a Baptist private school operated by a Caucasians faculty and attended by a varying demographic student body largely made up of Southeast and East Asians, as well as Chamorros and a few Caucasians, to the secondary educational advancement of attending USD, my relationship with English has been blurry and tumultuous, serving as a marker for my status as a cultural outsider and one of the culminating factors that embody the socially instilled desire to seamlessly integrate myself into popular Western culture. This has become apparent through repeated encounters with a kind of social policing and othering in relation to English, such as word policing, remarks on my perceived accent or lack thereof, and exoticizing comments on my relationship to the Korean and Chamorro language. Growing up in such an intersectional environment with a relatively recent history of colonization and a deeply rooted master narrative of subjectivity with US imperialism meant that there were a multitude of cultural connotations, oftentimes conflicting with one another, that had to be untangled in order to view them through a somewhat critical lens, particularly when concerning my relationship with English. Having known only a heavily regionally influenced variety of English constructed from multiple cultural sources made language a hazy, but encompassing part of my personal identity and worldview.
Furthermore, the values put on the Guamanian identity stemming from implicit and explicit imperialistic attitudes evident in the educational teachings and lack of legislative representation spurned a common social belief that everything associated with Guam was diminutive and inherently askew compared to the faraway sovereignty of the United States. Charles Weeks Jr. points out in his research article on American imperialism in Oceania that, “Some now question whether the Western concept of history, entailing prose narrative, but not chant, myth, dance, or song, is even applicable to Islanders’ understanding of themselves” (96). This filtered narrative puts Islanders (specifically Micronesian) in a position where they feel as though they belong in a powerless category that requires an intervening sovereignty in order to be sustained. Michael Bevacqua points this out further in his research on the colonialism of Guam this real life example of powerlessness, stating, “As former Guam representative to the U.S. Congress, Robert Underwood, has noted, the job of the delegate is not to participate in the glories of American democracy or marvel at its wonders, but rather to suffer under its amnesia and poor memory” (31). In other words, the evidence that the function of Guam and whatever representation it is allowed “…is simply to remind Presidents and Congresspeople that Guam exists, and that the United States controls its fate” (Bevacqua 31) had been long established. My social learning was implicitly, yet still significantly, affected by the ingraining that Guam as a self-governing entity would be intrinsically less valued than if it were under the control of a superpower by means of the attitudes presented by educational teachers and the attitudes of surrounding family and peers. Learning English, a language I had originally viewed as one of the most epitomizing markers of American society, was a bit tumultuous because there was always an underlying assumption that my learned variety was dissimilar to what “regular” English was, and that I instead was using bastardized version; which I felt was also rather reflective of my status as an American citizen.
Going back to the previously mentioned constructed discussions on Guam’s position in the dominion of America’s colonialism, many of the popular viewpoints retained today have been distorted to an extent to make palatable for Guamanians through structural approaches. For example, one of the primary lessons incorporated into a required Guam History course taken in high school was Guam’s relationship to the US, which consisted of directly labeling Guam as an important resource for American consumption through its military base, its location in the Asiatic region, and other external resources. This dichotomous narrative on Guam’s essential/nonessential role in America’s social realm made the people susceptible to the installation and exploitation of insecurities in their cultural identity. Raised on glamorizing comments speculating on what living in “real America” would be like from authority figures, along with media outlets showing a lifestyle that seemed possible to obtain only through resources offered exclusively by American culture only served to further the ambition of myself and my peers to leave our hometown and experience a kind of society that only deigned to acknowledge us. In his research article, Rakesh Bhatt suggests that education in relation to World English in colonized regions are “…the most important instrument of the reproduction of English symbolic capital because schools had the monopoly over the reproduction of the market on which the value of linguistic competence depends” (533). The fact that education has a remarkable impact on shaping one’s worldview is not novel by any means, but here Bhatt is specifically recognizing the education structure as a conducive agent in which cultural capital, of which language is a large component, for a dominating superpower such as the United States, is produced and asserted over colonies. Being taught that Guam’s position in its relationship to the United States’ was to provide goods and services with titles such as “the Supermarket of the Pacific” or “the United States’ Gas Station”, but still being deprived of any legislative power and authority in policy making in the federal government had the unspoken meaning that there was an insidiously imbalanced space shared between them. Michael Bevacqua writes on the decolonization of Guam mentions the lack of legislative representation with policies such as Guam’s non-voting delegates, with the implied belief that “real” American citizens lived in “real” America, meaning the US mainland. The hailing of Guam’s strategic value is a popular praise amongst the Micronesians even today; this assumption itself that Guam possesses a pivotal significance within America’s economic hegemony plays into our insinuated admittance in the colonizer/colonized dynamic. This point becomes more interesting when considering the fact that a large majority of Guam’s inhabitants are not Caucasian, arguably a potential indicator of how the acknowledgement of colonialism and its effects might be exceptionally heightened.
Guam’s response to this belief became most apparent during Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, Bevacqua stating “That is, the discourse on Guam was not about how the primary recognized them as already existing Americans, but rather about how it finally offered them the opportunity to finally be acknowledged as part of the American family” (28, 29). Obama’s campaign rhetoric appealed to US colonies with promised representation, along with creating and maintaining Micronesian people’s rights. This clarifying response brought to light how distinctly disparate Guamanians felt, succinctly summarized by Bevacqua who mentions, “A sentiment concisely conveyed in one local news article titled ‘Guam Democrats are grateful for the privilege of being included’” (29). In relation to English, this instance of alienating difference felt only added to the fact that I, amongst other Guamanians, possessed another trait that further contributed what the US imagined as an unconnected subsidiary. This enhanced reaction to the mention of inclusion was because of the established notion and self-perception held by Guamanians that they were essentially excluded as a secondary, nonessential fragment from the American identity and this notion would also be further perpetuated by the expectative presumptions delivered by the people I had acquainted during my years at USD.
The transition to the Midwest to pursue secondary education was a step towards a sudden immersion in the popular stereotype of what I had considered as the exemplary definition of American culture, and this initial impression of the Midwest was slightly solidified when receiving response from my newly made peers. Their expressed answers to even the introductory explanation of my hometown were conclusive to what I had suspected previously for years about the implanted dubiousness of my membership as an American. The responses of disbelief and even suspicion brought on a sense of obligation to indulge any inquiries, no matter how intrusive it might be. The personal connection with English became strained after quickly realizing the discrepancies between the dialects from home and South Dakota, which were almost always pointed out by individuals who were firm with informing me that the dialect I had been using were not only invalid, but was innately an inferior variant, with comments on how certain terms assigned were nonsensical and could not compare to the Midwestern colloquialisms they were accustomed to. This further enforced my implanted desire to adapt the surrounding dialect in an attempt to reinforce the “American” side of my identity to my peers and myself, active efforts to avoid both being assigned to the category of an adequate bilingual individual and have implicit concerns over my intelligibility. After some time, I realized that this issue of this social attention did not lie within the limitation of my capabilities, but rather was a facet of linguistic ethnocentrism that was disguised through meeting standards set by the homogeneous, dominating culture.
Bhatt touches on this subject with his research on the codification of English and the phenomenon created by the concept of standardization and its sociolinguistics, stating, “The standardization of English has allowed the interpretation of sociolinguistic, educational, and acquisitional problems as consequences of liberal linguistic thinking, general grammatical ignorance, and other similar contraventions of English linguistic norms. Conforming to these norms, e.g. Standard English, then becomes the solution to these problems” (541). This suggestion that English standardization keeps potential linguistic variants in check by having to answer to a set, citable norm could arguably signal that there is a societal want in obtaining a cohesive sociocultural identity for English speakers. The clear issue with this is that there is a significant risk for assimilation, as well as raising the question of how to approach establishing an authority to set this standard, if doing so is even possible. One might think that a clear option would be institute a Western authority, since it is commonly argued that it is the initial user in which English is used most popularly, but this also proves problematic upon realizing that even within Western English speakers, there lies a vast array of dialects. To decide where and how to impart value over a specific version of English would be a hugely daunting task, especially when considering the far reaching global extents English has affected. However, it is at least evident that there is a level of disenfranchisement by those who Bhatt refers to as “agents of linguistic coercion” (542) such as teachers, grammarians, and lexicographers. He then goes on to state the possible reasons for doing so, “…(a) The recognition of language threatens the ideological link between grammar and authority, and (b) the standard language can continue to function as the norm through which is exerted the domination of those groups that both have the means of imposing it as legitimate and the monopoly on the means of appropriating it” (542). This popular, but often unconsciously accepted ideology can manifest itself in any part of the socioeconomic spectrum, from structural institutions to every day micro-aggressions, a constant occurrence that any individual who experiences subversion from the ruling society can attest to.
It would be imprudent if I did not clarify that the individuals who expressed alienating sentiments as a response did not do so with malicious intentions. The forces behind these assumptions are ones that every individual is privy to when living in a time of modernity with advanced globalization. Although there are culturally essentializing ideologies that normalize colonialism and imperialism that spread by globalization, the fact remains that there are also valuable sociocultural codes from diff that are shared and accessible through globalization as well. It may be a tired rationale that oversimplifies such an intricately complicated concept, but globalization is an example where the benefits largely outweigh the detriments. The potential to further cross-cultural relations through accessible information that holds the means to make possible an open space for discourse is most evident in the case of globalization. This is already made apparent in my personal experience with language; the English dialect in Guam contains a multitude of influences from different cultures, a unique culmination inclusive and reflective of the diverse demographics who reside there. The socioeconomic manifestation of English implementation and execution while living in Guam, a linguistically diverse community in which various cultures regularly intersect and overlap, might have had a frustrating and straining effect on my identity as a Korean-American, but without experiencing this, my understanding of the reasons and forces behind this struggle, along with the self-assurance of my own capabilities and the capabilities of the society in which I am a part of would not have been possible. Studying globalization not only offers a continually evolving narrative on intersecting, cross-cultural ideologies through historic, economic, and social happenings and the attitudes that arise from it, but also provides a means in which individuals who might feel alienated or conflicted from the potentially damaging and exploitative commentary can better understand that the dynamic of the forces affecting them.