The Hegemony of English in Public Discourse

As part of the government’s plan to revise the national curriculum that will be implemented next school year, English will no longer be a subject taught in elementary schools. The Deputy Education and Culture Minister, Musliar Kaslim, stated that the omission intended to give more than enough time for students to master the Indonesian language first before submerging into foreign languages (The Jakarta Post, 2012).

The plan raises pros and cons among the readers. In Indonesia, the notion that English is in fact has become the essential cornerstone which plays a dominant position in education is specifically shown by the phenomenon of the teaching of English starting in early childhood education level. The teaching of English in kindergarten level indicates that English has become a “basic skill” learnt by younger children, rather than something that older children or adults might want to acquire later. This phenomenon, however, with the assumption that children haven’t learnt to understand the Indonesian language yet, is one of the concerns stated by the Deputy Education and Culture Minister when reasoning the plan of omitting English from primary school.

English is no longer only of concern to the people living in Britain, United States or Australia, but it is now entrenched worldwide, as a neo-colonialism power. Neocolonialism, which constitutes the policy where a major power uses economic or political, means to exert its influence over undeveloped nations or areas to gain control. The control over the nations could be economic, cultural or linguistic and can be demonstrated simply by larger powers promoting their own culture in these independent nations. Phillipson (2003:48) writes, “In the contemporary world, English Language Teaching seems to be marketable worldwide. There is a demand for material products and resources (books, jobs for English teachers, space on timetables) and for immaterial resources (ideas, teaching principles).”

This is of significance to Britain, as the Director-General of the British Council stated in the 1987/88 Annual Report (page 8): “Britain’s real black gold is not North Sea oil but the English language. It has long been the root of our culture and now it fast becoming the global language of business and information. The challenge facing us is to exploit it to the full.” (Ibid). This article firstly attempts to look at the authors’ point of view, specifically the arguments they used in opposing the Education and Culture Ministry plan to scrap English from Elementary School Curriculum. Secondly, it attempts to see the relation of the global role of English to the English hegemony found in the articles. The research questions that will be explored in the article are what arguments have been used to justify the need of learning English in Elementary School?, and how can one, in a theoretically informed way, relate the global role of English to the English hegemony? In order to provide a basis for tentative answers to the research questions, the literature review presents the theoretical framework for the analysis. This part deals with the theory of English hegemony. ‘Hegemony’ means the success of the dominant  classes in presenting their definition of reality, their view of the world, in such a way that it is accepted by other classes as ‘common sense’.

The general ‘consensus’ is that it is the only sensible way of seeing the world. Any groups who present an alternative view are therefore marginalized. (Goldberg, n.d.). English hegemony, as the manifestation of linguistic imperialism, has spread globally, which indicates the dominant status of English as the most commonly used language today. Ammon (1992:78-81) points out the dominance of English by providing same statistics about the dominance of English. According to him, (1) English has the greatest number of speakers reaching as many as 1.5 billion people; (2) English is designated as official languages of as many as 62 nations; (3) English is the most dominant language in scientific communication with 70-80 percent of academic publications being published in it; (4) English is the de facto official and working language in most international organizations; (5) English is the most taught foreign language across the world. Burchfield (1985:160) states: “English has also become a lingua franca to the point that any literate educated person is in a very real sense deprived if he does not know English.”

The dominance of English, in fact, also creates discriminatory prejudices against who can’t speak English considered incompetent and inferior. For instance, people who write up their research in languages other than English probably will have their work ignored by the international community. Moreover, textbooks written in English are used in virtually almost all university degree programs, which imply that English is a pre-condition for higher educational qualifications. Nevertheless, this domination, according to Tisci (n.d.), is not a recent product of the globalization, but it is the result of the political, economic, military and cultural power of English speakers in the history. Crystal (2003) underlines that this status occurs neither because today English is the language most taught as a foreign language and the official language in over seventy countries, nor because of the simplicity of its grammar, like somebody believes.

The adjective is rather due to the fact that English is the current language of the diplomatic and economic relationships, of the academic world and of the cultural industry. These are all domains that, especially at this moment of large globalization, need an international language. Hence, from this point of view, it is clear that “English was in the right place at the right time” (Crytal, 2003:46).

Name : E. Yohanita Irene

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