Abstract: was part of the colonial package and currently,

Abstract:

Basil Bernstein’s Pedagogic Discourse
attempts to capture more than the conventional notion of a classroom discourse.
It seeks to encapsulate a sense of the social practices involved in educational
activities and more importantly, those principles that determine the
structuring of these in an academic context creating a ‘specialized order,
relation, and identity’ (Bernstein, 1990). This creation of a social order and
identity is particularly true when acquiring a second language. Antonio
Gramsci’s notion of ‘subalternity’ appears to have a subtle influence on the
learners of a ‘super-central language’ (Corcoran, 1994) like English. The
principal aim of this paper is to analyze and depict those subaltern influences
and challenges that affect such a discourse where students learn English as
part of their curriculum since it is the medium of instruction in most of the
universities across India. An exploration into the attitudes and approach among
learners reveal certain distinct factors partly because English was part of the
colonial package and currently, it is learnt primarily due to ‘transnational
economic systems of interest’ (Corcoran, 1994).

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Language
acquisition is often described as the process by which humans acquire the
capacity to recognize and understand language as well as to produce and use words
and sentences to communicate. While this may be a simplistic definition of how
a person acquires first-language fluency, Judie Haynes (2007) holds that second-language
acquisition happens in five stages: preproduction or the silent period, early
production, speech emergence, intermediate fluency, and advanced fluency.  Among learners, the reason for acquiring a
second language may vary from personal interest to academic demand. Several
factors may aid or impede in how a person relates to and acquires an additional
language. The notion of ‘subalternity’ as evinced by Antonio Gramsci in his Prison Notebooks, in the context of the
linguistic unification of Italy advocated by Alesandro Manzoni in the 19th
century, throws up various sociocultural and psychological affects that can
impact and shape an individual’s linguistic pursuit. The ensuing tension
between “a super-central language” (Corcoran, 1994) that needs to be acquired
in an academic context and the existing subaltern influences can directly
affect a ‘pedagogic discourse’ (as defined by Basil Bernstein).

 

Bernstein’s Pedagogic Discourse: A
Brief

            Basil Bernstein is perhaps best
known for his four-volume series of books entitled Class, Codes, and Control, spanning 1971 to 1990, in
which he investigated the relationship between language and education. He was
particularly interested in the ways in which this relationship not only
reflects but also structures inequality. He defines discourse as “a principle for
appropriating other discourses and bringing them into special relation with
each other for the purposes of selective transmission and acquisition
(Bernstein, 1990: 181).” He identifies three principles or rules governing
pedagogic discourse, in hierarchical relation to one another: distribution,
relocation or reconstruction, and evaluation. In brief, rules of distribution
govern the institutional practices and the upper echelons of government; those
of relocation govern the transformation of school subjects; and those of
evaluation govern pedagogic discourse.

 

Bernstein’s
theory of pedagogic discourse is a highly elaborate and complicated one.
However, it has the merit of providing an empirical description of how
reproduction works and the ways in which it positions different sections of
society. It is constructed in instances of particular lessons termed
‘curriculum genres’ (Christie, 1989) and the overall cycles of such genres
should be thought of as ‘curriculum macrogenres’ (Christie, 1994). A curriculum
genre is so-called because, like other instances of genres in language, it
represents ‘a staged, goal-oriented social process’ (Martin, Christie, &
Rothery, n.d.: 59). In offering a definition of pedagogic discourse, Bernstein
(1990: 183) said that it is “the rule which embeds a discourse of competence
(skills of various kinds) into a discourse of social order in such a way that
the latter always dominates the former. We shall call the discourse
transmitting specialized competences and their relation to each other
‘instructional’ discourse and the discourse creating specialized order,
relation, and identity ‘regulative’ discourse.”

 

In
a language learning environment like the ESL, it is the ‘regulative’ discourse
that might have a significant impact on the learners. The attitude of the
learners towards the target language plays a crucial role and the factors
influencing them could be instrumental or integral, depending on which a
pedagogic discourse may create a particular order, relation, or identity. The
learners’ approach and behavior towards English, for instance, would depend a
lot on sociocultural factors as well as their connect with their native
language. Herein, Antonio Gramsci’s notion of the subaltern influence on
language acquisition would shed greater light into the psyche of the learners, though
it was conceived in the context of the supremacy of the Italian language.

 

Gramsci’s Notion of Subalternity and
Language Education

            Subaltern is a term that commonly
refers to individuals or groups who socially, politically and geographically
reside at the margins of or outside of a particular hegemonic power structure.
The topics of language and subaltern groups appear throughout Antonio Gramsci’s
Prison Notebooks. Although Gramsci
often associates the problem of political fragmentation among subaltern groups
with issues concerning language and common sense, there are only a few notes
where he explicitly connects his overlapping analyses of language and
subalternity. He refers to ‘language’ as an indication of intellectual
activity, even if unconscious, in which ‘there is contained a specific
conception of the world…’, and then poses the question whether it is “better to
take part in a conception of the world mechanically imposed by the external
environment…”, or “to work out consciously and critically one’s own conception
of the world and thus, in connection with labors of one’s brain, chooses one’s
sphere of activity, take an active part in the creation of the history of the
world…(Gramsci, 1971: 323)”  In 1918,
Gramsci published an article in Il Grido
del Popolo, “A Single Language and Esperanto”, in which he criticizes the
proposal that the Italian Socialist party should adopt Esperanto. At first
instance, it seems that, he was against the formation of a ‘common national
language’ or certainly any active strategy to create one. But, by 1935, he
welcomed it and argued that “it is rational to collaborate practically and
willingly to welcome everything that may serve to create a common national
language.’ However, this would be to miss the point of both arguments, which go
to the heart of the issues of fragmentation of common sense under the
conditions of subalternity.

 

On
the one hand, Gramsci is utilizing the arguments of G.I. Ascoli, a prominent
Italian linguist at the end of the nineteenth century and one of the main
opponents of Manzoni, who argued that dialects and previous languages of
speakers exert pressure on new languages being learnt and thus, there is
continual pressure that changes the ‘standard’ language being imposed (Ives,
2004: 24-30). On the other hand, Gramsci is not just making a technical
linguistic point about the degree of success of this strategy. He points out
that while, from Manzoni’s position, Florentine is a ‘living’ language enabling
its speakers to be creative, expressive and productive, for most of Italy it is
more like an ‘artificial’ language imposed from the outside that enables little
more than mechanical repetition and acceptance of a foreign conception of the
world, and ultimately, the subordination to a culture and philosophy that is
not understood as belonging to the speaker him/herself.

 

While
Gramsci favors children speaking their local languages, he encourages them to
learn other languages and is fully aware of the prestige and cultural politics
involved in these questions of which languages children speak. In a letter to
his son, Giuliano, Gramsci reflects on his own childhood noting how his
classmates had great difficulty with speaking Italian, giving him a position of
superiority over them (Gramsci, 1994, Vol.1: 356). He writes that sometimes
better knowledge of Italian makes a student “seem to be more intelligent and
quick, whereas sometimes this is not so,… (Gramsci, 1994, Vol.1: 240)”
Therefore, there is a need for an active participation that enables subaltern
groups not only to use the language, institutions and to consume or absorb
culture but allows subaltern groups to use them creatively, to add to them, and
alter them in relation to their experiences. In this sense, Gramsci is worried
about the outcome of institutions, culture, politics and language being
‘imposed’ from ‘above’ or ‘outside’ in a manner that reinforces feelings of
inferiority and passivity in subaltern groups. Gramsci understands this not as an
overall condition, but as a matter of degree depending on different conditions
of various subaltern groups.

 

            While Gramsci advocates the learning
of a new language, he has reservations on language being imposed on individuals
and groups, in such a way that it causes subordination. In other words, he is
wary of integral factors such as cultural assimilation of the target language
and the feeling of elitism that one acquires when one masters a new language.
He seems to hold that learning a language is only for a functional role and not
at the cost of one’s own language.

 

Subalternity and the English
language: The Indian Context

Graddol
in his English Next India lists the
attitudes of Indians towards English, both positive and negative. As for the
positive ones, English is seen as “a language of liberation and liberalism”, “a
language of modernity and development”, “a language of geographical mobility”,
“a language of social mobility”, “a language which brings money” and “a defence
against Hindi”. The negative attitude is then expressed only in one role: “a
language of enslavement” (2010: 64). The major problem about English, its
colonial past, now competes in the attitudinal “conflict” with very strong opponents.
The negative attitudes towards English seem to have been defeated by the many
positive ones. English language is gradually freeing itself of the shadows of
the colonial past. However, history cannot be changed and its consequences will
be in the minds of people if not forever, then certainly for a very long time.

 

For
example, a research revealed that English was considered to be the desired medium
of education; however, it was not desired to function as a mother tongue. This reinforces
the trend which was mentioned above, when describing the functions of English
in South Asia, that English is used for acquiring knowledge, whereas a local language,
in India Hindi, is preferred for expressing the South Asian, here Indian,
identity (Gargesh 2009: 101).

 

Graddol
cites results of the survey carried out by the Indian television channel CNN-IBN
in 2009 which express very similar attitudes to the ones stated above. Most of
the respondents felt that knowledge of English was important to succeed in life
and more than a half of them thought that those who could speak fluent English
were superior. On the other hand, most of them also stated that knowing the
state language was very important and more than a half of them felt that
English was making the Indians forget their mother tongue and added that jobs
should be reserved for those who spoke the state language (2010: 64).

 

There
are, however, other opinions which contribute to the positive view of English.
In another study of attitudes towards English, it was seen as enhancing social
mobility and individual personality and more than three fourths of the respondents
believed that progress in technology and science would definitely not be so quick
without English. The survey also revealed a strong parental encouragement of
the study of English. The last, and probably the most positive, finding about
English was that the whole 75 percent of the respondents considered English to
be one of the Indian languages (Gargesh 2009: 101-102). This opinion clearly
manifests how deep the roots of English in the Indian society are. And as
Gargesh adds, the extent of positive attitudes towards English indicates that
“English is here to stay for quite some time as a valuable tool” (2009: 102).

 

Wider
access to English is nowadays demanded in India “by employers, parents, lower
castes, in rural and urban areas alike” (Graddol 2010: 112). People from the
lower classes have recognized that education is their only weapon against
poverty and they demand an equal access to English (Mani, 2013). Few years ago
politicians secured rural votes by demonstrating a negative attitude towards
English; now they have to lobby for extending English to the masses to reach
the same goal (Graddol, 2010: 65). The growing demand for English is also felt
by official organizations for English language teaching. For example, ESOL
(English for Students of Other Languages), an organization which administrates
certificate tests on English language for students and teachers, actively takes
part in the promotion of the English language. The organization collaborates
with the Indian government on making English accessible to all groups and on
improving language skills (Express News Service, 2009).

                         

One
of the groups which call strongly for English accessible to all is the Dalit
community. They see English as a key to their emancipation, not only because of
the opportunities for social mobility it offers to them, but also because of
the possibility of escaping with the use of English the traditional caste
positioning which is encoded in the regional languages themselves. They also
perceive English as unifying the Dalit movement across India and by that making
possible for them to fight a common political cause (Graddol 2010: 65; Masani
2012). They have even established a deity of their movement: the Goddess of English.
She is depicted in both Anglo-American and Indian manner: resembling the American
Statue of Liberty standing in front of the map of India, wearing a sari and an English
straw hat, standing on a computer and holding a giant pink pen (Masani, 2012).

 

As
English increasingly becomes the de facto
mother tongue in many urban families, many people are appalled by this trend.
They feel that English and “its rampant use will strip them of their
Indian-ness”. On one hand, they acknowledge that English is very useful as it
is connecting them with the whole world. On the other hand, they say that
English is alienating them from their familial and cultural roots (Rai, 2012).

 

Observations and Concluding Remarks

            From the above discussion, it is
quite evident that subaltern sensitivity and affiliation to one’s culture and
language is on the wane in India. In India, subalternity appears to have been
sacrificed on the altar of modernization, upward mobility, and economic
progress. English enjoys a superior status and many in the urban areas try to
imbibe the culture of the English speaking countries, the very factor that
Gramsci warned of. Moreover, this outlook and perception have significant
impact on the outcome in language discourse. Since the attitude is mostly
integrative, learning English and the demand for it, and the outcome are so
immense that India has become the second largest English speaking country after
the USA. Therefore, in India, in order to retain and safeguard native languages
and cultures, there is a “need to perceive English as a functional language
rather than as an elite language that creates socio-political conflict (Kumar,
2011).”