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Attitudes to languages other than English in the context of British nationalism.

Conboy, Martin Dermot. (1992) Attitudes to languages other than English in the context of British nationalism. PhD thesis, Institute of Education, University of London.

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Abstract

This thesis is concerned with the negative attitudes of the British towards foreign languages. Though such prejudice could perhaps be illustrated by statistical evidence from secondary schools, examination boards and social surveys, the emphasis of this work lies elsewhere. What will be the prime concern here is an examination of the broader cultural and even political implications for the British of their well-documented inability to be willing to learn foreign languages. I hope to be able to show that nationalism contains a specifically linguistic factor which is able, along with many other factors, to contribute towards the cohesion within British culture. I will examine the exclusivity and the need for selfaggrandisement within nationalism and argue that the British experience of imperialism deepened the potential for such sentiments. It is possible that the experience of being a British English speaker does bind British society in a very special way. It is also possible that this linguistic experience in part defines the British world view. This study will use the three opening chapters to establish a basis on which the evidence of the following five chapters may be judged In order to examine the extent to which such assertions are true a wide net will be cast to gather evidence to prove the hypothesis that the experience of speaking English has defined British culture more specifically than is often thought. Chapters 4 and 5 will examine the effect of certain colonial policy decisions concerning language, not on the societies of the Empire but upon the British themselves. I hope that such examples will illustrate the growing role of language, ironically a much neglected and often invisible partner in the political processes, which formed the views which the British had of themselves and their place in the world. I do not believe that there has ever existed a monolithic body of prejudice towards other languages among the British. Indeed, one of the purposes of this work is to illustrate that the role of the English language within British culture has been developed historically in such a way that any such prejudice often has all the unassailable strength of what appears to be common sense. Until the twentieth century in Britain, it would have been unreasonable to expect any but the ruling imperialist politicians or the colonial administrators to have had anything other than the dimmest appreciation of the existence of languages other than English. This provides a second reason for searching as widely as possible for different sources of evidence. If the development of prejudicial attitudes to foreign languages and their transmission through a society have constituteda long and complex process, then this process must be examined at contrasting periods and levels of society. The chapters on boys' comics and film in the 1930s will show the extent to which attitudes had developed and spread beyond a narrow colonial base. This period has been chosen because it represents the flowering of a truly broad and popular perception of British nationalism as magnified through the experience of imperialism. Immediately before the Second World War, this sense of the strength and worth of the British nation was, arguably, at its height. These chapters will indicate the centripetal role which perceptions of the English language, as contrasted with other languages, played in such a blossoming. Finally, I will present a chapter surveying the position of foreign languages in the British education system in the 1930s. This will provide a counter-balance to attitudes in the popular media of the previous two chapters. In case this thesis might be criticised for merely finding evidence for an already well-known phenomenon, I will attempt to view all such evidence from a special perspective. I will be searching not only for the ideas and attitudes underpinning any prejudice against foreign languages but also the social forces which lie behind them.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Controlled Keywords: Great Britain,Nationalism,Foreign languages,Attitudes,Colonial policy,Language policy,Cultural imperialism,Modern languages education,History of education
Depositing User: Mr Andrew Welshman
Date Deposited: 01 Jul 2014 09:46
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2015 12:45
View Record in Library Catalogue: http://ioe.sirsidynix.net.uk/uhtbin/cgisirsi/x/0/0/5/3?searchdata1=a126197{CKEY}
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