Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Are You Listening?

What is language? According to Merriam-Webster’s online encyclopedia, language is defined as “the words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community”. The most important word that I found in the above definition was “community”. Now what’s a community? Again, I came to the same resource, punched in the word and out came the answer! It said, community means “a group of people with common interests living in a particular area”. Now I got 2 words from here “common” and “particular”. So does it mean that people who are members of a specific community should belong to a particular geographical area? And should they cultivate only similar interests? Then what would you say about English? Without a doubt it’s the lingua franca of our modern era. But even after attaining the status of a global language, is it free from clutters? The answer is No! It’s not. And it doesn’t make a difference to its high status and growing popularity!

Language is like fluid! As fluids take the shape of the containing vessels, a language too adapts itself to the region where it is being spoken. The vernacular dialects of the region exert their influence on the (non-native) language, gradually giving it a distinct shape and identity. The change is dynamic! It leads to varied pronunciations, typical word usage, and articulations. That’s why I find listening to English broadcasts from non-native English speaking countries - Fascinating!

Whether it’s the rolling Aussie accent, the quick-paused South East Asian accents, the rounded East European accents, the long-edged African accents or the ‘desperate-to-sound-British’ accents from the subcontinent, I love them all! Memories of listening to distant voices speaking in English from Ecuador to Zambia on the shortwave, with just my (Chinese make) analog receiver, a good 10 years back, comes back to my mind. I still remember how I would stay awake to listen to Channel Africa, Voice of Vietnam, Myanmar Radio, Voice of Russia (Radio Moscow), RSCG, Voice of Greece, Radio Prague, REE, Bhutan Broadcasting Service, and many others, not only because I wished to QSL these stations more than once, but also due to the fact that I loved listening to their English! It offered me a different flavor to radio listening!

Today when major International shortwave broadcasts are closing down and even some are suggesting that “the end of shortwave is near” I wonder whether the popularity of English would remain the same. Or would it be affected anyway? BBC has always maintained its reputation as being a yardstick for learners who wish to master The Queen’s English. Even during my days at the university where I studied Journalism, we were asked to follow BBC for proper English diction!

Besides VOA Special English service has done so much for the propagation of this beautiful language among listeners, the world over. What will happen now if VOA closes down its shortwave operations? It seems to be a near possibility as well! Especially, after the recent Strategic Technology Plan of (BBG) Broadcasting Board of Governors, the mother institution that controls VOA operations, came to light. What will happen to those millions of shortwave listeners scattered in Asia, Africa, and South America? Even if I consider that listeners in Europe, North America, and Australia do not have the necessity of tuning in to shortwave channels to learn English, as the population there can afford an internet connection, what would happen to a listener from Sudan, Ethiopia, Mongolia, Laos, or Vietnam? 
Questions are too many! But who will answer? Are you listening?

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