In value of English, its relation to colonization, identity,

In Kachru’s three circles model, which he used to explain “the types of spread, the patterns of acquisition, and the functional allocation of English in diverse cultural contexts” (Kachru, 1992, p.356), Sudan is in the Expanding Circle. There has been little written on the attitude of the Expanding Circle towards English, specifically in Sudan. For a long time, linguistics studies about Sudan have been concerned with Arabic and indigenous languages. This paper is interested in exploring the attitudes of people in Sudan towards English. Chiefly, it will investigate these attitudes in terms of their perception of the value of English, its relation to colonization, identity, culture, and Arabic. The literature review will examine what had been written on the Expanding Circle and compare it to Sudan. Language is a layered issue in Sudan with cultural and national ideologies. Hence, it will be impossible to delve into this topic without looking at the linguistic history, colonization, culture and identity, the factors contributing to these attitudes.

2. Literature Review

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

2.1 Expanding Circle & ELF

One of the most known models to represent the sociolinguistic profile of English is the three circle model coined by Kachru (1992). It is comprised of three circles, the Inner Circle, Outer Circle and Expanding Circle. The Expanding Circle countries are speakers of English as a Foreign Language (EFL). It includes countries which have not been colonized or if they were, not for an extended time. As an EFL, English has no distinct status and it is “just another language” (Kachru, 1992). English is spoken by an immense number of people – larger than any of the other languages – and the majority of these people, around 2 billion of them (Crystal, 2008 cited in Jenkins, 2014), live in the Expanding Circle (Kachru 1985). Thus, according to Jenkins, English as a Lingua franca (ELF) is an Expanding Circle phenomenon. ELF is defined by Jenkins (2009, p.200) as “Contact languages used by people who do not share a first language”. What differentiation English from other lingua francas is that globalization is the force behind establishing English as an international language (Chang, 2006).

Although the Outer Circle and English as a Second Language have been researched vigorously, there has been a noticeable lack of attention towards the Expanding Circle and ELF, which only recently gained focus (Ho, 2008). Jenkins (2006) suggested that because the Expanding Circle were not colonized researchers are less interested in them and tend to group them with Outer Circle when it comes to speakers’ histories, context and English migration. Ho stated that the ‘non-colonization’ element is the crucial to understanding speakers’ attitudes towards ELF in Expanding Circle. In other words, due to being non-colonized, Expanding Circle countries are not conflicted by linguistic imperialism and English ownership; they are not threatened by assimilation and have an established cultural and national identity (Seidlhofer, 2001). Hence, they do not have a negative view towards English as a Native Language (ENL) and embrace it as a pedagogical model.

On the other hand, Jenkins (2009) explored two opposing positions toward ELF. The first position views English as monolithic model – the standard varieties such as British and American – that in order to acquire it, one must dispose of his cultural identity (Rubdy and Sarcaceni, 2006). This notion was reflected in interviews Jenkins conducted with Expanding Circles’ English teachers. She found that although respondents associated the notion of good English with ENL, they also voiced a desire to express their national identities through their English and would actually be more content using English if they were not under the pressure to learn and teach an ENL. On the other hand, in the questionnaire she conducted, they showed negative attitude towards Outer Circle English varieties. In fact, Jenkins noted, they did not even recognize Outer Circles Englishes such as, Chinese and Indian as standard varieties in their own rights.

Additionally, in Egypt, Schaub (2000) citing Imhoof (1977) described the changing attitudes of the Egyptians towards English, from viewing it as a ‘necessary evil’ during the colonisation to a means towards an end for education, business and social mobility. This is evident also in other countries of the Expanding Circle such as, Brazil and China, where the popular motto is, “know English, have work, earn money” (Berns, 2005). Schaub goes on to remark that the older and underprivileged Egyptians are rejecting English, begrudging the fact that more and more people are learning it. It is expected to have a resistance against English, given the long history of colonisation in Egypt and the animosity it had with the US during the 1960s and 1970s. However, people, especially the middleclass young generation, in all parts of the country are pursuing and learning English.

2.2 Sudan Linguistic and National History

To understand the current attitudes toward a foreign language, one has to look at its history of linguistic imperialism, how a language once before had become the sole language. The spread of Arabic was a long historical process, beginning after the fall of the Christian Nuba Kingdome in the North and the spread of Islam, brought on by the Arab immigrants in the early 14th century (Sharkey, 2007). As a result, the tribes transformed into an Arab and Islamic nation; a desire to be identified as Arab emerged among the Northerners and being an Arab became an elevated social status (Lesch, 1998).

During the ‘Turco-Egyptian’ occupation of Sudan from 1821 to 1881, slave trade from the South began, practised by the Egyptians and Northerners alike. Sudan was claimed back from the Egyptians) by Mahadi who united the North but the North continued the Turco-Egyptian enslavement of the South (Cis?o, 2014). Slavery and socials hierarchies were associated with being an Arab and Sudanese. When the British and Egyptian first invaded Sudan in 1898, being an ‘Arab’ was being a Muslim and free (Sharkey, 2007). ‘Arabs’ went to great extent to dissociate themselves from Sudanese – tracing ancestries to the prophet Muhammad and Arab tribes and believed they were superior to non-Arabs and non-Muslims (Cis?o, 2014). Sudan, derived from the Arabic name ‘Bilad es-Sudan’ means the Land of the blacks, given by the Medieval Arab explorers. Subsequently, being Sudanese meant being black and a slave (Zouhair, 2015).

The British operated according to the present local social hierarchies. They prompted the spread of Arabic in the North and gave ‘Arabs’ education and administration jobs whereas slaves’ descendants, whom the British called ‘Sudanese’, were assigned military and labour-intensive jobs (Sharkey, 2007). Additionally, they favoured the North in their modernization process and development, benefiting the Arab elites of the country’s resources (Madibbo, 2012 cited in Zouhair, 2015). Finally, in 1954, the ‘Arabs’ began to replace the British in high positions in the South (Cis?o, 2014). The Northerners’ strong national and cultural identity was not only protected but also fortified by the discrimination practiced by the British which translated as support of their racial ideologies.

Arabic was the dominant language by the time Sudan gained independence in 1956, despite having 114 indigenous languages which stopped being taught in 1964 (Abdelhady, Abu-Manga, Miller, 2017). The South had been Christianised by the British and closed off from the Northerners through the Closed District Policy. Hence, the North sought its assimilation through an Arabization policy. The policy was also a response to the linguistic domination maintained by English in different fields such as education, medicine and science (Yeddi, 2001 cited in Zouhair 2015). O’Brien (2013) noted that English, initially, reserved its place as an institutionalized language, of education, government, business and was sued daily which created a strong incentive to learn it. Then, in 1989, compelled by socio-political view and racial, national ideologies, Sudan switched from English to Arabic in fields such as medicine, sciences, technology, and engineering.

3.   Research Questions & Methodology

In this paper, the attitude of people in Sudan, as an Arab country and an ex-colony in the Expanding circle, towards English is surveyed. It will be compared to what have been written on the Expanding Circle’s attitudes applies to Sudan and what makes Sudan different. Furthermore, it analyses their attitudes towards English in relation to Arabic, colonization, national culture, identity and its significance.

The data will be acquired through a survey questionnaire posted on a Facebook group called the Sudanese Researchers Initiative. The group members are primarily professionals, academics and students. The questionnaire is comprised of two sections. The first section included eight questions regarding the respondent’s field, English language background, usage patterns and motives. The second section had nineteen statements using the Likert scale format to gauge the respondent’s attitudes towards English in terms of usage, level of proficiency, functions, importance and relation to colonization, identity, culture, and Arabic.


4.   Findings

Chart 1: English, the language of colonization.


Chart 2: The value of English.


Chart 3: English & Identity

Chart 4: English & Culture


Chart 5: English & Arabic

5.   Discussion

5.1 English and Colonization

Regarding its history, more than two thirds of the respondents did not have conflict with acquiring English despite Sudan’s history of colonization. Looking at Chart 1, 42% of them disagreed strongly with the statement compared to 3% who agreed. This coincides with Ho and Jenkins suggestion that Expanding Circle countries are not concerned with linguistic imperialism or ownership, which they attributed to non-colonization. These results are, however, unexpected since the British had colonized Sudan. A possible reason for this could be that Sudan was under colonization for a comparatively shorter period, from 1890s to 1956 to, for example, Malaysia which was colonized by the British from 1824 until 1957. Another reason would be that the North was generally supported by the British; they showed favouritism towards the North over the South by developing it and giving opportunities to ‘Arabs’ which further instilled and acknowledged their ‘Arab’ identity. The British even encouraged the spread of Arabic. After independence, the process of Arabization was not a direct rejection of English, but rather a fortification of their identity and a submersion of other African identities in the country. In other words, the North did not feel that their identity was questioned by colonization and even viewed it as a way of advancing the country. Hence, they have no reason to either reject or harbour negativity toward English.

5.2 The Value of English

In terms of its value, as illustrated in Chart 2, the majority of people either disagreed or were neutral in viewing English in terms of its economic value. This is particularly interesting because within the Expanding Circle, there have indications that the common view if English is as tool of financial gain. In Egypt, English primarily is a mean to an end (Schaub, 2000) and likewise in China and Brzil it is seen as a way to gain employment and money (Berns, 2005). Although this result does not outwardly disregards Berns and Schaub reports, it does challenge the notion that it is strictly perceived as a language for work or education and could indicate that the overall attitude in the Expanding Circle towards English is shifting.

This view is further tested by the fact that more than half of the people agreed that English is a medium of enriching and expressing a contemporary transnational identity, as is seen in Chart 3. Another factor that is associated with perception of English is prestige; two third of the group members agreed that proficiency in English enhances one’s social status in Sudan. Hence, the value of English for Sudanese people is assessed more than in terms of its economic gain, providing them with more motives to learn it.

5.3 Fears on Culture

When faced with the statement that Inner Circle countries were threatening Sudanese culture, as can be seen in Chart 4, the opinions were inconsistent, divided over all the categories. Yet, more members were inclined to agree with the proclamation that English acquisition was a risk to national culture. This suggests that Ho was not completely accurate in her judgment that Expanding Circle countries are confident enough of their identity that they harbour no fear of assimilation. It is worth to suggest a reason other than colonization for this sense of threat on cultures – globalization.

This fear of cultural homogenization is evident in other Expanding Circle countries, although non-colonized. For example, Gulf countries approach on foreign language learning is that the learner should gain an understanding of the English speaking people as long as it does not lead to rejection of their own Arab/Islamic cultures (Byram cited in Kumaravadivelu, 2008). Accordingly, an organization called TESOL Islamia was started to encourage ELT through a sociocultural approach best suited to their Arab/Islamic world. This coupled with the results hints that Sudanese people, part of Arab and Islamic world have concerns over the possibility of losing parts of their culture (Kumaravadivelu, 2008).

For English varieties, the majority of the group members did not consider that Indian English and Singaporean English were established varieties comparable to UK and US Englishes. This paralleled Jenkins (2009) findings in which Expanding Circle speakers did not acknowledge Chinese and Indian Englishes as standard varieties. Interestingly, the majority of the members were neutral to the statement that a Sudanese English variety did exist. Yet, more people agreed than disagreed that there was one. This showed that while they do not acknowledge other World Englishes, they are aware to some extent that their English diverges from ENL. Coupled with Jenkins findings this demonstrates that Sudanese people are keen on having distinct English to uphold their national identity rather than adhere to ENL varieties.

5.4 English Vs Arabic

When it came to examining English in the context of Arabic, Sudanese people held Arabic at a high status and did not perceive a linguistic threat from English over Arabic. Therefore, 50% of the members rejected the idea of prioritizing English learning over Arabic – a quarter of them were neutral. Nevertheless, as can be seen in Chart 5, almost half of them leaned towards disagreement that a focus on English language learning would lead to a decline in Arabic language proficiency. As for the statement that English was only important if one is seeking employment and education abroad, the members were equally split between disagreement and agreement. This indicates that the respondents do not feel a linguistic threat from English. More clearly, Sudanese people, although aware of the importance of English, will not view it as more essential than Arabic in Sudan. This unshakable believe in the importance of Arabic, as aforementioned, is due to a prideful identification with Arabs that was not put under threat or doubt by colonization.  Although the place of English language will only grow and its use will increase, the Sudanese people are unlikely to disused of Arabic or reject their cultural believes and traditions, a fear prevalent in other Arab and Muslim countries.


6.   Conclusion

The research was concerned with discovering the attitudes Sudanese people had towards English when it came to its value, relation to identity, culture, colonization and Arabic. It was found that the majority of them did not associate English with British colonization. It was suggested that the limited period of colonization coupled with the British sustaining ‘Arab’ national ideologies led the Sudanese people to not hold a negative outlook towards English. Furthermore, the majority conceded that English helps in enriching and expressing a new aspect of their identities and that it is linked to higher social status in Sudan. This illustrated that the reported attitudes towards English as the language of employment is expanding to include personal and social factors. The group members did however express a sense of threat over their national culture by the dominance of English speaking nations. It was pointed out in other sources that this notion is prevalent in other Expanding Circle countries, ones that were not colonized. They linked the acquisition of English language to the possibility of dismissal of Arab and Muslim cultures. The threat, however, is a result of cultural globalization and an increased immersion in western culture. Finally, when it concerned Arabic, the members did not exhibit a fear or a threat of English over Arabic.

There are plenty of studies on Arabic and vernacular languages in Sudan, yet when it comes to English, the studies are mainly concerned with English teaching and learning. This paper attempted to answer vital questions about attitudes towards English in Sudan. Nonetheless, there remains much to be looked into. The paper had several limitations; for instance, it was limited to a sample of academics and university students from the younger generations. It would better depict reality if the survey included responses from other parts of the Sudanese society. Further studies need to be carried out in different settings, on a more varied sample of people. Also this study only focused on particular aspects of history, culture, identity and Arabic. Other studies may wish to explore attitudes towards accents or varieties of English.