Monday, March 26, 2012

Teaching English for Communicative Performance and Business Communication




It is a challenge to us English teachers to manage with our own widely differing linguistic competence the large classes of mixed ability students, non-availability or high cost of books and instructional material, tests and exams becoming the only goal in themselves, lack of students’(and even teachers’) motivation, administrative apathy, inaccessibility to electronic media, journals and books, balance between the use of mother tongue and English to ensure  acquisition of communication skills, or perhaps, a better teaching-learning situation in the mother tongue and other languages, and dissemination of best ELT practices internationally, with an e-culture interface.

As teachers we need to work on our own affirmative action programmes, despite constraints of our situation.  In order to do something new, we may have to give up the old. As John Swales says, “We may need to recycle  not only our projects and our programmes but also ourselves.”  In fact a practical teacher should be able to operate within, what may be called, “here and now” state of affairs. It is with some sort of inbuilt flexibility and utilitarian purpose that one can practice ELT in the days ahead.


With sensitivity for the language (to me, language use is more a matter of pleasure and beauty than of rules and structure), I would like to assert that the yardsticks of the British or American native speakers, or their standards as reflected in GRE, TOEFL or IELTS etc, or their kind of tongue twisting,  are simply damaging to the interests of non-native speakers.  We have to develop our own standards, instead of teaching to sound like Londoners or North Americans. Pronunciation must be intelligible and not detract from the understanding of a message. But for this nobody needs to speak the so called standardized English (that makes inter- and intranational communication difficult).  David Crystal too appreciates this reality and favours ‘local taste’ of English in India and elsewhere.  The problems of teaching, say spoken English, relate to lack of intercultural communicative competence.

Many of the misunderstandings that occur in multicultural or multinational workplace are traceable to intergroup differences in how language is used in interpersonal communication rather than to lack of fluency in English.  In fact native speakers need as much help as non-natives when using English to interact internationally and interculturally.  It is understanding the how of  negotiation, mediation, or interaction.  We need to teach with positive attitude to intercultural communication, negotiating linguistic and cultural differences.  The focus has to be on developing cultural and intercultural competence, tolerance (the spread and development of various Englishes is an instance of grammatical and lexical tolerance), and mutual understanding. Rules of language use are culturally determined.  I doubt all those who talk about spoken English, or communication skills, care to teach or develop intercultural communicative abilities.  This presupposes a good grasp of one’s own culture or way of communication, or the language etiquettes, gestures and postures, space, silence, cultural influences, verbal style etc. 

Understanding and awareness of non-verbal behavior, cues and information  is an integral part of interpersonal communication in many real-life situations, including business and commerce. Though research is needed to understand the role of visual support in our situations, it does seem relevant in making students aware of the context, discourse, paralinguistic features and culture. This can be advantageous in teaching soft skills which are basically life skills, or abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour, so necessary for successful living.

If one has to work abroad and use English with others there, one has to be sensitive to the culturally governed ways of speaking  or talking to each other. The speech community’s (the language culture of the group of people) ways of communication cannot be taken for granted, when one seeks to learn or teach spoken English. People fail or suffer discomfort or embarrassment in negotiations in business or political affairs, or achievement of personal goals due to incompetence in persuasion, negotiation, mediation, or interaction. It is their performance, their intercultural interactional competence which matters; it lies in managing social interaction, and not just communication, in the narrow sense of the word,  or use of right grammatical form, syntax, vocabulary, or even certain polite phrases. The goal is to enable one to express what one wishes to convey and make the impression that one wishes to make, using language with a sense of interaction and mutuality.


In the context of Business Communication, it is not without a sense of social business for creating value and better business outcome.  One needs to demonstrate social insights, too, in the use of, say, (social) networking sites, smart phones, mobile, tablet PCs, voice mail, electronic mail, and other e-business instruments such as computer network, teleconferencing and video conferencing that are being integrated to enterprise design.  This means one needs to be able to share information, discover expertise, capitalize on relationship, and be collaborative in creatively solving business challenges. One needs to demonstrate leadership and management traits, innovation, and decision-making; one needs to  be able to identify oneself with the shared values and beliefs of the organization one is associated with; and more importantly, one needs to demonstrate intercultural and interactive abilities with sensitivity for change and adaptation, if one is working in a foreign country or in a multinational company. 

In short, one’s personal communication, both oral or written, needs to be in tune with the communication philosophy --  goals and values, aspirations and pledges, beliefs and policies-- of the organization one is working for, just as one should be able to blend with the host culture.

 When I mention intercultural interaction, I point to the need for adapting to differences in life style, language, business philosophy as well as problems with finances, government, cultural shock, housing, food, gender, family etc.  Although many of the people sent on foreign assignment know their (foreign) market, they are often unable to accept another culture on that culture’s terms even for short periods. Sensitivity for intercultural business environment, or being aware of each culture’s symbols, how they are the same, and how they are different, is important.


The staff development programme of this kind provides us with an opportunity to revisit the issues related to ‘communicative’ teaching, in general, and business communication, in particular. If communication is the aim of English (or any other language) teaching and ‘communicative’ syllabuses fail to develop what Dell Hymes called ‘communicative competence’ and Noam Chomsky mentioned as communicative performance, we need to reflect on our classroom practices, research and materials production from time to time.  Chomsky’s focus was on the sentence-level grammatical competence of an ideal speaker-listener of a language, and Hymes, as a sociolinguist, was concerned with  real speaker-listeners who interpret, express, and negotiate meaning in many different social settings; he brought into focus the view of language as a social phenomenon and reflected on its use as units of discourse. Socializing competence and performance, Dell Hymes also mentioned ‘appropriateness’, that is, “when to speak, when  not, and as to what to talk about and with whom, when, where, in what manner.”  This concept of “appropriate use” as ‘communicative competence’ was accepted by Chomsky and called “pragmatic competence” (i.e. rules of use). Thus, Dell Hymes ‘communicative’ is Chomsky’s ‘pragmatic’ and includes knowledge of sociolinguistic rules, or the appropriateness of an utterance, in addition to knowledge of grammar rules. The term has come to negotiate meaning, to successfully combine a knowledge of linguistic and sociolinguistic rules in communicative interaction, both oral and written.

Michael Canale and Merril Swain in various papers on communicative competence have referred to “appropriacy” in terms of ‘sociolinguistic competence’. In fact, they offer another term “strategic competence”, that is, the ability to use communication strategies like approximation (or paraphrase stategy, using, for example, ‘pipe’ for waterpipe or ‘flower’ for leaf  to come close to the intended meanings), word-coinage, circumlocution (i.e. describing objects or ideas using “It looks like…”, “It’s made of…” etc when one temporarily forgets an exact word), borrowing including literal translation and language mix, appeal for assistance, ie. asking for information appropriately using “Excuse me,” “Could you…?” “What’s the word for…?”  “I didn’t know how to say it,” etc). mime and all that.  Their strategic competence(Canale and Swain) refers to the ability to enhance or repair conversations and means the same as Chomsky’s ‘pragmatic competence’ or Fluency. Brumfit and others too have used the term ‘pragmatic’ in the sense of fluency.

Thus, communicative competence consists of LINGUISTIC competence (ACCURACY),  PRAGMATIC competence (FLUENCY),  and SOCIOLINGUISTIC
competence (APPROPRIACY). 

The Linguistic competence or Accuracy in communication is much broader than mere grammatical competence; it includes the linguistic domains of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation as well as the linguistic skills of speaking, listening, reading, and writing, spelling, discourse (particularly interconnections and interdependence of the sentences and paragraphs), and the ability to contrast with the mother tongue.

The pragmatic competence or Fluency in communication relates to ease and speed of expression, i.e. how to keep talking, how not to remain silent because one doesn’t know the word (the skill of paraphrasing), and other strategies of learning, including  how to listen to oneself and so be able to self-correct and self-edit at once; that is, the ability to monitor immediately.

The sociolinguistic competence or Appropriacy includes varieties of text types (stories, dialogues, non-fiction passages etc) and functions of the language, different levels/degrees  of formality or informality, or appropriacy and use of language in authentic situations.

I doubt if we follow such a communicative curriculum with understanding of communicative competence in terms of linguistic ability, pragmatic ability and sociolinguistic ability. But its adoption should help students become independent learners; it should equip them with linguistic forms, means, and strategies that would help them overcome communication difficulties both inside and outside the classroom. From this perspective, communicative competence should be thought of as communicative performance  just as a communicative syllabus should be  essentially performance-based, that is, increasing the learner’s proficiency.

To quote Brendan Carroll: “The use of a language is the objective, and the mastery of the formal patterns, or usage, of the language is a means to achieve this objective. The ultimate criterion of language mastery is therefore the learner’s effectiveness in communication for the settings he finds himself in.”


Work-related skills such as team work, cultural awareness, leadership, communication and I.T. skills are as vital as academic achievement for Business/Management students.  It would be poor communicative performance if, for example, someone makes a multimedia presentation without knowing how to use the equipment and experiences technical difficulties, or “tries to liven up a dull topic merely by adding flashy graphics rather than by improving the content of the presentation.  People who attend meetings unprepared waste others’ time. People with poor listening skills frustrate those who have to repeat information for them. Those who make inappropriate grammatical or vocabulary choices embarrass themselves and those around them.  Incompetent communicators hurt the organization they represent. This has especially been the case with hastily sent emails composed in a moment of anger.”


Academic or profesional communication skills , both written and oral, have to be imparted in such a way that students in their  contexts are able to identify their own language learning needs and to set their own language learning goals. At college and university level, teachers may act as facilitators, just as they would need to teach with positive attitude for inter- and intracultural communication, the skills of negotiating linguistic and cultural differences.

It is with this sensibility for English language and its teaching in various contexts that I speak to you. Yet, as I say all this, I keep in mind the ground reality:  that is, poor literacy skills, fluency, and even comprehension; poor communicative ability, with limited experiences in writing, speaking and listening unless, of course, teaching of English as a Second,  or additional language improves from school level and need for a supportive classroom climate and positive student attitudes towards learning at postsecondary level is recognized. Also, both teachers and students need to be aware of what to do, how to do it, and when and why to do it, as part of practicing self-regulation strategies.

The ELT community as also the other stake holders in the country should, therefore, revise and reformulate appropriate strategies and policies, with tolerance and multilingualism at the core, to remain relevant in the coming decades. The objective of looking back is  to move forward with a reasoned perspective for taking  measures to develop communication abilities and higher discourse competence, with a broadened inter- and cross-disciplinary bases, for learning to understand (rather than memorize) and apply in one’s own contexts.


The digression apart, let me now come back to teaching communication in business. In terms of ESP,  we should be  aware of the ‘specific purposes’ of what we do in the classroom, just as we should do it in terms of students’ specific needs. For example, if we teach written communication, we teach it in the specific context of Business, maybe, where applicable, in terms of ‘rhetorical functions’, with a sense of logical organization of knowledge or information, as noticed in actual use.  Students need to be exposed to  range of authentic report material from business, commerce, finance, administration, marketing, production, personnel etc. They need to understand the logical steps in writing a report, from ‘collecting the information’  through to ‘summarizing’ and ‘appendix’.  In short, they need to be presented with task-oriented activities that are both challenging and authentic in the field of business: they need to be  forced to read and think about the content of the report; they need to be made to think about the structure and organization of the report; they need to think about the language used  to express the content; and they have to be made to apply this knowledge to the skill of writing a report. The variety of writing exercises may include paragraph writing, expansion of notes, completion of paragraphs,  sequencing of sentences into paragraph, and using the right punctuation marks, connectives, sub-headings, presentation of non-verbal information or transfer of information from text to diagram (graph, chart, table, outline etc); linking findings, conclusions and recommendations, extracting main points for making descriptive and evaluative summaries etc.  We teach all this in terms of what the students already know and what they need to know. They unlearn, learn, and re-learn, both formal and informal expressions, within the conventions of the discipline they belong to.

As I already said, their career success depends on good writing and speaking skills, along with proper etiquettes and listening skills and understanding skills.  Skills that need particular attention are informational and analytical report writing, proposal writing, memo writing, letter writing, oral presentation, and a sense of grammar, punctuation,  word, sentence and paragraph. 

The methodology should encourage students  to learn from each other via activities both of a productive kind and of a receptive nature. We may exploit developments in the case study approach, use role plays and simulations that place the students in realistic and stimulating situations to create spontaneous personal interaction and creative use of the language in a business context.

A mix of the task based approach, group work, and simulations should help the future business people develop the skills for meeting and negotiating as also for the necessary mastery of English for functioning autonomously in the field. The challenge is not to teach a descriptive course on discourse, but to provide for a pragmatic and custom-tailored input, ready for processing by the learners in an authentic learning environment.

 In other words, in stead of mere  ‘business communication’, the emphasis has to be on, what I already mentioned, ‘interaction in business context’. It is not merely the language of business, but also the cultural conventions of meetings and negotiations in an intercultural setting that one has to be aware of, and learn. As far as teaching is concerned, it is rather helping  students with learning how to learn, how to create the learning opportunities for themselves, and understanding  the ways in which language and business strategies interact. If we follow a learner-centred approach,  a three-step procedure could be: first, to illustrate (=a good model), then, to induce (=induction for effective learning by the learner), and finally, to interact (=the outcome).

I would like to quote Christopher Brumfit from his opening speech to SPEAQ Convention in Quebec City (in June 1982): “…Being communicative is as much or more a matter of methodology as of syllabus or materials, and methodology is something that teachers are uniquely qualified to contribute to. We should therefore be willing to use our expertise, to innovate, to improve, to inform each other, and to criticize.” What we are doing here, friends, is just to make a beginning, the beginning of a process of communicating, of understanding, that we can start but cannot finish.


I am aware that there is no universal teaching method or ideal teaching material suited to many contexts of language teaching. Whatever didactic techniques one knows without excluding the behaviouristic drills, and practice and use of mother tongue, where appropriate, are all valid at different points in the teaching process. I stand for an eclectic approach as different methods for different students have always worked and there has not been one best method any time. With our freedom to choose and adopt any notion that serves our teaching ends, with a reasonable degree of historical sense, flexibility and adaptability that allows us to select among a variety of approaches, methods and techniques, we can meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. I see teaching communicatively essentially consisting of an eclectic methodology which incorporates what is valuable in any system or method of teaching and refuses to recognize bad teaching or defective learning. In any educational setting, sensitive and sensible application and continuing evaluation of the chosen practices should be inbuilt.

English has been practised in a social, economic, political, educational and philosophical “hot-house”, to use Peter Strevens’ expression, and the hot-house in India differs in quality from state to state. It is necessary to create an enabling environment – managerial, administrative, institutional, academic, and curricular—to promote not only quality education and effective learning with exposure to lots of natural, meaningful and understandable language, but also genuine communication. This means learners should read and listen to live language; they should speak and write it in ways that can be understood by educated speakers everywhere. Moreover, they should eventually be able to produce and comprehend culturally appropriate natural discourse.


To sum up, we as teachers need to recognize the changes that have shaken all human conditions with new technology, new social structures, new values, new human relations, new functions.  As Young Yun Kim notes: “The complexity, diversity, and rapid pace of  change makes us ‘strangers’ in our own society.” The challenge is, to understand the “sameness in differences” for international/intercultural exchanges, or learning business negotiations and written communication. Language teaching alone may not develop communicative abilities in business English unless we realize that learning the language implies learning the culture also—one’s own culture and other’s culture. It is language and culture teaching together and sharing the “us” and “them” differences to reflect on one’s own culture from the viewpoint of an outsider, and thus, become less ethnocentric and more tolerant of the values of the foreign people and their ways. 

The ESP of  business communication  seems highly culturally biased and value based, even as Western ethno-centricism, including the North American, may not be the answer to our communicative difficulties.  But we have to be OPEN to all local peculiarities to communication and interaction. If we view English as the lingua franca for business negotiations, we should also not forget that it is NOT the mother tongue of any or most of the negotiators. To that extent, the English used is commonly a variety in which the mother tongue interferes not only phonetically and phonologically, but also in the cultural norms and attitudes expressed by the speakers.  To quote Susanne Neimeir, “Their non-verbal behavior, for example, does not automatically switch to an ‘Englishized’ non-verbal behavior but normally stays rooted in their home culture.  Thus, even when they think the negotiation partner should have understood (verbal and non-verbal) signs they are using, misunderstandings still occur because signs may be differently encoded—and decoded—on the other’s cultures or may not  be noticed to be signs at all.”

Therefore, we need to sensitize students to cultural richness and cultural diversity for developing mutual understanding and using individual and group knowledge constructively, and not stereotypically, in learning skills of business communication, both oral and written.  It also seems imperative to integrate discourse analysis, decision-making and generic patterns of meetings and effective conversation and the role of cultural influences for success in actual business situations.  In fact, it is significant to provide professional students with opportunities to experience what it means to communicate and to do business with different people who obviously are alike in several basic ways.

In today’s globalized business context, while teachers of business English have to be aware of various analytical and practical approaches to business communication, especially as intercultural understanding and strategies of flexibility, adaptability and tolerance are some of the keys to make the best of economic opportunities, students of Business communication have to  learn to find their own strategies, or use of structural and stylistic devices for successful business interaction. Their verbal communication in the ‘ESL’ context, to my mind,  would be largely ‘EIL’ to be able to work together, using English as the common language.

I hope at the end of the programme, having shared with each other what some of you have done and how, we will emerge more enlightened and aware about what more we need to do to succeed in the days ahead.  Mutual interaction should help us envision a possible policy framework required to support teaching for economically valuable language skills at tertiary and/or professional level.


1.      Hair Dan O’Hair, Gustav W. Friederich, Lynda Dee Dixon. 2008.  Strategic Communication in Business and the Professions. Delhi: Pearson Education, Inc.
2.      Canale, Michael and Merrill Swain. 1980. Theoretical Basis of Communicative Approach to Second Language Teaching and Testing. Applied Linguistics, 1, 1-47
3.      Gefen, Raphael. 1989. ‘Competence’ and ‘Performance’ in the Israeli Syllabus: A Classification of Concepts and Terms. English Teachers’ Journal, 39, August, 32-37
4.      R.K. Singh. 2005. Teaching English for Specific Purposes: An Evolving Experience. Jaipur: Book Enclave, 22-30
5.      SusanneNiemeier, Charles P. Campbell & Rene Dirven (eds). 1988.  The Cultural Context in Business Communication. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp.  1-2.
6.      Young Yun Kin. 1988. Communication and Cross cultural Adaptation. Cleveland/Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters Ltd. p. 3.

Head, Dept of Humanities & Social Sciences
Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad 826004 India

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Photos from the SRM University conference

Sunday, March 18, 2012

R.K.SINGH: Indian English Poet: Higher Technical Education: Distinctiveness of Humanities, Indian English, and ESP

Higher Technical Education: Distinctiveness of Humanities, Indian English, and ESP | Ram Krishna Singh | Article/Story/Poem/Essay | Red Room

Higher Technical Education: Distinctiveness of Humanities, Indian English, and ESP

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I am grateful to the organizing committee for thinking about me and inviting me  to deliver a guest lecture on distinctiveness of Humanities and social sciences in higher technical education. I feel rather uneasy and highly septic,  as I stand here with no pretensions of a  high-brow professor or specialist whose discourse goes overhead. I speak to you as a practicing teacher of English language skills, especially for science and technology, and Indian English writing, especially poetry,   with interest in what concerns us in the Humanities division, which, unfortunately, enjoys little academic respect in the over-all scheme of things in almost every technical institution.
          Maybe, a conference like this augurs well for friends in the department of Humanities & Social Sciences, as they seek to explore interdisciplinarity, which indeed  expands the scope of  teaching and research.  But I must provide a perspective to my several remarks that ensue from my reflections on the quality of intellectual activity in most technical institutions vis-a-vis the negligible support for scholarship in the Humanities, perhaps with the belief that the humanities are not ‘real subjects’ or that these have no bearing on learning of technical subjects, or these bring no demonstrable economic benefit.
The discipline has declined more perceptibly with, to quote Nannerl O. Keohane, “the creation of increasingly specialized disciplines and rewards for faculty members for advancing knowledge in those areas.” We have a marginalized status in technical institutions even if we may have been  playing a crucial role as teachers of languages and letters. I don’t want to dwell on them here. But, we should be aware of the ground reality.
          Yes, study in humanities is not always a matter of communicating ‘new findings’ or proposing a ‘new theory’. It is rather ‘cultivating understanding’ or thinking critically about some profound questions of human life; it is often the expression of the deepened understanding, which some individual has acquired, through reading, discussion and reflection, on a topic which has been ‘known’ for a long time. To me, practices in arts and humanities elevate consciousness, refine susceptibilities in various directions, create deeper awareness, and enable us to respond critically and independently to the ‘brave new world’ we live in.  Arts and humanities alone can help us to explore what it means to be human, and sustain “the heart and soul of our civilization.”  Perhaps, it’s the usefulness of humanities which is acknowledged by inviting me to speak to a distinguished audience like this.
          I intend to divide my brief into two parts: I would reflect on technical institutions as schools of higher learning; and then, I would say something about the business of English language teaching, which is my prime professional concern. Yet, much will remain unsaid, for I am aware of the controversies I may be raising.
          I strongly feel most university level technical institutions in India, like the general ones, have failed in promoting or upholding healthy intellectual attitudes and values, and academic culture and tradition, expected of a university, just as, it’s painful for me to observe, the culture has been virtually dismal in the case of studies in arts and humanities in the last four decades. The dullness and sameness has marginalized both creative and critical performance, or the standards handed down to us have become obsolete, or we have fallen into an abyss of unbecoming elitism, or we have become used to a cornucopia of pleasures formerly denied us: I won’t comment. But an opportunity, such as this, is necessarily not to offer any authoritative judgments but to reflect on, or to provide insights into, issues that concern intellectuals at the top of university teaching hierarchy. Should I say ‘non-university’? for I fear most of the faculty do not want to move beyond the parochial confines of narrow exclusivity. It’s the age of specialization they say, and discourage diversity, tolerance and inclusivity: they do not strive for intellectual mobility and change of attitude; we, as seniors, too, have not tried to reach out, or  explore! 
          As a university, we are not oriented to the transformation of our social order, nor are we obligated to act as a moral deterrent in inhibiting the growth of selfish motivation. We think of education in terms of laboratory or industrial practices in mineral and mining sectors, energy, electronics, engineering, computer application, environment, management, law, health sciences, life sciences, and all that, but hardly care for ‘producing’ fully competent and spiritually mature human beings. We do not pay attention to the growth of individual creativity and to an intuitive understanding of individual purpose. We do not bother to educate with, to quote Rabindranath Tagore, the “knowledge of spiritual meaning of existence” which is also the ethical and moral meaning. We have been, unfortunately, bogged down in schemes that inculcate a habit of the mind which indulges in seeking only better opportunities to survive, or higher pay packages.
          I’m afraid for too long we have practiced the “how to” of life and neglected the “why”. I believe it is comparatively easy to learn how to accomplish certain material tasks, but much more difficult to learn “what for”. If our educational system has failed over the years, it is because we have never come into a working knowledge of our humanity. We have gained incredible amount of technical knowledge, perhaps more than enough to resolve many problems with which mankind is presently faced, but we have never tried to reflect on how to apply it constructively and successfully for the good of all, with a sense of human dignity.
          Some of us rightly worry about the general lack of mutual respect for the rights and feelings of others, the tendency to be suspicious of the unknown, the tendency to take liberty with the sanctity of the individual person, and complain about the general lack of character and integrity, despite higher education. I see our failure in communicating with the spiritual insight which is marked by a balance between individual desires and social demands; I see our failure in creating the awareness of the world of values and principle of the spiritual oneness underlying the great variety found in the world. I see our failure in the humanity being torn apart by intolerance and fundamentalism, the suicidal urge for self-destruction. I see our failure in the rising ethnic, linguistic and religious tensions that now belie the scientific, technological and enlightened euphoria of the sixties.

          We seem to have lost  a sense of obligation toward creating a good, tolerant, forward-looking society. Thanks to the role of money in democratic processes and institutionalization of corruption at all levels, people have lost  faith in politicians, bureaucrats and government .  The invasion of governance by the criminal-politician-bureaucrat nexus has done the country greatest harm than the shift of power following the wave of globalization, multinational capitalism, corporate economy, politics of war on terror, environmental concerns, human rights and all that. There is a  reshaping of self, values and norms with dominance of the Western discourse in critical reasoning and reflection through perils and delights of growth and change; through survival skills vis-à-vis emigration, sex, parenthood, and age; through re-visiting past and present with vested awareness; through political orthodoxy  in the name of democracy, religious fanaticism, casteist dominance, and repression of the liberals and the simple; and through the new processes of fossilization of the pre-colonial/colonial/post-colonial that renders many of us in the profession irrelevant.  I wonder if we are not terribly dislocated in our small world.          
          Let me not digress any further.  Ladies and Gentlemen, every university is a school of higher education, but how high is high? If we are only interested in technical education for the sake of developing professional ability or skill in some area of life, then we are talking about a vocational school or polytechnic, and not a true university. Unfortunately, most universities (and technical institutions) have been vying with each other to become professional schools, not committed to the teaching of better morality, higher philosophy, universal order or universal culture. They are not producing morally and ethically conscious good citizens.  I am afraid all one can expect from the present priorities in the so called higher education is survival, pursuit of money, and power.
          When science is transformed into technology, it becomes a form of power. And, as history would testify, power is the power for good and for evil. The technological culture we live in pervades and shapes our lives. The computer and internet culture, electronic gadgets, microwave, fridge, mobile phones, antibiotics, contraceptives and several such devices have been more than new means. Our sense of vulnerability has been changing fast. The new consumerist culture has taken away what was earlier meaningful and rich experiences of life.
We in the Humanities & Social sciences department need to debate the multifaceted reality that modern technology offers—not only its devices and infrastructure which are its material manifestation but also skills and organization, attitudes and culture, perhaps constructively and contextually. Thinking through technology should make possible for us to develop and contribute to humanities philosophy of science and engineering just as different visions may be possible to discuss through social philosophy of technology. Researchers in the West have already been talking about technology as liberator, technology as threat, and technology as instrument of power. Our lives and ideas have thus changed and will continue to change. In fact, every field has been changing rapidly these days.  The discipline (HSS) needs to incorporate their study, especially as media such as internet  and social networking have already modified and redefined human relationship and identities everywhere and at all levels.

 Then, there is the emergence of what has been called ‘knowledge society’. The growth or creation of    knowledge society that  we have been talking about since the beginning of this century  presupposes  our  capacity for idea generation.  But if knowledge is not made freely available to all who seek it, how can one promote humanity or make it power for a liberal democratic society.  Moreover, as scientific and technical knowledge spreads or becomes more powerful, it would become more problematic for the scientific community to assume moral responsibility for the use and abuse of scientific knowledge.  To mitigate this challenge, one needs an education not so much in science but in humanities. When scientists say they want to live up to their social responsibilities, what they seem to mean is that they want more power than they have; it means they want to run things,  to take charge. They should not end up ‘doing politics’ in the name of improving the world or society. Let them be interested in themselves, in facing the task of their own self-improvement, and learning how to think about their own responsibilities in a more serious and reflective way, their own moral education.
 As a faculty in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences in  one of the leading technical universities in the country, what I think the scientific and engineering community has to face up to is its own self-education, its own social education. Our budding engineers and scientists have to explore answers to such basic questions as:  what is a good society? How do we go about achieving it? How do we—what do we—learn from history? What do we learn from political philosophers of the past? Or, why scientists think and speak the way they do? They cannot neglect this kind of educational enquiry in technical education because there is more and more to know as the fields proliferate. Which means, the department of Humanities and Social Sciences should equip them with the basics that helps them demonstrate understanding in and across the major disciplines: scientific understanding, technical understanding, mathematical understanding,  historical understanding, artistic/humanistic understanding, cross-cultural understanding, and understanding of moral and political philosophy, and philosophy of science etc. There is need for providing new unfamiliar concepts and examples to promote such understanding which will later enable them to  take enormous decisions vis-à-vis the complexity of the world science and technology has brought about.

With the present consciousness, accept it or not, we, in educational establishments, have perpetuated living with a world in upheaval, and in some cases, have even shown a preference for it. But, with a higher order of awareness that approaches intuitive levels of understanding (something arts, culture and humanistic studies essentially seek to develop), we should be better able to look at an issue from many different dimensions, and rationalize how we ought to live in the future “as complete citizens who can think for themselves, criticize traditions, and understand the significance of another person’s sufferings and achievements.” (to quote Martha Nusbaum from her book Not for Profit.)
          A technical university needs to provide for education which also elevates the consciousness and extends the power of the soul; that is, we need to shift a part of the current educational priorities from the intellect to the heart, and from scientific and technical thinking to soul cognition. The end and aim of a university, be it technical or general, is the perfection of man, striving to evolve the consciousness in tune with the universe.
          The education we ‘sell’ needs to be re-tuned towards creativity, innovation, and respect for fundamental freedom; our policies and curriculums should help in strengthening the culture and values of a global society which is characterized  by multiculturalism, intercultural interactions, mutual respect, tolerance, dignity and respect for values, and consciousness of ourselves as one human race, human rights and global responsibility for change in attitudes. We must, at every level, strive for a balance between the traditional attitudes and the need for a modern multi-cultural society.   
 I believe most of the new technical institutions can maintain their distinctiveness by seriously opening  to the diversity of our times, by sharing freely with students representing the diversity of our larger society, culture, and future needs. The enclave approach which seeks to shut out or at least seriously limit the diverse socio-cultural needs and understanding may not help any more to maintain distinctiveness of the institution.
I also worry about the system’s unwillingness to nurture the ethos and sensibility that sustains a university spirit even as, according to the current govt. policies, an institution of higher learning is expected to run as a business enterprise which in days to come, will modify, perhaps irreversibly, our attitudes to teaching and research, our notions of knowledge, our administrative practices, and our relationship with the state and society. We need to make a move from the concerns of the immediate present to the future and visualize a different typology of cultural, linguistic and educational problems against the backdrop of a very fluctuating socio-political climate and pressures of all types.
As part of the language and literature teaching fraternity for over 38 years and working in a specialized university, I know how significant Humanities teaching is to hone the mind, critical thinking and communication skills. I am tempted to quote Erwin Griswold (of the Harvard Law School): “You go to a great school not so much for knowledge as for arts or habits; for the art of expression, for the art of entering quickly into another person’s thoughts, for the art of assuming at a moment’s notice a new intellectual position, for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the art of working out what is possible in a given time; for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage, and mental soberness.”
Now, let me talk about the business of English Language Teaching. I say ‘business’ because it has developed into a multi-million dollars commercial enterprise outside the native bases. We too, have an opportunity to capitalize on it in our own way, if we can. We can reach out to people in over 70 countries where English is one of the main languages.
The global diffusion of the language has now taken an interesting turn: the ratio between the native speakers of English (in countries like the U.K., the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and the non-native speakers (in countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Singapore, Ghana, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Zambia, Philippines etc where English is used along with the mother tongue) is almost 40 : 60, and it has expanded fast to other countries (like China, Japan, Egypt, Indonesia, Korea, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe , Taiwan, the Gulf Countries, and the countries of the erstwhile Eastern Bloc). It is virtually a native language in South Africa, Jamaica and West Indies. Its acculturation, its international functional range, and the diverse forms of literary creativity it is accommodating are historically unprecedented.
As Braj B. Kachru notes, the situation today is such that the native speakers have an insignificant role in the global spread and teaching of English; they seem to have lost the exclusive prerogative to control its norms of use or standardization; in fact, if current statistics are any indication, they have become a minority.
This sociolinguistic fact and its implications have not yet been fully recognized by most linguists, ELT practitioners, ESPists,  administrators, language policy planners, and college and university teachers in India. What we need now are new paradigms and perspectives for linguistic and pedagogical research and for understanding the linguistic creativity, including the scientific and technical writing, in multilingual situations across cultures.
You will appreciate the English we all speak is not like the English the native speakers of the language speak. We don’t need to. The yardsticks of the British or American native speakers, or their standards as reflected in GRE, TOEFL or IELTS etc, or their kind of tongue twisting, are simply damaging to the interests of non-native speakers . We have to develop our own standards, instead of teaching to sound like Londoners or North Americans. Pronunciation must be comprehensible and not detract from the understanding of a message. But for this nobody needs to speak the so called standardized English that makes inter- and intranational communication difficult. David Crystal too appreciates this reality and favours local taste of English in India and elsewhere.
Our Indianness is clearly reflected in the pronunciation of certain vowels and consonant, in the stressing of words, in the rhythm and pauses, in the vocabulary and lexical acculturation, discourse patterning,  code mixing, usages, grammatical deviations  etc. The  prolonged linguistic and cultural contact of English in various states of  the Indian union has given it a unique character which deserves serious academic exploration. It has acquired a considerable functional range and depth, and it is preposterous to expect that the language would not be ‘shaped’ or ‘moulded’ according to the local needs or remain unaffected by the influences of local languages and literatures, cultures and users. It is, in fact, the result of such deep-rooted local functions, that we have now an institutionalized model of English for intranational uses. The way India’s multilingualism and ethnic pluralism have added to the complexity of Indian English, apart from ‘mixing’ words, phrases, clauses and idioms from the Indian Language into English, and in ‘switching’ from one language to another, perhaps to express the speaker’s ‘identity’ or linguistic ‘belonging’, the role of ‘native speaker’--  the British or American-- as become peripheral, as Kachru rightly asserts, unless he or she understands the local cultures and cultural presuppositions.
 I am not very much concerned with the literary perspective of Indian English here, even if I have been actively associated with Indian English literary practices for over thirty five years. I am professionally interested in the language use and usage of Indian writers, and scholars and researchers of science and technology, the localized educated variety they have developed to communicate indigenous  innovations. You can appreciate this if you have noticed development of local registers for agriculture, for the legal system, for entertainment industry, for Environment,  and so on. The publications of Indian practitioners of science and technology have certain discourse features which are unique to Indian English, but not examined.
I suspect Indian English is not yet recognized as an important area of research for ‘English for specific purposes’ (ESP) that we teach. [It is also, however,  very sad that though ESP as an approach is now firmly established, it still has fewer supporters in India, possibly because nobody wants any changes in the conventional teaching-learning practices?] Having been in the forefront of ESP movement in the country for over twenty five years, I am aware of the localized linguistic innovations in the huge output of Indian researchers, some of which has the potential for serving effectively and successfully as pedagogical texts or teaching materials. But it is unfortunate the English teaching  academia are slow to recognize the pragmatic contexts--the importance of intranational uses of English and according to local needs – and continue to stick to the external norms of English. It’s more regrettable that the conceptual and applied research on ESP in the West has avoided addressing issues which are vital for understanding the use of English across cultures.
The way ESP has turned  international, teachers and researchers in Applied Languages in our country need to explore : what accommodation a native speaker of English may have to make for participation in communication with those who use a local (or non-native) variety of English;  what determines communicative performances or pragmatic success of English in its international uses; what insights we have gained by research on intelligibility and comprehensibility concerning international and intranational uses of English; and what attitudinal and linguistic adjustments are desirable for effective teaching of ESP based on a non-native English, like Indian English. These are a few basic questions, not convenient to Western ESP enthusiasts.
I have noticed in the Western ESP in general, and science and technology in particular, a strong bias towards ethno-centricism in approach and neglect of intranational motivation for the uses of English. It is not possible to practice ESP effectively unless we respect, what John Swales call, “local knowledge” and “localized pragmatic needs”. After all, we use the language as a tool and we cannot ignore the localized innovations that have “code-related” and “context-related” dimensions. We ought to view non-native innovations in ESP as positive and consider them as part of the pragmatic needs of the users. It is the attitudinal change that I plead for!
Teaching of ESP in a university in the second language situation like ours is largely a “collaborative sense-making” with the class. When I say this, I am pointing to the interactive nature of formal instruction, which, in terms of actual language use, is essentially Indian in tone, tenor and style. I am also referring to the need for understanding the dichotomy between the rhetoric of EST teaching and the practice enacted in the classroom from the viewpoint of adult learners, and language skills development and competence in the Indian social setting. We need to evolve a dynamic model of ‘communicative teaching’ of ESP which seeks to develop (i)linguistic competence (Accuracy), (ii)pragmatic competence (Fluency), and (iii) sociolinguistic competence (Appropriacy), without ignoring interrelated aspects of local practice, research and theory and at the same time emphasizes language awareness, which is a significant concept in ELT, in that it covers implicit, explicit, and interactive knowledge about language and provides for a critical awareness of language and  literature practices that are shaped by, and shape, sociocultural relationships, professional relationship, and relationship of power. The approach can also facilitate cross-cultural comparisons and contrasts, and promote genre-based studies (i.e. how language works to mean, how different strategies can be used, how meaning is constructed), basic to ESP, in that it truly develops individual’s performance competence.
Friends, I have hopped from one point to another, perhaps jumbled up, in my zeal to draw your attention to several aspects of English,  Indian English and ESP that have wider and deeper implications. They touch attitudinal chords of English language users, teachers and administrators too. Teaching of English, both language and literature, today is not only academically challenging but also opens new refreshing avenues for applied research. This is because of the spread and changing status of English, which has grown from a native, second, and foreign language to become an international language of commerce science and technology, spoken among more non-natives than natives in the process of their professional pursuits or everyday lives. I have also placed certain facts of science and technology  education in the context of Humanities before you, raised issues, expressed my view, and now it is for the profession to accept, reject or explore their implications. Thank you.

Professor R.K.Singh
Head, Dept of Humanities & Social Sciences
Indian School of Mines
Dhanbad 826004 India

1. Carl Mitcham (1994): Thinking through Technology: The Path Between Engineering and Philosophy.
2. Ian Barbour (1993) : Ethics in an Age of Technology.
 3. Braj B. Kachru (1982): The Other Tongue
 4. Braj B. Kachru (1986): The Alchemy of English .
5. Nannerl O. Keohane: The Liberal Arts as Guideposts in the 21st Century, The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 29, 2012 .<>

[This is the Text of my specially invited  Lecture at SRM University’s International Conference on ‘Role and Responsibilities of Humanities and Social Sciences in Technical Education’ on 17 March 2011]

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

R.K.SINGH: Indian English Poet: Issues in translating verses of R.K.Singh's FLIGHT OF PHOENIX

R.K.SINGH: Indian English Poet: Issues in translating verses of R.K.Singh's FLIGHT OF PHOENIX

R.K.SINGH: Indian English Poet: Issues in translating verses of R.K.Singh's FLIGHT OF PHOENIX

Issues in translating verses of R.K.Singh's FLIGHT OF PHOENIX


By Varsha Singh

The main aim of translation is to serve as a cross-cultural bilingual communication vehicle among people. In the past few decades, this activity has developed because of rising international trade, increased migration, globalization, the recognition of linguistic minorities, and the expansion of the mass media and technology.
For this reason, the translator plays an important role as a bilingual or multilingual cross-cultural transmitter of culture and truths by attempting to interpret concepts and speech in a variety of texts as faithfully and accurately as possible.

Most translation theorists agree that translation is understood as a transfer process from a foreign language or a second language to the mother tongue. Newmark says:
I shall assume that you, the reader, are learning to translate into your language of habitual use, since that is only way you can translate naturally, accurately and with maximum effectiveness. (Newmark, 1988).
If translating is a discourse operation interposing between language and thought, we should accept that in the art or skill of translating we are inexorably going to come across assorted and numerous obstacles. Delisle illustrates translation as a subtle  exercise:
Translation is an arduous job that mortifies you, puts you in a state of despair at times, but also an enriching and indispensable work, that demands honesty and modesty.
Flight of Phoenix, a collection of poems by R.K. Singh, dominates itself with intense sensitivity of eroticism and expression of inner-self as well. These tremendous features of this collection of poetry, make the job of a translator much more difficult, than any kind of translation of poetry is considered. The difficulties or challenges in translating the poems of the collection Flight of Phoenix, can be categorized into three distinct parts: (a) issues of structure, (b) issues of texture, and (c) cultural issues.
The structural issues include certain aspects, such as, problems in translating the images, idioms, phrasal verbs, enjambment and extraordinary language dealt by the poet. For example, Poem no. 16 from the collection Flight of Phoenix is perfect for situating the issue of images while translating poetry.
Poem no. 16
Each day I construct
myself in new desires and
end in emptiness

a hollow shadow
I move in dust and rest in
stony webs of haze

In this poem the poet presents some majestic images such as “hollow shadow” and “stony webs”, which become a challenge for the translator. Here it becomes the responsibility of the  translator to generate the similar sense created in the SL text (i.e. English) with the help of exact equivalence present in the TL text (i.e. Hindi). As a result, one finds suitable equivalents for these images, such as, 4o4a saya\ for “hollow shadow” and p4rIle jal for “stony webs” by keeping the sense of negativity alive in the translated version too.
R.K. Singh uses lots of phrasal verbs and idioms in his poems, such as, “inside out”, criss-cross”, “forsaken island”, “dumb myths”, “empty hunts”, “tamed passages”, dual single etc. These phrasal verbs and idioms become another matter of concern for a translator, because, they are some fixed group of words with special meaning, which is different from the meaning of the individual words.
Enjambment comes as the next problem, or it would be better to call it a challenge, in translation of this collection. This is such, because, most of the time if the translator is not careful, enjambment may lead toward misinterpretation of the SL text, and hence, the output would be completely incorrect. Example of such misinterpretation can be seen in the following translation of poem no. 4 from Flight of Phoenix.
Poem no. 4
When sleepless poetry
fails to negotiate night
I wait for white dreams
जब बेनिद्र कविता
हार जाती रात से समझौते में
में बेरंग सपनों का करता इंतज़ार
Whereas, the better translation would be:
जब रहूँ बेनीन्द
और कविता हारे समझौते में
तब रात करूँ मैं इंतज़ार
बेरंग सपनों का
In the first attempt of translating this poem it can be seen that, it is the poem becoming  sleepless, which is not the implied meaning and thus incorrect: whereas, in the second translation it is the persona who has become sleepless, and thus it is the correct translation. This is basically a transferred epithet, which requires keen observation of the translator for a better result.
Compressed language used in this collection of poetry is its most dominating and impressive aspect providing rhythm and tone to the poems vis-à-vis leading towards the textural issues in translation. This aspect of Flight of Phoenix can be seen as another big challenge for a translator. Poem no. 22 is a perfect example situating the issue of compressiveness in the poems of R.K. Singh.
Poem no. 22
Is it the heat wave
or stupor that I see
shadows in the dark and call it vision?

In this poem one finds it visible that the poet does not uses any punctuation mark, except a question mark at the end. This describes the compressive nature of the poem, and thus, becomes a challenge in translation. Similar problem is encountered in all the poems Flight of Phoenix.
As discussed earlier, that, compressed language provides a variant tone to the poems of this collection, poem no. 24 would be a suitable example describing this issue of tone in translating verses.
Poem no. 24
The colour of night is the same everywhere
what if my identity is not known
let’s fuck the moment and forget the place

The tone of this poem is negative, where the persona is talking about darkness and his unidentified identity. In this situation, any kind of carelessness or incapability of the translator may lead toward misinterpretation, as resulted below:
रागिनी की रंगत हर तरफ एक सी है
तो क्या अगर मैं अनजान हूँ
चलो इस स्थान से विरक्त हो
इस पल को हम शिकस्त दें
Here, the poem has resulted as over translation and has become a romantic piece, which is not the original tone. A better version for this poem would be:
रात हर तरफ एक सी
तो क्या अगर मेरी पहचान छुपी
बिन फ़िक्र के अब जगह की
जी लें हम ये पल अभी
Here, one may find the tone of negativity alive, as in the original work.
As it is known that translation is not just a linguistic procedure, it’s also a cultural one.
A translator faces several problems related to the cultural issues, as one has to take care of the emotions, values and traditions of not just a single culture but culture of the SL text vis-à-vis culture of the TL text. Poem no. 14 from Flight of Phoenix is a better example presenting the cultural issues in translation.
Poem no.14
Winter is caught in
waves of narrow discussions
under the blanket
fingers move by nipples erect
without sensing consummation

It is clear in this poem that it has some erotic element; hence a translator needs to be careful in this situation. Careful understanding becomes an essential requirement, because, the expressions and sentiments of two different cultures cannot be same, they vary from each other. Similar problem is noticed in poem no. 19 as well.
Poem no. 19
Bones of levity criss-cross
at the bottom of silence
there is no shape in the mind
ख़ामोशी तले
होती आड़ी-तिरछी
शरीर उतावलेपन की
जेहेन में रहे नहीं
फिर आकार कोई
Present translation makes it clear, that, a slight deviation by the translator may lead the text towards a negative cultural impression, and may hurt the sentiments of the target readers.
Some other examples of the erotic elements which create cultural problems while translating this collection are:
Poem no 59
I smell my boneless
semen under the pillow
weaving legends in      
half-dream along her
hips as I curl like rainbow
dying winds splash down blots
Poem no.56
Like a woman’s mind
resides between her thghs joy
and satisfaction

man’s love and hatred
concentrate on the crevice
though he watches face

she laughs when I say
love and beauty is nothing
but sabre and sheath
Poem no.52
The split in cypress
is vulva I know the roots

call it Yin and Yang
our basic sex, lingam and
yoni harmonise
Like lotus rising
from the depths of lake through mud
crossing existence

One faces another kind of cultural implication while translating the title of Flight of Phoenix, which is the most important part of this collection. Phoenix is basically a Greek mythical bird, the only one of its kind; hence, it becomes a challenge for the translator to find out a suitable equivalent for Phoenix in Indian culture too. After some research “Garud” comes as the Indian mythical bird, which is considered the only one of its kind and very much similar to the nature and features of Phoenix. As a result, after translation, the title for Flight of Phoenix becomes g=ƒ kI ]ƒan in Hindi.
At last, it becomes necessary to say, that, there are many more dominant ingredients that constitute the art of R.K. Singh’s poetry and if the translator misses them, then a major constituent of Singh’s poetry is lost. In fact, it cannot be demonstrated here, but it has to be admitted that majority of full translations of the poems of this collection (F.O.P.) do turn out to be poor replicas of the original, because, it is truly said by Frost that, it is poetry that gets lost in translation. A literary translator, therefore, needs to be able to use his/her art and craft “with responsibility to capture the spirit of the original” avoiding both under-translation and over-translation.
Varsha Singh


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