MYTHS ARE THE "STUFF THAT IDEOLOGIES ARE MADE ON"

In the first section of this chapter I suggested that “the myths help to drive forms of ideological discourse about English and to construct discourse archives of various kinds”. If we wish to trace out the development of a language ideology, we should be able to identify the complex of myths that form the basis of the set of beliefs constituting that ideology. We need to assess the relative strength of those myths in relation to the social factors that have exerted a formative influence in the social construction of the community for whom the ideology is significant.

Myths are essentially fictive, but they contain elements of reality in them, derived as they are from the mutually shared past experiences of the members of a community. If myths are judged solely on the basis of a present-time, commonsense point of view, they will have to be rejected as fantasy. As shared stories, they tell part of the overall “story” of the sociocultural group. They help to reproduce and validate the group, and in this sense they fulfil a vital function in explaining, justifying and ratifying present behaviour by the narrated events of the past. Myths can also be changed, altered, lost, abandoned, or inverted. They are, in other words, continually reproduced and reconstructed socially.

What, however, do we take an ideology to be? Ideologies are constructed and reproduced through forms of discourse, which Foucault sees as an institutionalised mode of thinking, instantiated in social interaction between individuals. Such interaction may be through the medium of written or oral language, but it may also make use of other systems of signifying (e.g. pictorial, gestural), thereby allowing us to talk in the singular of a discourse to refer to one institutionalised mode of thinking in contrast to others. A discourse is thus a set of communally shared beliefs representing “truth” for the community concerned, but not necessarily for another community. The shared beliefs themselves may then be referred to as an ideology. Hodge and Kress (1993: 6) define ideology as “a systematic body of ideas, organized from a particular point of view”. They argue that “ideology is thus a subsuming category which includes science and metaphysics, as well as political ideologies, without implying anything about their status and reliability as guides to reality”. They go on to state that “ideology involves a systematically organized presentation of reality” (1993: 15). Seliger (1976: 14) defines ideology as “sets of ideas by which men [sic] posit, explain, and justify ends and means of social action, and specifically political action, irrespective of whether such action aims to preserve, amend, uproot or rebuild a given social order”. But whichever way we define ideologies, it is crucial to see them as sets of ideas that are shared by the members of a community. I can hardly have an ideology all of my own. The content of a discourse is thus a set of beliefs of an ideological nature.

In Watts (2001: 299), I define “language ideologies” as being “constructed by discourses that have language (language attitudes, beliefs, opinions and convictions about language, etc.) as their central theme”. Both Hodge and Kress’s and Seliger’s approaches to the study of ideology given above should be conflated, particularly with respect to “political action”. The construction of “a systematically organized presentation of reality” (Hodge & Kress 1993: 6) leads to a shared belief in that “reality”, within which explanation and justification of social and political action may be grounded.

Summarising the previous sections in this opening chapter, therefore, the focus of this book is to locate and deconstruct the myths underlying language ideologies which have guided our way of thinking about the history of the English language for the past century and a half. It is my aim to suggest that there are other ways to consider the materials that lie before us, but it is not my aim to suggest that these approaches are necessarily an improvement on earlier interpretations of them. It is also my aim to present ways in which a funnel view of the language can be avoided. In the funnel view of English, we have a wide range of early varieties of English situated at the wide top edge of the funnel, which are then finally distilled into modern standard English in the narrow neck of the funnel. 1 0 The funnel view of the history of English ignores the histories of the varieties, just as it also ignores the continued emergence of new forms of English.

The overall social process from metaphors to archives which informs the structure of this book and the discussion of the myths dealt with can be represented diagrammatically as in figure 1.2.

Myths draw on common conceptual metaphors to create stories that are then produced and reproduced socially through discourse. The stronger the

10. Watts and Trudgill (2002: 1) refer to the “tunnel vision” of language history, by which they mean more or less the same thing. I now believe, however, that using the lexeme funnel rather than tunnel more appropriately expresses what is meant.

From conceptual metaphors to archive

figure 1.2. From conceptual metaphors to archive

myths become or the more support one myth draws from others, the greater the likelihood is that a language ideology will emerge. If this ideology becomes part of the dominant hegemonic discourse of a social group, it will give rise to statements that are equivalent to “laws”, thus constructing an archive of what can and what cannot be said or believed in.

Discursively, the language myths surrounding English lie between, on the one hand, conceptual metaphors offering us an understanding of human language in general and of individual languages and language varieties in particular and, on the other hand, dominant language ideologies. For this reason it is important to locate and deconstruct the myths, but this will not be done in an effort to discredit them. No amount of logical argument or practical demonstration will prevent people from constructing and believing in myths, and any attempt to do this is doomed to failure. As linguists, however, we need to make ourselves aware of the basis of our own beliefs about language, and if we feel that there is something not quite right about those beliefs, perhaps an analysis of the myths may help us to transform them. In the final section of this opening chapter I will briefly outline the contents of each successive chapter.

 
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