Sunday, June 24, 2007

The 'Yin and the Yang ' of Living in a Global Age

There is no continent with a more astonishing diversity of speech and written systems as Asia. Yet today, in Southeast Asia for instance, the response to globalization is to acquire language skills. Not in many languages, but in one -- the English language. I myself, have long ago determined, that proficiency in the English language is inevitably -- key to success in this globalized era.

But I am only too aware of the perils such as those observed by ethnololinguists like Dr. Rujaya Abhakorn, lecturer in Southeast Asian history at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, who bewail how Asian traditions rooted in its ancient codes are being eroded by globalization. As a Professor of Northern Thai history, Dr. Abhakorn speaks relentlessly on the preservation of the collective memory of mainland Southeast Asia, which is dependent upon its traditional manuscripts in the local dialects.

Meanwhile, the English language which served the colonial British Empire, now drives the Information Age and with it the market-driven economies of the world. This new knowledge economy has been referred to as the Tyrannosaurus rex that gobbles up cultures and traditions. Talk about borderless.

The irony of all these, to my mind is that on the other hand, economic development, and factors like growth and human capital are not tolerant of differences. They most certainly need to adapt to what is the international standard. And in today’s world, globalized modernization requires that knowledge is imparted in ways that are comparable across differences of setting, culture and language.

As a reaction, I am therefore inclined to hold with Anne Pakir, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore, that English must go 'glocal', that is, go global while maintaining local roots. She sees "glocal English" as a language that has "international status but which also expresses local identities."

Indeed, we must adapt yet still maintain a sense of who we are as rooted in traditions that are uniquely Asian. Already, more Asians speak English than anyone else, a phenomenon that is shaping the way we live and look at the world. Many still think of this as an intrusion, a force to destroy us. Yet I believe a parallel globalization is occurring all the while. It is dependent upon our own openness to grow wings with which to embrace the world...and the confidence to keep firmly rooted in the cultural heritage that honors our very soul. Indeed, there is some solace to be found in the old Malay saying, "Your mouth is your tiger."

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