Iqbal A. Ansari’s book Uses of English, for the conservative, carries an explanatory sub-title ‘Varieties of English and Their Uses’. Conscious of some eyebrows being raised on the plural ‘Uses’ and afraid that the sub-title may not register, the author begins his preface with the following explication: ‘This book is as its subtitle suggests, about some varieties of English and their uses. I was rather diffident in giving it the title Uses of English in view of the fact that Professor Randolph Quirk’s book (London: Long mans, 1961) is entitled The Use of English. But there are uses and uses; and moreover uses is not the same as the use’. The first chapter entitled ‘Englishes’ (the plural again) is an obvious corollary to this position. Pointing out that varieties of English, and for that matter of a living language, can stem from various factors, for example, from regional variations, the author chooses to highlight the varieties due to the domain of usage.
The domain of usage has a large variety: science and technology, law, administration, commerce and so on. The English used in a particular domain is, then, given a name after it: technical English, legal English, administrative English, commercial English, and so on.
The linguist has tentatively designated these domains of language use as registers and the varieties in a language because of them are called ‘register varieties’. The chapter then raises the question: ‘How language is adjusted to circumstances i.e. what are the parameters of a register?’ In this context, the author points out that along with the field of discourse, there are ‘other significant parameters of a register, viz. the ‘mode’, ‘style’ and ‘role’ of discourse’. This discussion is then related to the question of how the idea of register can be used in teaching of English (sic) especially as a, foreign language’. The author claims that through register-oriented· teaching, the teaching of a foreign language can be ‘relevant, real and oriented to discovery and creation’.
The second chapter ‘Standardization of English’ attempts to bring to the awareness of the reader the interplay between the forces of change and the compulsions for standardization. Language on the one hand is ‘subject to perpetual change under the triple: forces of the individual, the society and, its own internal dynamics’ and on the other it has to conform to certain shared conventions of sounds and orthography to fulfill its chief aim, i.e. communication. Tracing this interplay between ‘change’ and ‘standardization’ from the Middle Ages through Dryden and the ‘Augustan Milieu’ to the ‘Contemporary Scene’, the author selectively records the tendencies in our own times towards ‘change on the one hand, and standardization and stability on the other’. For example, he notes ‘More and more nouns are being used as verbs, e.g. This guy that roomed right next to me … (J.D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye, 1955),’ but cautions that the communication function of language will be most efficient only on reconciling ‘freedom with order’.
In chapter III and IV, the author takes us through ‘The Language of Science’ and ‘Indian English’. ‘The Language of Science’ in elaborate example of ‘register’ within a language. The aim in describing it according to the author, is ‘to objectively see what elements, good or bad, constitute this register, so as to facilitate the teacher of English whose task is to equip his pupils linguistically to be able to understand and express the facts and ideas of science in a language which is not their first language’. Highlighting ‘lexis’ , ‘general characteristics’ ‘Word collocation’, ‘word formation’, ‘sentence structure’ that· constitute a typical scientific text, the author relates the discussions for teaching. If the ‘Language of Science’ is an example of ‘register variety’, ‘Indian English’ is an example of how languages change ‘temporally and spatially’. However, with respect of Indian English as regards its status with the native varieties of English like English English, American English etc., the author asks the question: ‘Does Indian English strictly fulfill the conditions to claim the status of a viable variety in its own right?’ Critically examining the various studies available on the subject, the author observes that this so-called Indian English ‘without being a viable dialect of English in its own right’ can be said to be ‘in the process of giving the English language a local colour and habitation worthy of preservation and promotion’.
The chapter entitled ‘Lexicography in English’, again returns to the concept of register. According to the author, dictionaries with a ‘register’ bias should be the future concern of lexicographers. ‘English Orthography’ is a boldly speculative chapter.
The book concludes with the chapter on ‘English Studies in India’ carrying the sub-heading ‘Some New Dimensions’. Elaborating these new dimensions, the author observes, ‘ … centres of English studies in college and universities will have to redefine their role, function and scope and in that light reformulate courses, revise syllabuses, and reorient research programmes. There are not, though, much sign of this awareness .at most of these centres’.
Iqbal A. Ansari’s Uses of English is good reading for all those who are concerned with the place and teaching of English in a second/foreign language setting, such as India.
Mahavir P. Jain