Publish at December 07 2022 Updated December 07 2022

Englishes - MOOC

A course to adapt the English language to your uses

A row of wooden letters (from the game Scrabble) forming the English word 'contact'. Image: Melinda Gimpel

Dutch artist Nicoline van Harskamp makes videos in which she explores spoken language.

In a work called «My Name is Language», everyone are in a waiting room (which gives the impression of being in an airport), and actors tell stories about their names - where they come from, who gave them to them, and what they mean. The artist sees names as language, and questions what happens when they are translated; how does this affect their holders.

An other work, a video entitled PDGN (from pidgin: A simplified mixture of two languages, with a rudimentary grammar, which serves as a medium of contact), shows people in a society, recycling the artifacts of the previous era and communicating in an English that barely resembles the current language.

In the Englishes series, the artist surveys the history and future of the language English, as well as the varieties of spoken English. For her, the "mistakes" and accents represent a liberation of the English language from its center (where English is the native language): "Because [the spoken word] is the last area of recreation that we can still have left."

She developed the «MOOC Englishes», in which you can learn about the history of English, its phonology, linguistic varieties such as pidgins, jargon and creoles, the use of jargon by the artistic community, and the invention of languages.

The goal of the course, according to the artist, is to encourage people to stop measuring their English against a native standard, and adapt the language to the needs of its users.

The course is free and open to everyone interested, regardless of their level of English proficiency.

In an interview, Nicolina van Harskamp says,

"...if you think of the worst thing that could happen to English is that it will remain standardized and everyone will have to speak in a certain way; it will be a status mark and people will have to invest a lot of time and money to acquire a certain accent, for example. a certain accent, for example. But the best thing would be a language that people can use and develop freely using other languages at their disposal. »

To learn more: 

Nicoline van Harskamp - interview: 'Once you start thinking of names as language, people get very upset or very excited' -

Nicoline van Harskamp interview - Englishes at Project Arts Centre, Dublin

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