LANGUAGES IN CONSUMER SOCIETY

por Raquel Almeida

In a book that brings about similarities and differences between Portuguese and the English language, I came across one of the author’s remarks concerning language appropriateness: a Brazilian teenage girl passing by a store with her mother in a Brazilian shopping mall, where words like ‘liquidação’ and ‘desconto’ are written in the window, will ask her: Mom, what does ‘liquidação’ mean? it’s sale, daughter. Oh yes. And what does ‘desconto’ mean? It’s off. Oh yeah. Why don’t the people at that store write appropriately in the window, instead of making up words?

The massive presence of foreign words in the language of advertisements and goods addressed to consumers has already been legally enquired in Brazil. In 2001, federal congressman Aldo Rebelo submitted to the National Congress a project in defense of the use of Portuguese in advertisements in all Brazilian stores. He assumed that English was being used as an object of unrestrained consumption by the Brazilian population. This project advocated that globalization has led Brazilians to live with the ‘indiscriminate and unnecessary invasion of foreign words” in the production, consumption, and advertising of goods, products, and services […] under the influence of North-American English in our country and, of course, digital information and communication technologies’.

A few years later, this issue was on the agenda of the Legislative Assembly of the State of Paraná, in March of 2009, when the vote for a law that determined that the words of the English language written in the windows of stores in Paraná should be translated into Portuguese, so that we, consumers, knew what we were buying, in addition to valuing our language in order to preserve our culture and our identity.

Source: mariomarcos.wordpress.com

It’s needless to say that English and consumption, especially in today’s globalized society, are closely intertwined. I would go further on it by saying that it is seen by most of us in a natural way. As the Brazilian social historian Júlia Falivene Alves points out, ‘it has become so normal to live in this world of foreign things that we don’t even have to go out to find them out. Just look at the words, terms, and phrases stamped on the products we usually consume’.

I see that the functionalities of English in the globalized consumer market seem to be infinite. In consumer-oriented discourses, such as advertising, according to linguist Bhatia, the expectation is that, in the era of rapid globalization and super-branding, advertising messages around the world will fit into an excessively homogeneous standard, in terms of language usage, logo display, and message content, and that English is ‘naturally’ the language of choice by global advertisers.

In a contemporary recurrent debate regarding the consumption of the English language as a commodity, it is maintained that this is a language of global scope, which provides citizens of the globalized world with career success, their prompt inclusion in the labor market, and goods possession, in short, all the attributes that are capable of giving people a privileged social status in this consumer society. Thus, corroborating the thought of Bauman (2004), ‘in the consumer race to reach the desired stuff’ the English language is considered a ‘plus’ to get ahead in the finish line.

Canadian sociolinguist Monica Heller (2003, 2005, 2010) states that the economic activity of languages as symbols of authenticity in the globalized economy is one of the most evident effects and, in this case, languages come to apply and add value to authenticity. She recalls that in the scope of the Fordist economy, in which standardized products were valued and exchanged as indicators of modernity. In contrast to this, she acknowledges that, in the context of the new economy, languages ​​are being indicators of the authenticity of products, which give them an exchange value, that is, a commodity.

The insertion of a single language in symbols, brands, words, phrases, and texts which are stamped in national or local products that are generally standardized, fosters them to gain prominence over others in the consumer market. Thus, being a product, a good, or a commodity, languages are considered symbols of authenticity that add value ​​to niche markets and differentiate them from standardized and low-marketing products.

Heller considers that the authentic or stylized reproduction of a product makes language symbols that give the brand and the product a cultural identification. The high economic investment in launching brands that give authenticity to products consists in balancing the local cultural relationship of a certain language and its prestigious country with the commercialization of the product in the international market.

Therefore, Heller (2005) believes that linguistic hegemony ends up becoming an important symbolic element of authenticity, but that it can be a major obstacle for consumers who speak less prestigious languages.

Source: https://uwb333.wordpress.com/advertising-and-consumer-culture/

Summing it all up, I understand that just as Brazilian educational guidelines problematize the instrumental and commercial character of English language teaching, which have prevailed in recent years when they seek to bring back to schools a foreign language teaching perspective aimed at cultural and citizen education, we (teachers, students, parents, and consumers) should reflect on what we really consume: products or languages?

References:

ALVES, J. F. A invasão norte-americana. 2. ed. São Paulo: Ed. Moderna, 2004.

BAUMAN, Z. Liquid Modernity. USA: Blackwell Publishing Inc., 2004.

HELLER, M. Language, skill and authenticity in the globalized new economy. Noves SL. Revista de Sociolinguística, Winter, 2005. Disponível em: <http://www.gencat.cat/llengua/noves/noves/hm05hivern/docs/heller.pdf>. Acesso em: 20 maio 2021.

HELLER, M. The commodification of language. Annual Review Anthropology, v. 39, p. 101-114, 2010.

HELLER, M. Globalization, the new economy, and the commodification of language and identity. In: Journal of Sociolinguistics. 7/4, Canada: 2003, p. 473-492.

REBELO, A. Culta, bela e ultrajada: um projeto em defesa da língua portuguesa. 2. ed. Brasília, DF: Câmara dos Deputados, 2001. p. 1-16.

RICARDO, J. Inglês e Português: semelhanças e contrastes. Barueri, SP: Disal, 2006.

FONTES DAS IMAGENS:

Primeira Imagem disponível em: <https://mariomarcos.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/ah-como-seria-bom-se-fossemos-estrangeiros-parte-2/ >. Acesso em: 20 maio 2021.

Segunda imagem disponível em: < https://uwb333.wordpress.com/advertising-and-consumer-culture/>. Acesso em: 20 maio 2021.

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2 comentários

Ana Trevisani 24/05/2021 - 10:13 AM

Sobre Language and consumer society, ótimo! Refletir sobre como a língua inglesa está inserida em nossa cultura para fins consumistas acho fundamental, sobretudo junto a nossos futuros professores de inglês, os quais já estão em salas de aula de institutos de idiomas e, portanto, são influenciadores de crianças e jovens de classe média e alta.

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Leila de Almeida Barros 24/05/2021 - 12:08 PM

As a Brazilian English teacher who is aware of the fact that both myself and my students are subjected to a context that has historically been marked by colonization and oppression, it has always bothered me to see our language embracing irreflectively some words in English (which most of the time end up even replacing an equivalent word in Portuguese). Such relevant reflection to bring to the center of discussions both in basic and higher education lessons!

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