S. A. Mirhosseini – Ideology and Linguistic Confrontation

S. A. Mirhosseini (full name: Seyyed-Abdolhamid Mirhosseini) is an Iranian linguist, writer, and scholar on education, ideology and English language teaching, currently a fellow at the Center for International Scientific Studies and Collaboration (CISSC), and a researcher at Tarbiat Modares University in Tehran.

On English Teaching and a World of Diversities

In the renowned journal Applied Linguistics (29/2: 312-317; Oxford University Press), S. A. Mirhosseini raises various important issues about language teaching (in Iran) and English education which lacks, in his view, the honesty and awareness that English as a foreign language always comes with ideology and a neglect for cultural originalities of the learning culture by often oversimplified (out of social context) and dishonest (or ignorant) English translations. Such awareness for the marginalizing nature of English teaching, Mirhosseini argues, is ‘alarmingly absent’ from the mainstream literature of applied linguistics.

Simply put, “languages in the world today struggle against in other for dominance and control,” says Mirhosseini, “and the language of control and manipulation could be played by any language,” but the reality is that English today is “the major suspect.”

Mirhosseini’s clarity is, I believe, striking; he says he believes “that language interpreters have their own agencies; that learning a language does not necessarily mean surrendering to its determined worldview; and that knowing a language may provide possibilities for taking advantage of its capacities to resist its own forces. This is acceptable in a vacuum of manipulative forces and controlling powers, in which languages move around the world and are taught with their full capacity, not just simply as a means of exploitation and control but also as a practice with the capacity to be employed for creating awareness and resistance.” So far so good, because the agent of language learning, once he is aware of the ideological issues of the languages he learned, may now refrain from swinging to ideological extremes. However, as Mirhosseini argues, this is often not the case: “In reality, producers and interpreters of discourse are often situated in a complex context of determinate ideological and political relations, which does not leave much ground open for anything like pure linguistic potential, devoid of rivalries and manipulations.”

Put into other words, non-native English speakers are learning English as an instrument of communication and maybe first know that each language transports its own social, political, and ideological views (Mirhosseini points out to the fact the English is often seen as the “language of freedom”), but once the learners are able to use the English in practice and join the global work force, so to speak, they may have little room to negotiate their own native social, political, and ideological views in (for them foreign) English language, and are then somehow socially imprisoned or forced along by that language.

The alternative of this ‘being used by English‘ is in Mirhosseini view to ‘use English’, that is: to modify it, to introduce new meanings, new vocabularies to it, to complete it.

Academic Imperialism: Whose Language?

S. A. Mirhosseini, linguist, writer, and scholar in Tehran, Iran
S. A. Mirhosseini, linguist, writer, and scholar in Tehran, Iran

“Whose language (notgh) we speak, whose logic (mantegh) we accept, and whose worldview we adopt, shapes our ways of life, including our ways of knowledging.”

Since English is the language of science and globalism, this will influence global university rankings for the simple fact that those institutions who are in the United States or Great Britain will get the large benefit of being deeply rooted in the English language and education and always being at the forefront of science and globalism because they don’t even have to deal with other languages. Accordingly, those institutions of higher education in other parts of the world who are mainly rooted in German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Iranian, Hindu, Korean and other languages cannot be accurately accessed by their own cultural standard but will always be judged by their Americanization and Internationalization, thus by their degree of integration with the English-language curriculum taught in the United States and Great Britain. This is basically steamrolling the entire planet’s cultures and its people of seven billion in favor of English-language education. This way, the standard of global education, even world education, is always likely to be found in the West. Scholars in the east or other parts of the world that do not want to get their education in the west, or who are happy with their own cultures, are committing global career-suicide and are deemed unfit in today’s globalization.

“Such disturbed acts of teaching and learning literacy, not surprisingly, lead to the fact that today Ferdowsi, Mowlana (Rumi), Sa’di, and Hafez would not qualify if they apply for a PhD program in a department of Persian language and literature in an Iranian university.” 

Mirhosseini in particular laments the cultural loss of those important Persian/Iranian or Islamic concepts such as hekmat, ashoura, shahadat, and even namaz, halaal and haraam on a global scale..

So, is it possible to revive and promote non-Western knowledge and education, and make non-English cultures better known to the world of education? Can the standard of scientific knowledge be non-Western at all?

“Frequent use of words like volume of research, ratio, and number may be interpreted as reflecting a quantitative positivist position, which is even worsened when one adds all the mathematical formulae and calculations employed to quantify qualities such as learning; the language of citation, patents, awards, winning, Olympiads, international, and foreign, may be indicating a heavy reliance on the dominant source of legitimacy, and, the logic behind words such as contracts, consultancies, entrepreneurship, industrial linkages, and companies may be understood as an indication of the extent to which the worldview of profiteering and capitalist success is directing academic endeavors.” 

Confronting Academic Knowledge - Sue-san Ghahremani Ghajar and Seyyed-Abdolhamid Mirhosseini (eds)

Can English language training for non-native speakers be made cultural sensitive? Can, for example, Iranian culture be included in globalism by introducing its most important key concepts to global knowledge? These are all important questions that Sue-san Ghahremani Ghajar and Seyyed-Abdolhamid Mirhosseini address in their book chapter ‘Whose Knowledge? Whose Language?” in Confronting Academic Knowledge (2011).