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World Englishes, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 8390, 2003. 08832919

Introduction: English in South America, the other forgotten continent


With its focus on English in South America, this special issue of World Englishes highlights
the role of English in the lives of various social and ethnic groups within selected countries.
One of its main goals is to put South America on the world Englishes map, so to speak,
through a collection of articles by language scholars and researchers on aspects of the
sociolinguistic and sociopolitical relations among the countries of this vast and diverse
continent (see Figure 1) as well as their relationship with the inner circle and its Englishes.
Bringing increased international awareness to and interest in the linguistic, political,
social, and economic issues that the continent faces depends upon efforts from many fields
of knowledge. As English figures prominently in each of these arenas, we offer as our
contribution this issue of WE on the presence and use of English in South America. In the
process of describing the sociolinguistic realities of the region, we aim to highlight the
differences among countries, and thus stimulate others to take a second look at these
realities and advance knowledge and appreciation of this ``forgotten continent.'' Ulti-
mately, we hope that the explorations represented will encourage South Americans to
reflect upon their own realities and upon ways to become more included and better
understood. Establishing a dialogue with the international research community would
empower this region often forgotten and neglected by scientific channels.
Dedicating an issue of WE to English in South America is most timely for South
America is due for a closer look, particularly with respect to the questions of language,
culture, and identity that are explored by our contributors. Like Africa, South America too
has been referred to as a ``forgotten continent'' (Mkandawire and Soludo, 1999). And the
analogy is apt. The countries of South America represent a developing region of the world
with economic, political, and social problems that create instability and generate uncer-
tainty and anxiety for its population, and where learning and using English are seen as
playing a significant, positive role in the future of the continent. For Africa, the urgency of
health, welfare, human rights issues let alone political turmoil and uncertainties facing so
many Africans has sparked a campaign to ``remind'' the rest of the world that it can no
longer forget about Africa. In contrast, South America has not fared as well in terms of
international attention to its plight.


It is true there have been periods when South America was ``remembered.'' During the
1960s, for example, under the Kennedy administration, the United States established the
Alliance for Progress, for cooperation between the Americas at the government level, and

* IAE Universidad Austral, Mariano Acosta s/n, Derqui, Buenos Aires 1629, Argentina. E-mail:
** Department of English, Purdue University, 500 Oval Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2038, USA. E-mail:

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84 Patricia Friedrich and Margie Berns

Figure 1. South America

Source: United States Central Intelligence Agency (2002)

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Introduction: English and the other forgotten continent 85

Partners of the Americas, for person-to-person exchanges. The founding of the Peace
Corps and the presence of young American volunteers in regions of the continent also
increased interest in and knowledge of the problems and issues South America faced. And
while volunteers are still posted to South America, this development aid program has its
critics who are cynical about such help while, at the same time, the United States and its
economic partners make resolutions that undermine South America's attempts to compete
in the global market.
Yet, in the intervening 40 years, and despite strides made in some areas, many of the
sources of instability turnovers in government, for example, with inflation, poverty, and
illiteracy remain. More recent events in other parts of the world in Eastern and Central
Europe, the Middle East, and the United States have commanded international
attention. The Western world's response has been to turn inward, reflect on its own
problems, and attend to matters of its own security. South America and its problems and
challenges are forgotten even headlines about drug trafficking and the ``war on drugs''
have become relatively scarce.
With the exception of the economic and political ups and downs of these relatively
young countries as they come of age, little information goes out to the general population
around the world about the 340 million inhabitants of South America. Consequently, what
is known reflects neither the richness and complexity of the region nor tells the stories
behind the story. Symbolic representations of the region the Amazon forest, coffee,
soccer, or the samba or superficial associations Carnaval in Rio, drug cartels from Cali,
or Venezuela and oil do not do it justice. Less known are achievements made by South
Americans that are of global importance: genome research in Brazil is second only to that
in the US and Great Britain; the Brazilian anti-AIDS program has been recognized by the
United Nations as the most effective in the world; Curitiba, a Brazilian city, serves as a
model of urban development; Argentina is a leader in biotechnology, with three Nobel
Prize winners in the field, and in atomic energy, which it exports to neighbors as far away
as Australia; the Bogota, Colombia public transport system is seen as a model for cities
around the world.


South Americans are understandably unhappy about their secondary role in world
affairs and its effect on the extent of their participation in the global community. But they
are more concerned about characterizations of South America as a uniform continental
block, as culturally and linguistically monolithic. No doubt the geographical configuration
of its individual countries into one easily identifiable body of land contributes to such a
perception, but nothing could be further from the truth. One of the most linguistically
diverse areas of the world, South America has an estimated 100 language families
(Crystal, 1997: 324) and, as Figure 2 shows, several languages designated as official or
national, including Aymara, Guarani, Quechua, Spanish, Portuguese, English, Dutch, and
English is the main language of wider communication on the continent and used most
frequently in formal and official communication. With official status in all but three
countries (Brazil, Suriname, and Guyana), Spanish is the primary language for regional
communication. However, in the border region, Brazilians and Spanish speakers use
``Portunol,'' a hybrid of Portuguese and Spanish, particularly in informal settings. The

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86 Patricia Friedrich and Margie Berns

Country National/Official language/s Other

Argentina Spanish Italian; German, French, English (among

bilinguals descendent from twentieth-century
British presence)

Bolivia Spanish, Quechua, Aymara

Brazil Portuguese Spanish, English, French; German, Japanese

and Italian communities; native communities
of Tupi-Guarani languages

Chile Spanish

Colombia Spanish

Ecuador Spanish Amerindian languages, especially Quechua

French Guiana* French

Guyana English Amerindian languages, Creole, Hindi, Urdu

Paraguay Spanish, Guarani

Peru Spanish, Quechua Aymara

Suriname Dutch English (widely spoken), Sranang Tongo

(Surinamese, sometimes called Tiki-Tiki: a
native language of Creoles and much of the
younger population and is a lingua franca
among others), Hindustani (a dialect of
Hindi), Javanese

Uruguay Spanish Portunol, or Brazilero (Portuguese-Spanish

mix on the Brazilian frontier)

Venezuela Spanish numerous indigenous dialects

* an overseas department of France

Source: United States Central Intelligence Agency (2002)

Figure 2. Languages of South America

linguistic landscape is changing somewhat following the establishment of MERCOSUR/

MERCOSUL, an economic and political association of the southern countries,
(Spanish: `mercado comun del sur'; Portuguese: `mercado comum del sul'), which
includes Portuguese-speaking Brazil and Spanish-speaking Argentina, Paraguay, and
Uruguay. Increased contact and interaction among various parties involved in

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Country Population Ethnic groups

Argentina 37,384,816 white (mostly Spanish and Italian) 97%, mestizo, Amerindian, or other nonwhite groups 3%

Bolivia 8,300,463 Quechua 30%, mestizo (mixed white and Amerindian ancestry) 30%, Aymara 25%, white 15%

Brazil 174,468,575 white (includes Portuguese, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish) 55%, mixed white and black 38%, black 6%,
other (includes Japanese, Arab, Amerindian) 1%

Chile 15,328,467 white and white-Amerindian 95%, Amerindian 3%, other 2%

Colombia 40,349,388 mestizo 58%, white 20%, mulatto 14%, black 4%, mixed black-Amerindian 3%, Amerindian 1%

Ecuador 13,183,978 mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 65%, Amerindian 25%, Spanish and others 7%, black 3%

French 177,562 black or mulatto 66%, white 12%, East Indian, Chinese, Amerindian 12%, other 10%
Guyana 697,181 East Indian 50%, black 36%, Amerindian 7%, white, Chinese and mixed 7%

Paraguay 5,734,139 mestizo (mixed Spanish and Amerindian) 95%, other 5%

Peru 27,483,864 Amerindian 45%, mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 37%, white 15%, black, Japanese, Chinese and other

Suriname 433,988 Hindustani (also known locally as ``East Indians''; their ancestors emigrated from northern India in the latter
part of the nineteenth century) 37%, Creole (mixed white and black) 31%, Javanese 15%, ``Maroons'' (their
African ancestors were brought to the country in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as slaves and
escaped to the interior) 10%, Amerindian 2%, Chinese 2%, white 1%, other 2%

Uruguay 3,360,105 white 88%, mestizo 8%, black 4%, Amerindian, practically nonexistent

Venezuela 23,916,810 Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arab, German, African, indigenous people (percents not available)

* an overseas department of France

Source: United States Central Intelligence Agency (2002)

Figure 3. Population and ethnic groups of South American countries

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88 Patricia Friedrich and Margie Berns

transactions have stimulated the learning of Spanish among Brazilians and of Portu-
guese elsewhere.
South America is also ethnically diverse, with each country having a unique mix of
indigenous, invading, and immigrant groups (see Figure 3). Groups of Amerindian,
European, and South Asian ancestry are dominant, although not evenly distributed
across the continent. Miscegenation is common and the resultant mixture of ethnicity
and culture, reflected in such identifiers as mestizo, Maroon, mulatto, and Creole, is
generally accepted among the general population, which also sees foreign visitors and
languages as contributing positively, for the most part, to South America's variety.
Ethnic diversity increased through colonization with the arrival of explorers from
Portugal and Spain in the sixteenth century with an interest in exploiting natural resources,
such as precious stones, wood (`Pau-Brasil', after which Brazil was named), and gold and
silver (`argent', after which Argentina was named). This pattern of immigration continued.
Between 1820 and 1920, incoming newcomers topped the 6 million mark, mostly from
Europe. After the end of the Civil War in the United States, over 10,000 soldiers from the
defeated Confederate army took up farming in Brazil.

The colonized eventually became independent. Those under the control of Spain and
Portugal gained their freedom in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, Great
Britain gave up Guyana, and the Netherlands did the same for Suriname. Only French
Guyana remains under European control as an overseas department of France. As seen in
the linguistic landscape, the colonizers' languages stayed behind and the local users have
developed varieties of each to such an extent to serve their purposes that reference can be
made to Brazilian Portuguese, Colombian Spanish, or, more generally, to South American
Economic independence is another matter. As the creation of South American economic
associations and free trade zones indicates, countries are seeking greater economic
independence and more involvement in the global market (the European Union has a
special relationship with MERCOSUR). The number of industrialized centers has grown
in recent years to offset the heavy reliance on the export of agricultural products, namely
coffee, bananas, sugarcane, tobacco and grains. But independence is retarded by crises in
the establishment of successful democracies that have interfered with economic develop-
ment and have made countries, for example, the United States, cautious about getting
more involved in the region and investing in its future. Among South Americans this
stance increases a feeling of being caught between the developed world and their own
underdevelopment, between progress and backwardness, between wealth and poverty.
Conflicting attitudes towards the USA admiration and hope, on the one hand, and
disdain and enmity, on the other co-exist.
These paradoxical reactions also hold for South Americans' attitudes toward the
pervasive presence and prevalence of English. Simultaneously there is a sense of
urgency for getting locally generated research data and resources more widely distributed
internationally, beyond the local level, and the recognition of English as playing a key role
in making this happen. In South America, as elsewhere, the task has become maintaining a
local focus while operating within an increasingly global political and economic environ-
ment. The tension is manifested on the linguistic scene in increases in the number of hours

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Introduction: English and the other forgotten continent 89

English is taught in schools and the number of private language schools offering tuition in
English and in measures to protect the so-called integrity of local languages and put an end
to ``the influx of foreignisms'' (that is, English lexical items).
Such measures recall the efforts of French, German, and Romanian lawmakers to ban
the use of English in internal official contexts, which has become common as well in
other countries of the expanding circle. Falling within this circle, the countries of South
America share other features: English is taught as a foreign language, inner circle
varieties serve as classroom models and determinants of norms; the range of uses and
numbers of users of English are growing; and English serves instrumental, interpersonal,
regulative, and creative functions in several domains. Attitudes toward English and its
speakers also bear resemblance to those of learners and users in China, Hungary,
Uzbekistan, Japan, or Germany. Yet, just as these countries have their own history and
experience with and unique sociolinguistic profiles of English, the individual countries
and regions of South America need to be seen for their differences with respect to this
language as well as the characteristics they have in common with one another and the
rest of the expanding circle.
To this end, we have brought together researchers and scholars cognizant of and
engaged in a range of issues with which English learning, teaching, and use is linked. Their
contributions exemplify the intersection of the linguistic, cultural, and sociopolitical in
investigations that touch upon such key issues as attitudes, the nature and status of
bilingual communities, educational policies, and linguistic and ethnic identity and
problems associated with social inequality and access to English, and globalization and
its local effects (or ``globalizations,'' to use Nino-Murcia's term).
Kanavillil Rajagopalan addresses the politics of language and English through his study
of the sometimes conflicting roles of English in Brazil. Florencia Cortes-Conde contributes
to the understanding of issues of language and identity through her study of language shift
and identity within the Anglo-Argentine community. Patricia Friedrich and Mercedes
Nino-Murcia have investigated issues related to attitudes towards English and native
languages within Argentina and Peru, respectively, while Cecilia Ovesdotter Alm has
addressed attitudes towards English within the Ecuadorian commercial context. Hilario
Bohn has dealt with the role of English within the Brazilian educational system. Finally,
Gloria Velez-Rendon and Paul Maersk Nielsen have contributed their respective profiles
of English in Colombia and in Argentina.
Even with their variety in focus and perspective, the eight articles and the selected
bibliographic resources in this special issue (in spite of its title) cannot pretend to represent
all of South America or take into account all facets of the sociolinguistic reality of English
there. But it is a first step in getting the attention of a wider, international audience and
focusing on the countries of ``the other forgotten continent'' and their role in the spread
and development of world Englishes. Much more could and should be done. Only five of
the 12 countries of South America are reported on here Argentina, Brazil, Colombia,
Ecuador and Peru. French Guiana is not represented. Only two sociolinguistic profiles of
English are included of Argentina and Colombia. These are just three of the gaps we
leave. The bibliographic resources list offered at the end of the issue is one stop-gap
measure. The publication of extant work through internationally accessed channels and
more investigations and explorations of English in South America will go much farther
to meet the need. Ideally, such studies would address, as the present collection strives to
do, a wide array of issues; consider the breadth of the social spectrum; represent a range

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90 Patricia Friedrich and Margie Berns

of theoretical, even interdisciplinary approaches; and exemplify various research

methodologies in various combinations.
Clearly, the rich ethnic and racial diversity of South America and the concomitant
variation in cultures and languages are abundant and merit closer, extensive study within
the context of economic globalization and the spread of English around the world. Thus
we present this issue to the World Englishes readership in the hope that its contents will
serve to encourage and inspire studies that will increase understanding of and insight into
both the phenomenon of world Englishes and the sociolinguistic realities of South

Crystal, David (1997) Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mkandawire, Tandika and Soludo, Charles S. (1999) Our Continent, Our Future: African Perspectives on
Structural Adjustment. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.
United States Central Intelligence Agency (2002) The World Factbook 2002.

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