Nicoline van Harskamp: International Mother Language Day Lecture
Saturday 21th February, 07:30 pm, What’s Up! English school, Barcelona*
For every native speaker of the English language, there are 3 non-native speakers. As the world’s primary lingua franca, English is now a language whose syntax, vocabularies and pronunciation vary across the globe. Strangely, this non-native English language does not itself have a name or status; its use is considered something of a natural fact; and its creative potential is too often ignored.
That is why in her new film, Nicoline van Harskamp wants to try to represent a world where English has developed into precisely a language of non-standards; a world where ‘Englishes’ is spoken by people across all ages, regions and classes. Because the piece’s subject-matter is also its medium, Nicoline will need to predict the character of this ‘Englishes’ and actually write a script in a global language of the future. In order to do this, she is now visiting crucial places of interest, to interview people and organise debates.
To her, Barcelona is a fascinating place when it comes to the history and future of languages. “Internationalist languages” Esperanto and English have been spoken at crucial moments in its history. The relation between Catalan and Spanish have been very dynamic at all times. Barcelona is also where the United Nations Declaration of Universal Linguistics Rights was signed in 1996. And of course, English is now used widely in its tourist and educational realms.
In this public event in the What’s Up! language school, Nicoline would very much like to hear from you what you think a future English might sound like in Barcelona and in other parts of the world. She would also like to know more about what you consider to be a ‘mother tongue’ and how it relates to or differs from the English that you know. The video recordings that are made during the event may be used as part of Nicoline’s ongoing project.
Her project in Barcelona is hosted by BAR project as the final event of her residency, and is a collaboration with the Fundació Antoni Tàpies. The project In Englishes is funded by the Mondriaan Foundation in Amsterdam
She was commissioned by Tate Modern, London, to make a live performance on the same topic. You can view it here.
Nicoline van Harskamp (born 1975) has presented her works at, among others, the MUAC / Mexico City, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Manifesta 9 / Genk, the 2013 Shanghai Biennial, Kadist Art Foundation / Paris, Performa 11 / New York and the Van Abbemuseum / Eindhoven. Live works were staged at the BWM Tate Performance Room/London, Witte de With / Rotterdam, Rhizome at the New Museum / New York, Stedelijk Museum / Amsterdam, Arnolfini / Bristol and Serralves Foundation / Porto. She lives and works in Amsterdam.
*What’s Up! English school, Barcelona, Rambla de Catalunya, 53, 08007 Barcelona
Nicoline van Harskamp 2013
Unique live performance as part of BMW Tate Live Performance Room, Tate Modern.
Photo: Ana Escobar for Tate Photography
Nicoline van Harskamp: In englishes
With over one billion speakers, Mandarin Chinese is the biggest language on earth in numbers, followed by Spanish. But it is the English language that has the highest proficiency among people who do not speak it as their mother tongue. As the dominant language of global capitalism and international politics, it is becoming the world’s primary lingua franca at a pace that Putonghua and Espagnol will not match in the foreseeable future. As a result, English is changing into a language of non-standards, where non-native speakers outnumber native speakers 4 against 1. The United States have as many English speakers as India or as China; Great Britain has as many as the Philippines.
The scale and speed of this process has not been recorded in the history of any other language. There are numerous causes and effects for this, many of which can be judged undesirable. But when English speakers world-wide would rid themselves from a single native-speaking standard and from proficiency qualification; when they would co-opt the language that they may or may not feel has been imposed on them, the possibilities for emancipatory and creative use are abundant. Utopian, often unversalist, language projects of the past may be renewed. In cultural fields, an actual ‘international practice’ may emerge. The aesthetic problems of using English as a simplified relay language between different tongues, may dissolve. The suffocating influence of professional jargon may disappear.
With her project “In Englishes”, Nicoline van Harskamp wants to imagine and represent a situation where English has developed just so. She will write a script for a fiction piece in film and possibly also or for stage, in a type of English that might be close to the desired English of the future. In preparation of this, she will spend one year conducting and recording language experiments, collecting language samples, and learning about language in general and English in particular.
As in earlier projects, this elaborate research strategy is part of the work itself, and can take the form of both documentary and fiction, mixed in ways that best express the – anything but objective – points of conclusion. All the activities, whether prepared in detail or improvised in a live situation, will be recorded with the possibility of inclusion in the final piece.