In 2006 and 2007 I was doing my MA at the University of Tehran, about 450 kilometers away from my hometown, Isfahan. For this reason, I was a regular passenger in intercity buses driven either by Persian monolinguals or by Persian-Turkic bilinguals. As a student of Applied Linguistics, I would often be annoyed at the sight of peculiar English messages I used to see mainly on the front doors of such buses. Having seen, for example, “Well come to my bus. We go to trip! Good bey,” I would ask myself “How difficult is it for the drivers to look up the spelling of such words?” or “Why don’t the drivers care about what is written on their own buses?” Once I approached one of the drivers trying to hint at what I would at the time consider as an unpardonable error, but he furiously glared at me and retorted “Who do you think you are? Get off my bus if you don’t like my English!”
But now, upon further contemplations, I think it was utterly inconsiderate of me to have objected to such English varieties. For the drivers, as for the majority of Iranians, the signs are, linguistically speaking, only English in a minimal sense; their Englishness is not linguistic but semiotic. In other words, in Iran, English messages usually function emblematically by signaling a variety of associative meanings, which can be captured under the English term prestige. Such a practice, i.e. associating English with dignity, has become so ubiquitous that it is barely possible not to call it a collective fetish.
This kind of practice puts on record the fact that globalization does not necessarily mean uniformization. Instead, globalization sets in motion not only translocal but local markets as well. In this connection, the global English is no longer a unified entity to find a market for; it is, rather, a complex of resources, each with its own distribution, value, rights, and effects.
The picture in question reveals how local people can bring English, the language of globalization, down to the level of the local and regional by treating it in the local norms. The prevalence of such practices in the periphery well explains why the well-known McDonaldization can only partially account for the prima facie uniformity of globalization processes in the 21st century.
Blommaert, J. (2010). The sociolinguistics of globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.