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World Englishes

Summary and Keywords

English clearly is the world’s most widely used language in the early 21st century: the language of formal and other interactions in very many countries, the main tool of globalization, and the default choice for transnational communication. Initially, the expansion of the British Empire, beginning in the 17th century and driven by various motives for colonization, brought it to all continents: North America and the Caribbean, the southern hemisphere (including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other territories), and also Asia, Africa, and the Pacific region. In contact with indigenous languages new, increasingly stable and localized varieties of English with properties and functions of their own have grown in many countries. These varieties have come to be summarily labeled as “World Englishes,” and a new subdiscipline in linguistics has emerged since the 1980s investigating their features and conditions of use. They have conventionally been classified according to their status in specific countries and territories, as native, second, or foreign languages, respectively, and several theoretical models have been proposed to account for their status, developments, and mutual relationships. Vibrant changes of the recent past, broadly associated with a sociolinguistics of globalization and increasing superdiversity, have continued to push the dissemination of English to new contexts, both socially and individually, and a “post-varieties approach” is now being envisaged.

A wide range of facts and issues can be discussed and investigated when addressing World Englishes. The basic perspective, obviously, concerns the sociohistorical diffusion of the language: Who brought English to which territories, when, and why? And how has the language been transformed in different places? It has been argued convincingly (in the “Dynamic Model” of the evolution of Postcolonial Englishes) that despite all geographical, historical, and social differences, amazing similarities in the emergence of these new varieties, grounded in principles of sociolinguistic accommodation and identity transformations, can be identified. In all contexts and territories, contact with local and other languages has been determinative, usually via the process of second-language acquisition of English by indigenous people. Language policies and their implementation by means of strategies of language pedagogy have played a major role, and all of this is shaped decisively by linguistic attitudes—the question of what speakers and authorities believe about such emerging varieties and their relationship to norms of correctness. Also, specific structural patterns and types of linguistic phenomena can be observed in all these varieties on all levels of language organization.

Consequently, the notion of “English” today needs to be retuned from thinking of it as a single, monolithic entity, a linguistic “standard” and a reference system, to understanding it as a set of related, structurally overlapping, but also distinct varieties, the products of a fundamental “glocalization” process with variable, context-dependent outcomes.

Keywords: World Englishes, varieties of English, sociolinguistics, language contact, language policy, language pedagogy, language attitudes, American English, Asian Englishes, colonization

1. World Englishes: A Globalizing Language and an Emerging Discipline

It is trivial to state that by today English has achieved the status of the world’s most widely used language in very many ways. This statement can be illustrated by referring to speaker numbers, regional diffusion, its default role as a lingua franca in transnational and intercultural encounters, and, increasingly, its globally leading role in cultural domains associated with current modernity, such as media or cyberspace. For centuries, colonization, the expansionist policy of the British Empire, has brought English to all corners of the earth, and in many countries it has been established and retained as a national, second, official, co-official, or practically dominant language. In many of these territories new, stable varieties of English have emerged in long-term contact with indigenous languages, so varieties such as Australian English, Indian English, Singaporean English, Nigerian English, and many more are increasingly becoming known and practically important on the global scene. Such varieties, their structural properties and social settings, the principles behind their emergence, and theoretical and methodological issues of investigating them in their respective contexts are the main topic of the young discipline of World Englishes.

As in every emerging field, terminology tended to be unstable in the beginning and has become increasingly established by an implicitly growing scholarly consensus after the turn of the 21st century. Terms which were used by some scholars to refer to these young varieties but which have not become conventionally established more widely include “extraterritorial English” (Lass, 1987), “indigenized Englishes” (Mufwene, 2015), or “non-native institutionalized varieties of English (NIVEs)” (Williams, 1987). The term “New Englishes” (Pride, 1982; Platt, Weber, & Ho, 1984) has been used widely to denote the emergent second-language varieties of English notably in Asia and Africa (though it has been criticized for resulting from a Western, outside perspective, since many of these varieties, e.g., Indian English, have been growing for centuries and are anything but “new”). “Postcolonial Englishes” (Schneider, 2007) highlights their origins in colonial history and unlike “New Englishes” commonly includes native varieties (such as American or New Zealand English). Other neutral terms of referring to today’s global role and uses of English include “global English,” “English world-wide,” “varieties of English around the world,” or similar phrases (though not “Globish,” meaning an artificially reduced form of simple English for international business communication—which despite having been popularized by some media is not a variety in real use). The term “World Englishes” was originally associated with the Indian-American scholar Braj Kachru and his school (see section 4) but appears to have been established as the most widely used, referentially neutral term for varieties of English in a global context (including varieties of British and American English), and as a cover term for the young discipline in linguistics studying these varieties.

Speaker numbers are notoriously difficult to offer and define—partly in the absence of clearly defined threshold proficiency levels (precise definitions or measurements of what it means to count as a speaker of English are lacking) and partly for want of census data or language questions in censuses in many countries. These problems apply especially in some countries that would be important due to huge speaker numbers. For example, a few decades ago conventional wisdom on India held that only about 3% of the population speak English (Kachru, 1983; Kachru, 1985), which, however, is far below the situation in the 21st century: Crystal (2008) estimated that about a third of India’s population can hold a conversation in English. Given a population of close to 1.3 billion today, this yields an uncertainty range of English speaker numbers of a few hundred million! Similar uncertainties with also very large potential speaker numbers obtain for Nigeria, and, in fact, many African countries. Still, Crystal (2008), in the most recently published reasonable estimate, speculates the number of English speakers globally could be close to 2 billion (broken down into ca. 370.000 native speakers, ca. 500–600.000 second-language speakers in Asia and Africa, and 600–1,000,000 fluent foreign language speakers). Similarly, the Ethnologue estimates the number of English speakers globally to be 1.5 billion. The trajectory of recent change is even more remarkable: Within just one generation there has been an increase from roughly one fifth to close to one third of the world’s population speaking English; and, even more importantly, native speakers are outnumbered by about three to four times as many nonnative speakers (Crystal, 2008)!

Figures on the areal political distribution of English are also variable because in many sovereign states but also nonsovereign territories English may be a de jure or de facto official, co-official, primary, or widely used language. The number of states and regions where English has some special relevance clearly comes close to a hundred (see the map in Schneider, 2011, p. 58, and lists in McArthur, 1998, pp. 49–52; Crystal, 2009, pp. 62–65; and Wikipedia). Similarly, English occupies a wide range of international functions. It is the main language of the Internet, the predominant language of internationally distributed media and books, the official language of most international organizations, and also the working language of large companies that are nationally based somewhere but internationally oriented in their marketing strategies. In tourism, for example, it is the default choice, assuming that this is the language tourists command and expect (cf. Schneider, 2016b). Its use as a lingua franca on a global scale is now competing with native-speaker interactions in terms of global importance and visibility, and it has generated another, even younger subdiscipline in linguistics focusing on “ELF (English as a Lingua Franca)” usage (cf. Seidlhofer, 2011).

2. Sociohistorical Background: The Global Diffusion of English

2.1 Why English? Colonization and Postcolonial Developments

The global diffusion of English goes back to the time of colonization, with the British, competing with other European colonial powers for authority over overseas territories that promised huge profits in the commercial exchange or extraction of desirable goods (such as spices) and in the establishment of plantations to raise crops such as tobacco or sugar, and which in many cases also allowed large-scale settlement emigration. Ultimately the British built an Empire that spanned the earth. Motives for colonization varied, and consequently different colonization types which produced typical linguistic outcomes have been distinguished (Mufwene, 2001, pp. 8–9, 204–206, 2015; Schneider, 2007, pp. 24–25, forthcoming; cf. Belich, 2009, p. 21). “Trade colonies,” for example, the fortifications established along the West African coast since the 17th century, were geared to the exchange of commodities in short-lived, rather superficial contacts; hence, they tended to produce restricted bilingualism and often pidginization. In “exploitation colonies” like India, Singapore, or Ghana, European powers gained political authority for long periods of time, so extended interactions with indigenous populations, often with local elites “sandwiched” between the British and the local masses, resulted in the birth of second-language (ESL) varieties. Large-scale migration movements of British emigrants to “settlement colonies” produced territories where English is spoken natively, that is, new L1 “settler dialects”—notably in North America, Australia, and New Zealand. “Plantation colonies,” sometimes regarded as a special case of settlement colonies, are agricultural production sites mostly in tropical locations (e.g., across the Caribbean), where typically the need for extensive manual labor caused the forced importation of slaves, mainly from Africa, and often creolization.

Crystal (2009) suggested three main reasons for why English has achieved its very special global status today, arguing that it happened to have “repeatedly found itself in the right place at the right time” (p. 120): It was spread globally as the language of Britain’s colonial Empire in the 17th and 18th centuries, became associated with the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, and ultimately was established firmly on a global scale in the 20th century as the language of the world’s leading economic and military superpower, the United States. Crystal’s reasons are adequate in principle but need to be supplemented by a few more factors. Colonization has produced and left the postcolonial varieties (or “New Englishes”) which nowadays contribute to its global role and visibility. The role of industrialization has been succeeded by English as the vehicle of technological advancement, access to scientific knowledge, and in many countries modernity and westernization in general. And globalization has taken over the role of colonization or Americanization, operating mainly with English as its main communicative tool. Historians have argued that the 19th-century “settler revolution,” the large-scale replenishing the earth with masses of British-derived settlers, as well as a process of “recolonization,” the establishment of close relationships between expansionist but newly independent former colonies with the former mother country, for example via the institution of the “Commonwealth,” contributed decisively to the global role and rooting of English (Belich, 2009). In addition, in many large postcolonial countries (for example in India or Nigeria) English has achieved and retained its special status because of its ethnic neutrality, avoiding the conflicts which would result from privileging any indigenous language. This factor has become effective only after decolonization, and so did globalization, technological advancement, and the growth of the Internet—all practically associated with English. It is worth noting that even after centuries of the expansion of English, the ultimate push for the global attraction of the language came only after the colonial period, in the latter 20th and the early 21st centuries.

2.2 English to North America and the Caribbean

English became rooted in North America by the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 and the Pilgrim Fathers landing at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, in 1620, and subsequent immigrant waves. Four culturally distinct settler waves have conventionally been distinguished (Fischer, 1989): aristocrats from southern England, followed by Royalists escaping the English Civil War, in the South; conservative Puritans bringing a rigorous religious orientation to New England; Quakers, coming as religious dissenters to the midlands (today’s Pennsylvania) and attracting further immigrants with their more tolerant attitude, and finally working-class migrants largely from northern England and Ulster (the “Scotch-Irish”) filling the hinterlands and the Appalachian mountain region. After two centuries of the Atlantic colonies achieving stability followed by American independence in the late 18th century, a second expansionist wave was opened by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and the clearing of westward migration routes in the Jacksonian period, and it resulted in the westward expansion of the 19th century, which ultimately replenished the continent with British- and European-descendant colonizers, causing Native Americans to lose their traditional territories, lifestyles, and often lives and to suffer immensely. Mainstream American English, traditionally perceived as remarkably homogeneous, is essentially the product of processes of dialect mixture and koinéization during these expansionist phases. More detailed accounts of the emergence of American English discussing historical processes and linguistic consequences can be found, for example, in Krapp (1925), Mencken (1982), Algeo (2001), or Schneider (2007, chapter 6).

At roughly the same time English was transplanted to the Caribbean, beginning with the settlement of St. Kitts and other small islands as well as Barbados in the 1620s and fueled most importantly by the conquest of Jamaica in 1655. The social settings and the linguistic outcomes were quite different, however, given that the Caribbean became mainly a location for large-scale agricultural production, notably sugar cane plantations, with the majority of the population being enslaved Africans and their descendants. Linguistically, these contacts produced different creoles, ranging from “light” ones as in Barbados to “deep” ones as in Jamaica or, even more so, Suriname (Schneider, 1990; Neumann-Holzschuh & Schneider, 2000; for a recent authoritative survey of creole linguistics see Velupillai, 2015). In addition, in many Caribbean island nations, including Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla, and more, indigenized forms of English exist as standard varieties, commonly considered “acrolects” of a creole (or postcreole) continuum (see Alleyne, 1980; Roberts, 1988; or Deuber, 2014). In Jamaica, the largest of the English-speaking Caribbean islands, we find both Jamaican English, an acrolect with characteristic properties mainly on the pronunciation level, easily comparable to many Outer Circle World Englishes, and “Patwa,” a linguistic continuum covering both a basilectal creole and distinct mesolects with properties of their own (Christie, 2003; Patrick, 1999).

In the late 18th century, American Loyalists to the British Crown who resisted America’s independence moved north in substantial numbers, thus strengthening the British hold and impact over eastern Canada, which was settled after France’s cession of her North American possessions in the Treaty of Paris in 1763. Canada’s cultural identity can strongly be traced back to the their impact. Consequently, Canadian English is characterized traditionally as a mixture between an American base and features retained from its British roots (Bailey, 1982). More recently, to some extent similarly to the United States, ethnic varieties produced by the country’s multicultural makeup or the growing recognition of the role of the “First Nations” have been identified (cf. Boberg, 2011).

2.3 English to the Southern Hemisphere

After early landfalls by explorers and whalers, the “First Fleet” of 1788 brought English to Australia, originally a convict colony. The demographic predominance of lower-class imprisoned and indebted people from Britain explains the country’s “mateship” egalitarian orientation and the variety’s fairly informal character. Settlement expansion continued, with former convicts turning free settlers and new waves of migrants coming in continuously. Despite independence in 1901, it was only in the later 20th century that the continent explicitly developed a distinct cultural and linguistic identity (reflected by the growing recognition of local accents in formal public discourse) largely independent of the erstwhile mother country Great Britain (to which political ties via membership in the Commonwealth and the formal function of the British Queen have been retained). The social stratification within Australian English was modeled as a cline between “Cultivated,” “General,” and “Broad” varieties, as proposed originally by Mitchell and Delbridge (1965). The Aboriginal population, not recognized originally at all because of the legal fiction of the landmass being regarded as a “terra nullius,” was decimated immensely, subdued, and deprived of their original cultural and religious roots, and they largely lead a marginalized existence, often in poverty, to the present day. Contact varieties spoken by indigenous people (so-called Aboriginal English) and also by other immigrant groups (like “wogspeak,” associated primarily with accents traced back to immigrants from southern Europe) have been described. In parts of the north, plantation economy produced creoles (“Kriol”). Surveys of the history and varieties of Australian English are available, amongst others, in Horvath (1985), Collins and Blair (1989), Blair and Collins, (2001), and Leitner (2004).

In New Zealand (for accounts of the variety and its history, see Gordon & Deverson, 1998; Bell & Kuiper, 2000; and Gordon et al., 2004), the Treaty of Waitangi of 1840, in which Maori chiefs ceded sovereignty to the Crown, opened the islands to waves of organized large-scale settlement from Britain. Present-day New Zealand English is essentially a product of mixing processes among these input dialects, from different regions of the United Kingdom, and after about one and a half centuries of close ties with England it is also increasingly recognized as a distinct, culturally valuable property of the Pacific nation. Tensions with the Maoris, and at times warfare, have continued to some extent to the present day, although the Maori language is now accepted as co-official and an important element of indigenous heritage. Local contact varieties include Maori English, though this is often characterized as rather elusive, and Pasifika English, spoken by immigrants from several Pacific islands mainly in Auckland.

Britain’s third important southern hemisphere settlement region is South Africa, settled during the first half of the 19th century by two subsequent waves of British migrants from different regional and social origins. There they met indigenous Africans (of various tribal and linguistic backgrounds) as well as Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch colonists who had been resident there for centuries, and they were soon, beginning in the second half of the 19th century, joined by large numbers of migrant laborers from India. These groups, together with mixed “Coloured” people, still make up today’s “rainbow nation” which some 20 years ago overcame decades of apartheid, and each of them is associated with a distinct ethnic variety of English. Recent research (primarily by Raj Mesthrie and his associates, e.g., Mesthrie, 2010) suggests, however, that a new compromise standard variety essentially building upon “White South African English,” but with notable contributions by black varieties as well as features of its own, appears to be slowly emerging in a pan-ethnic middle class (the demographic basis of which is still small, however).

Furthermore, smaller varieties of English, usually going back to specific settlement processes of the 19th and early 20th centuries, are scattered throughout the southern hemisphere—to be found, for instance, on the islands of Tristan da Cunha, St. Helena, or the Falklands, and in Kenya and former “Rhodesia” (today’s Zimbabwe). Documentation of many of these dialects is available in Schreier et al. (2010), for example.

2.4 English to Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Region

Clearly, the main manifestations of “New Englishes,” that is, the ESL (or, in Kachru’s terms, “Outer Circle”) branch of World Englishes, are to be found in Asia and Africa. English is making remarkable inroads into many countries there, often as an official, co-official, or widely used second language, and increasingly even as a first language. Its role in these countries clearly goes beyond that of merely a “colonial leftover” trace and keeps expanding vigorously. Early collections that attracted attention to these varieties were Pride (1982) and Platt, Weber, and Ho (1984).

Expansion into Asia started with the foundation of the East India Company in 1600 and expanded gradually, with trading “factories” established, contracts signed, and missionaries moving in. Full authority over the subcontinent and a Crown colony status were ultimately established in 1858 (see Kachru’s [1983] classic account of English in India). Similarly, the British possession of the Malay peninsula first proceeded by individual cities (e.g., Penang in 1786) and locations to ultimately encompass the entire “Straits Settlement” (later Malaysia) as a colony in 1889. In 1819 Singapore was founded by the British (cf. Platt & Weber, 1980; Leimgruber, 2013). In 1842, after the “Opium Wars,” Hong Kong was ceded to the Empire (and remained a part of it until the “handover” of 1997; for an authoritative account of English in Hong Kong and China, see Bolton, 2003). In 1898 the only American colony in Asia, the Philippines, was established, and the country was quickly and efficiently anglicized thereafter (cf. Bautista, 1997). In all of these countries English spread as the language of the colonial power, of administration, and of many other public domains of life. It was transmitted through newly founded schools, mainly for local leaders who were educated and trained to formally exert power in the interest of the Empire. Therefore, many of these varieties tended to be characterized by and associated with an elitist orientation and a slightly formal and bookish character—though some nonstandard forms were also passed on by lower-ranking military, administrative, or commercial staff.

In most of these countries, English has been retained as the official, co-official, or administrative language after independence. More than that, the last half century or so has seen a tremendous expansion and growth of the functions and usage contexts of English in many parts of Asia, a dynamism that is unbroken to the present day (Schneider, 2014b; Low & Hashim, 2012). The most strongly anglicized country in Asia is Singapore, a country with four official languages which is practically run in English: According to most recent census data about half of all children in Singapore grow up with English as the family language and their first language, often in multilingual settings. In India and the Philippines, English is also extremely widespread. It is a remarkable fact that the Association of South-East Asian Nations ASEAN, with some member states like Thailand or Cambodia with no English colonial background whatsoever, chose English as its “sole working language” in its 2009 Charter (Kirkpatrick, 2010). In East Asia (China, South Korea, and Japan) English has been established prominently in these countries’ education systems, is being acquired by hundreds of millions of learners, and is striven for with a zeal that is sometimes called “English fever” (Schneider, 2014a; Bolton, 2003; Park, 2009; Stanlaw, 2004; Wei & Su, 2012).

The spread of English in Africa (cf. Schmied, 1991; Bokamba, 1992) began with trading forts established along the coast during the 17th century, reached early peaks with the British settlement of Sierra Leone in 1787 and the American foundation of Liberia in 1822, and gained full momentum during the second half of the 19th century and into the early 20th century. British colonies were set up at the Gold Coast (later Ghana), in Nigeria, in substantial parts of East Africa (today’s Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda), and parts of southern Africa, notably “Rhodesia” (now Zimbabwe). A part of Cameroon was mandated to Britain by the League of Nations. In all of these countries English, in localized forms, is going strong today and is widely used also for internal purposes as a second language (in administration, higher jurisdiction, education, business life, the media, and so on). In East Africa, the role of English was reduced by a nationalist language policy promoting Swahili in Tanzania, but it has been adopted very widely in Kenya (Kanyoro, 1991; Kembo Sure, 1991) and Uganda (Meierkord, Isingoma, & Namyalo, 2016). Across West Africa the boundary between formal English and the West African English Pidgins spoken there widely in informal interactions is getting blurred, at least in the perception of many speakers. Interestingly, West African Pidgins are assumed to have descended from Caribbean creoles via the impact of “repatriated” former slaves (Huber, 1999).

Across the southwestern Pacific Rim a number of nations and island states also have English as their official or co-official language (e.g., Papua New Guinea, the Marshall Islands, Palau, Vanuatu, Fiji, and several others; cf. Biewer, 2015). In some of them Melanesian Pidgins derived from English have been developed by migrant plantation workers, and PNG’s Tok Pisin, the Solomons’ Pijin, and Vanuatu’s Bislama have in fact attained the status of co-official national languages (Tryon & Charpentier, 2004). Whether such varieties also constitute topics of “World Englishes” research is debatable, but formal Englishes used in the respective nations clearly do, and the pidgins share with ESL varieties and creoles spoken elsewhere the basic fact that they result from an English linguistic base having been restructured and modified in processes of language contact (though with hugely varying degrees of contact intensity and structural change).

3. Social and Linguistic Issues

The relocation of English to so many different countries on practically all continents and the emergence of new localized varieties there have raised a number of social and linguistic issues that are similar across all settings and will be briefly discussed here.

3.1 Language Contact

All the varieties discussed so far are products of language contact (cf. Schreier & Hundt, 2013), having gone through stages of indigenization (Kachru, 1983, 1992) and nativization (Schneider, 2007), though the intensity of the contact between two or more population groups and consequently the depth of contact effects varies greatly. L1 settler dialects have been shaped mainly by dialect contact, a main outcome of which is koinéization, the emergence of a compromise variety. Due to disproportions in demographic and power relationships, in these settings contact with indigenous people remained restricted, and their linguistic impact was mostly constrained to lexical borrowings in specific semantic domains (place names, words for fauna and flora, and terms for objects and concepts of indigenous cultures). More intense and permanent contact, that is, regular coexistence and encounters across ethnic boundaries, typically produced noticeable modifications in the emergence of new indigenized dialects of English, through phonological and grammatical transfer; the ESL “New Englishes” are typical outcomes of such settings. Even more intense and heavy contact, typically marked by hugely unequal demographic proportions and power distributions, as for instance in plantation slavery, tended to produce pidgins, creoles, or truly mixed languages, commonly considered newly born languages. The prototypical topics of World Englishes research are the ESL varieties, but in the absence of firm or qualitative boundaries, given varying degrees of contact intensity, the other variety types mentioned here have also been subsumed under this heading at times. This is controversial, however (and not a core topic in World Englishes): It has been claimed that creoles constitute a unique and distinct language type with characteristic structural properties of their own which result from a break in transmission in second-language acquisition (McWhorter, 1998). McWhorter (2005, pp. 19–32) considers creoles as a pole on a cline of acquisitional interruption.

The multilingual settings in which many World Englishes occur have increasingly produced what appears to be a new type of hybrid varieties, mixes between English and (sometimes several) local languages (Schneider, 2016a). Examples are the varieties labeled Hinglish in India, Taglish in the Philippines (Thompson, 2003), Rojak in Malaysia, Camfranglais in Cameroon, or Engsh in Kenya. While gatekeepers of linguistic decorum and social authorities often resent these new codes as uneducated, inappropriate, and contaminated, their speakers are mostly young and educated, and use them deliberately and playfully as expressions of their multilingual and multicultural identities.

3.2 Language Acquisition

The growth of World Englishes needs to be viewed also through the lens of language acquisition—although this is not commonly done as yet (Mesthrie & Bhatt, 2008, pp. 156–175). Ultimately, ESL varieties and New Englishes are products of the acquisition of English as a second language by local speakers in very many countries (Williams, 1987); and these second-language varieties, which in the course of time have become more firmly conventionalized in their respective regions, then became the target models for later generations of learners of English. The process of new features and properties of these emerging varieties (e.g., words, sounds, and patterns borrowed from indigenous languages) becoming firmly entrenched thus was reinforced continuously. However, innovations found in new varieties do not just consist of borrowed features. Phenomena often associated with SLA acquisition such as processes of simplification, regularization, overgeneralization, or other mechanisms are also widely found in these varieties. Again, this is reminiscent of one particular genesis theory of pidgin and creole languages, which Siegel (2008) assumes to be products of restructuring in second-language acquisition.

3.3 Language Policy

Obviously, decisions of language policy play an important role for what will happen to English and to emerging varieties of English. Especially in young nations and in association with processes of nation-building these are important, sometimes difficult decisions which tend to both reflect and also shape national identities, a nation’s cultural, and sociopolitical independence from an erstwhile colonizing country, and the like. However, factual realities are often different from what might be expected on the basis of formal decisions—outcomes are often rather similar irrespective of whether English is credited with being a country’s official or co-official language or is just de facto a widely used one. (For example, strictly legally speaking neither the United Kingdom nor the United States have an “official” language.)

One major property that has often motivated the retention and even strengthening of English in former colonies is the fact that it is ethnically neutral: In multilingual countries with different, often rivaling ethnicities it would often be inconceivable and highly dangerous to privilege one indigenous language over another. One classic example for this is India: The country’s original “Three-Language Formula,” projected after independence, aimed at the removal of English after a transitional decade, to be replaced by Hindi and a southern Dravidian language, but resistance against Hindi dominance in the south and lack of interest in learning Dravidian languages in the north prevented this idea from being turned into reality, and English has remained the shared bond (Kachru, 1994a, p. 552; Krishnaswamy & Burde, 1998, p. 16). Similarly in Nigeria: The official status of English avoids the need to decide between Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, or others as national languages, and in a country with simmering tensions between these groups this is obviously a most desirable quality.

In fact, only a very small number of countries have effectively attempted to remove English from its formerly predominant position and to replace it by a newly established national language. Cases in point are Kiswahili in Tanzania (which has the advantage of itself not being an ethnic tribal language) and Malay (Bahasa Malaysia) in Malaysia (strongly dominant there anyhow, but slighting minority languages spoken by substantial Chinese or Indian population groups). And in both cases these decisions have been implemented only half-heartedly, mainly in order not to compromise the basis for international communication. In Tanzania, especially children from wealthy families still attend English-speaking schools (Schmied, 1985), and in Malaysia over the last two decades English was first removed, then reinstalled, and finally weakened again as the medium of instruction in the sciences (Hashim, 2014).

Similar to the case of Tanzania, in many Outer Circle countries efficient access to learning English is accessible only to privileged ruling classes, a fact which supports the persistence of power inequality and class and wealth stratification. While English is often viewed as (and to some extent indeed constitutes) a tool for self-advancement and participation in global processes, critical linguists have also branded it as a mechanism of exclusion and oppression (cf. Saraceni, 2015).

Most World Englishes are spoken in bilingual or multilingual countries, and the relationship between the languages available to speakers in a given territory needs to be balanced, formally or informally, practically and symbolically. Singapore, for example, has four “official” languages (Mandarin, Malay, Tamil, and English), and one of them, the smallest one, in fact (Malay) is also labeled “national,” out of respect to the country's location and original population. In South Africa in 1994, when writing a constitution after the “rainbow revolution,” it was decided to accept as many as eleven languages (English, Afrikaans, and nine African ones) as “official languages”—though in reality this is not borne out for practical and economic reasons (cf. Orman, 2010).

3.4 Language Pedagogy

Obviously, the main path of implementing a language policy is language pedagogy—decisions on which language to choose as the medium of instruction (MOI) at which grades or for which subjects, and on linguistic norms of correctness. It is often proposed (Kirkpatrick, 2007) and widely accepted that elementary education should initially employ children’s native, usually local languages, but in many countries English is introduced and also used as MOI very soon, say in grade 3, sometimes even earlier. Often this corresponds to parental demand, with parents assuming that fluent English will offer their children better opportunities in life. Secondary education in ESL countries tends to be predominantly in English; tertiary education is almost exclusively so. A good command of English (at least as defined by exam standards) is often a prerequisite for university admission (as in China or Korea).

One consequence of this distribution is the fact that often English is associated with an elitist character, given that higher education and access to “good” schooling and also English is available mainly to the wealthy and powerful. Less-privileged children often suffer from poor conditions in education (large classes, unsupportive rooms and equipment, badly trained and paid teachers, and largely ineffective teaching methods like chorus repetition). However, what is also found not so infrequently these days is a “grassroots” acquisition by highly motivated individuals in natural contexts, learning the language from books, recordings, and in direct interaction driven by high personal motivation, simply because English is essential to obtain better jobs (Schneider, 2016b).

Developed countries tend to employ native speakers as language instructors, with or without training in TEFL (Teaching of English as a Foreign Language), simply out of the belief in the superiority of native speaker standards and abilities. However, a countertendency in favor of strengthening the role of nonnative English-speaking teachers (“NNESTs”) is growing. It is argued that NNESTs share familiarity with the students’ problems, having acquired the language themselves, and that they tend to be more intelligible (speaking more slowly and carefully, while native speakers often talk quickly and with regional accents).

3.5 Language Attitudes

Speakers’ attitudes towards languages or language varieties quite naturally play an important role in shaping linguistic developments. Is English perceived as “cool,” “Western,” “modern,” or as “elitist” and “snobbish” by the population at large? Are local, sometimes mixed dialects cherished as “one’s own” or branded as “uneducated” and “internationally unintelligible”? As is well known, in Singapore a conflict between the government’s conservative stance, calling for “Good English,” as against many speaker’s loving attitude in defense of “Singlish” (cf. see) has been raging. Local forms of English are typically stigmatized at first, but the “Dynamic Model” of the evolution of Englishes (see in section 4) proposes that a trend towards endonormativity, ultimately accepting such usage as characteristic of a region, is unavoidable.

The sociopolitical role of English in multilingual countries has been viewed very negatively by some linguists labeled “radical” (Melchers & Shaw, 2003, p. 30), who are concerned with social inequalities associated with language usage and what has been called “linguistic imperialism” (e.g., Phillipson, 1992). English has been blamed of being a “killer language” that eradicates indigenous languages and cultures, of exacerbating such inequalities. There is clearly some truth in that as well, though the question is whether it is a language or sociopolitical relationships that are to blame. On the other hand, for many speakers English has also been a language of opportunity (on an individual level) or liberation (for political agendas—for example, as the language of the African National Congress long before South Africa’s end to apartheid). Kachru (1994b) termed this tension between viewing English as a symbol of hegemony and imperialism on the one hand or a tool for liberation and advancement on the other as “linguistic schizophrenia.” Saraceni (2015) discusses such critical and ideological perspectives, their historical roots, and their pedagogical ramifications.

3.6 Linguistic Structures

On the strictly linguistic plane, World Englishes are characterized by their features, their structural properties on the levels of lexis, phonology, grammar, or pragmatics. These features are constant objects of detailed documentation, analysis, and description, based on fieldwork data or, increasingly, huge, publicly available, electronic text collections (corpora) from many world regions, most notably the “International Corpus of English” (ICE) and Brigham Young University’s “GloWbE” (Global Web-Based English) corpus with 1.9 billion words of text from 20 countries. Some features are fully or largely unique to specific varieties, being transferred from indigenous languages or local coinages. For instance, a carabao and a jeepney occur in Filipino English, retroflex alveolar stops mainly characterize Indian English, and a passive construction with Malay-derived kena (and associated semantic constraints) can be found in Singapore (a superb, theoretically ambitious study of transfer phenomena in Singapore’s “Singlish” is available in Bao (2015); Lim (2004) and Deterding (2007) also offer rich documentation of Singaporean linguistic features). Other patterns and phenomena are distributed widely—the fact, for example, that indigenous lexis is transferred to local Englishes mostly denoting place names, plants and animals, and cultural objects; a tendency to reduce vowel contrasts, especially to eliminate those between corresponding long and short vowels; or the formation of interrogatives without inversion.

For extensive documentation and many examples, see Kortmann et al. (2004) and Mouton’s accompanying website. A follow-up project, Kortmann and Lunkenheimer (2012) and its accompanying online database eWave also offer rich documentation of grammatical variation in World Englishes. Szmrecsanyi and Kortmann (2009) employed quantitative methods in order to identify associations between variety types and their structural properties (cf. Kortmann, 2010).

The website accompanying Schneider (2011; under Resources/Sound Files) gives access to a number of audio samples from many regions, and the noteworthy features of these samples are pointed out in the book. By way of a short illustration, the following examples of interesting structures from different varieties can be found and heard there:


World Englishes


World Englishes


World Englishes


World Englishes


World Englishes

Example (1), a fairly formal speech on Malaysian TV (recorded by the author in 2003), illustrates lack of inflectional endings (fall; person, perception, object), preposition doubling (because due to), or innovative ditransitive syntax (create you some ideas). Example (2), from Singlish (Lisa Lim’s Grammar of Spoken Singaporean English Corpus; reproduced by permission), shows lexical borrowing from Malay (botak), reduplication for intensification (botak botak ‘very bald’), relativization with clause-final one (The fella centre botak three side hair one ‘The guy who is bald in the middle and has hair at three sides’), the distinctive discourse particles ah, lah, and lor, and a passive structure with Malay-derived kena (he kena play out ‘he was cheated’). In (3), from a personal letter (provided by Sebastian Hoffmann’s wife; reproduced by permission), we find intrasentential mixing with Malay expressions. (4) (from Deuber, 2005; reproduced by permission) has a number of features typical of West African Pidgins, including preverbal negation with no, preverbal markers dey, don, or go, an invariant relativizer wey, the interjection o, reduplications for intensification (carry-carry, well well, proper proper), and creative lexical paraphrases (e.g., follow put eye to monitor ‘supervise’; dirty carry-carry work ‘waste disposal’). Features of basilectal Jamaican Creole (Patwa) in (5), from Michael Thelwell’s novel The Harder They Come, include functional conflation of pronouns (possessive mi, subject me), lack of genitive marking (people house), copula omission (me no criminal), double negatives (not no), or dental fricative stopping (t’ink ‘think’, dat ‘that’).


World Englishes

In (6) (from Mehrotra, 1998, pp. 115, 143) some lexical and syntactic characteristics of Indian English can be identified: good name ‘first name’, give lift (allow to come closer, behave in a friendly way), What goes of my father? ‘How does it affect me and my family, esp. economically?’), and only for focus marking.

4. Critical Analysis of Scholarship

The fact that global varieties of English can be categorized into native, second-language, and foreign-language speakers (and that these are associated with specific types of nations) was introduced in Strang (1970, pp. 17–18) and popularized by its adoption in Quirk et al. (1972), a classic grammar of English. These sources established a tripartite division of nation-based roles of English into ENL (English as a Native Language), ESL (English as a Second language), and EFL (English as a Foreign Language), which, with slight modifications, is still valid today. An awareness of World Englishes as a stable linguistic phenomenon in its own right, worth being investigated and described systematically and comparatively, originated in the early 1980s, with work by Pride (1982) and Platt, Weber, & Ho (1984). That period also saw the first survey volume (Bailey & Görlach, 1982) and the foundation of two journals on the subject (English World-Wide, in 1980; and World Englishes in 1982). Manfred Görlach (e.g., 1991) and Tom McArthur (e.g., 1998) contributed important comparative descriptions in the 1980s and 1990s.

Braj Kachru, an American scholar of Indian descent, became a leading figure of the field by proposing a coherent theoretical framework, by supporting the academic careers of many young scholars, notably from Asia and Africa, and by establishing a disciplinary infrastructure with the journal World Englishes and the foundation of the International Association of World Englishes (IAWE), which holds annual conferences. Kachru (1985) introduced the “Three Circles” model, which distinguishes “Inner,” “Outer,” and “Expanding Circle” countries, referentially largely equivalent to the ENL–ESL–EFL distinction but with an innovative sociopolitical main thrust: Kachru rejected the “norm-giving” predominance of “Inner Circle” countries and instead emphasized the important “norm-developing” role or “ownership” of Englishes in the Outer Circle, arguing that the “functional nativeness” found there deserves equal recognition as the “genetic nativeness.” A classic source promoting this approach is Kachru (1992). The Three Circles model and its ideological implications, arguing against native-speaker superiority, has been hugely influential and is still often referred to, but its limitations have also been pointed out, and it has been criticized (e.g., Bruthiaux, 2003). For instance, the assignment of individual nations to “Circles” is not only fuzzy overall but problematic in many cases, disregarding internal differentiation (e.g., the fact that many speakers in the United States or the United Kingdom are second-language speakers) and multilingualism (South Africa, for instance, has ethnic groups internally which could be regarded as ENL, ESL, or EFL, respectively). Most importantly, it is static and ignores internal and recent developments (for instance the fact that Singapore appears to me moving from ESL to ENL status).

Schneider’s (2003, 2007) “Dynamic Model” of the evolution of Postcolonial Englishes, grounded in theories of linguistic accommodation, identity formation, language contact, and sociolinguistic interaction, proposed a viable, developmental, and more flexible alternative which by now has been widely accepted (cf. Buschfeld et al., 2014). It claims that despite all historical, geographical, and social differences a fairly uniform developmental process can be identified in all World Englishes, grounded in changing social relations and identity ascriptions between colonizers and the indigenous population in a colonized territory. A unilateral implicational relationship between four parameters has shaped these processes: (1) extralinguistic, historical, and political conditions in a region determine (2) the social delimitations and identity definitions between the parties involved in colonization, which in turn influence (3) the social conditions of communicative interactions within and between the groups, and these shape (4) structural effects, that is, lexical, phonological, and grammatical properties of the varieties emerging in these interactions. The developmental process proceeds along five major stages, viz., (1) foundation, (2) exonormative stabilization, (3) structural nativization, (4) endonormative stabilization, and (5) differentiation. The relocation of English in a foreign land is followed first by a stable orientation towards the “mother country” and its norms but then by moves towards independence, reorientations, and linguistic restructuring (“structural nativization”), before a young nation achieves stability and pride in itself, including local linguistic usage; in the end local usage may fragment increasingly with language forms indexing no longer the nation but smaller groupings within. The model has been applied, adopted, accepted, and modified widely, and also criticized for some details, for example, the joint treatment of ENL and ESL countries (Mesthrie & Bhatt, 2008, pp. 35–36). Reactions are summarized in Schneider (2014a); Seoane (in Seoane & Suárez-Gómez, 2016, p. 4) stated that this “groundbreaking” model “fundamentally changed the way we approach World Englishes.”

Recent theoretical developments increasingly recognize the blurring of once clearly established boundaries between manifestation types of English, caused by ongoing vibrant changes of the 21st century. One branch of this new “post-postcolonial” perspective (Buschfeld & Schneider, 2017) recognizes the dynamic fuzziness of the boundary between ESL and EFL: Cyprus has moved back and forth between these poles (Buschfeld, 2013), and the Netherlands, clearly an “Expanding Circle” country in Kachru’s classification, by now shows many usage conditions typical of ESL contexts (Edwards, 2016). Seargeant & Tagg (2011) argue for an approach that largely disregards the notion of “varieties” as coherent entities; similarly, Blommaert (2010) and Meierkord (2012) highlight the diffusion of individual bits and pieces of English across national, ethnic, or social boundaries. Innovative contexts which contribute to the diffusion of English to new contexts and usage conditions include cyberspace interactions (cf. Mair, 2013), new media, online games, tourism, and many more. Obviously, globalization, with English as its main vehicle, has superseded colonization as the main factor in the diffusion of English, with broadly similar effects. Schneider (2014a) suggested a globally effective “transnational attraction” of English as a core factor. Buschfeld & Kautzsch (2017) are proposing a model of “Extra- and Intra-Territorial Forces” which extrapolates from the Dynamic Model and also honors nonpostcolonial countries and contexts.

5. English Diversifying: World Englishes as a Complex of Varieties

In the World Englishes paradigm the plural ending -es in the word Englishes has been constitutive and of central importance in the conceptualization of the discipline's subject matter. Against a traditional, conservative notion of “English” as a largely monolithic language, implying properties like standardness and correctness, it posits a plurality of coexistent linguistic systems, each with its own structural properties and usage settings, and each legitimate and fully functional in its own context. The idea of variability, inherited from the discipline of sociolinguistics, and the ubiquity of language contact phenomena, shared with contact linguistics, are central to this approach. Some categorizations and certainly many borderlines are fuzzy, by their very nature. For example, the boundary between incomplete, perhaps transitional learner performance and learners’ “errors” on the one hand and a newly emerging system of linguistic habits shared in a speech community developing new “norms” of its own is not clear (cf. Bamgbose, 1998; van Rooy, 2011; Buschfeld, 2013, pp. 59, 63–66). Similarly, whether linguistic products of strong contact and restructuring, like creoles, should be regarded as “varieties of English” (with which they all clearly share some forms and patterns) or languages in their own right is disputed. Mesthrie and Bhatt (2008, pp. 1–10) introduced and outlined the notion of an “English Language Complex,” encompassing all kinds of variety types, from regional dialects via creoles, “immigrant Englishes” or EFL to jargons and hybrids; this is clearly a perspective which is immanent to a World Englishes perspective.

The obvious follow-up question is whether this jeopardizes the notion of English as an overarching concept. Clearly, with new varieties, emerging differences between dialects keep increasing, and especially in oral performance many of these varieties are not mutually intelligible. This is a property that characterizes not only “New Englishes,” however, but many conservative dialects of British or American English as well (perhaps even more so, since many ESL varieties have been judged as easily understandable, often due to a predominance of syllable-timed articulation habits). Written and formal performance tend to retain a high degree of norm-orientation and homogeneity. Ultimately, English is diversifying but not fragmenting. Adapting a notion culled from the business world, it has been described as “glocalizing”: going global on the one hand, but incorporating and developing local features and peculiarities on the other. The notion of World Englishes today describes a complex continuum of linguistic choices and types.

Further Reading

A fairly large number of introductions to World Englishes has been published by now; recommendable ones include Kirkpatrick (2007), Mesthrie and Bhatt (2008), Crystal (2009), and Schneider (2011). Kachru (1992) is a classic source in the Kachruvian paradigm. The same applies to Schneider (2003) and (2007), by now the mostly widely quoted presentations of the Dynamic Model, with the latter including extensive sociohistorical descriptions of 18 varieties; for further applications, see Buschfeld et al. (2014). The most systematic and comprehensive documentation of structural properties of many World Englishes is available in Kortmann et al. (2004) and Kortmann and Lunkenheimer (2012).


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