World Englishes

Apart from the monolithic assumption in ELT of an equivalence between ‘native-speaker English’ and ‘Standard English’, there is also an assumption that English is used principally in the UK and USA (together with other nations where native speakers settled—Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and several Caribbean states—although these are rarely acknowledged).

But again the reality is more plurilithic. In a speech at Oxford University in England in 2005, the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, said the following:

"Of all the legacies of the Raj [British rule in India], none is more important than the English language and the modern school system. That is, if you leave out cricket! Of course, people here may not recognise the language we speak, but let me assure you that it is English! In indigenising English, as so many people have done in so many nations across the world, we have made the language oour own. Ourchoice of prepositions may not always be the Queen's English; we might occasionally split the infinitive; and we may drop an article here and add an extra one there. [...] Today, English in India is seen as just another Indian language."

All around the globe, the legacy of the British Empire (and colonization by the USA) has included the use of English, which in many parts has been ‘indigenized’: appropriated as a second language and taking its (often unequal) place in repertoires of local languages.

Since the 1980s, researchers have been studying and describing such World Englishes and their developing patterns of use. One of the foremost scholars of World Englishes is the Indian sociolinguist Braj Kachru, who proposed a classification of Englishes into three concentric circles (Kachru 1985): see Fig. 2.3.

 (EFL = English as a Foreign Language; ESL = English as a Second Language; ENL = English as a Native Language). (Source: YSJ adapted with permission from Hall et al. 2011: 41)

In Kachru’s original formulation of the model, whole countries, rather than individual users of English, were assigned to each circle. England and the former colonies it had settled (e.g. Scotland, Ireland, the USA and New Zealand) are in the ‘Inner Circle’. In the ‘Outer Circle’ are former colonies that used to be administered by Britain, for trade or exploitation, but were not settled by people from the British Isles (e.g. ‘colonial dependencies’ like India, Kenya, and Singapore). All other countries are in the ‘Expanding Circle’.

Inner Circle countries are, naturally, most closely associated with native speakers (ENL users), but to call them ‘English-speaking countries’ is perhaps too monolithic. In these countries one finds also:

  • many migrants from Outer and Expanding Circle countries (e.g. Punjabi in the UK)
  • indigenous native speakers of other languages (e.g. Maori in New Zealand)
  • speakers of other colonial languages (e.g. French in Canada)

In the post-colonial contexts of the Outer Circle, one finds many people who regularly use English as an second language (ESL users), in addition to their first language. English often has official status in the country, and may be used as the medium for government business or education, and often as an national lingua franca in multilingual countries. But again, the language is not necessarily used often by the majority of the population, and there may be a sizeable group of native speakers.

All the other countries are in the Expanding Circle, where it is assumed that English is used rarely—and in fact mostly in ELT contexts. Users are thought of as learners, and English is a foreign language (EFL). But once more, this is perhaps too monolithic an assumption. In Finland, for example, almost 100% of the population can communicate effectively in English, and many do so on a regular basis, in higher education, business, etc.

Next: Englishes in your part of the world