World Englishes Research Paper Starter

World Englishes

This article examines some of the questions and implications considered in the study of World Englishes. Recent estimates suggest that there are 508 million speakers of English around the world and that only a third of those speak English as a native language. The widespread use of one language by so many individuals who use it for both international and intra-national purposes is unprecedented. As English has been adopted by new populations of people, the mixing of English with other languages has led to the creation of new varieties of English. These new language varieties are of intense interest to linguists because of their differences; therefore, efforts are underway throughout the world to describe and categorize them. At the same time, sociolinguists have recognized that the spread of English has shifted traditional linguistic paradigms about the role of the native speaker in teaching and learning contexts. As English continues to evolve, linguists, policy planners, educators and others must confront questions related to the role of Standard and nativized varieties of English in their relative contexts.

Keywords Convergence; Dialect; Divergence; English as a Second Language (ESL); English Language History; English Varieties; Inner Circle Countries; Language Varieties; Lingua Franca; Link Language; Linguistic Change; Outer Circle Countries

English as a Second Language: World Englishes


The history of English begins somewhere around 450 BC. Exact dates and places are subjects of debate, but around this time, Germanic tribes began to move into what is now England and an "Anglo-Saxon" civilization was born. The language of this civilization developed into "Old English" a complex form of English that bears little resemblance to today's modern varieties. English remained the prominent language of England until the Norman Conquest of 1066 AD. At that time, French-speaking conquerors established French as the language of power in the region. During the next 200 years, French and English intermingled in such a way that when English kings regained power, English had evolved into a new form that linguists now call "Middle English." A few hundred years later, Modern English was born, taking root somewhere around the 1600s (King, 2006).

From this abbreviated history, an important observation can be made in that the English language has continuously undergone changes. Through contact with speakers of other languages, new words have entered the language. For instance, words such as "legal" "govern" "judge" and "defend" are taken from French, bestowed on English during the time King William ruled the English courts. This process, called borrowing (in which words from one language are adopted for use in another language) is just one of several processes that are known to create linguistic change when two languages come into contact. Other processes such as convergence, where two languages or dialects become more similar, and divergence, where two similar language varieties become distinct and unintelligible to one another, have also contributed to the evolution of English. Along with lexical additions, changes have also come at the phonological, syntactical, morphological and grammatical levels (King, 2006).

Though early changes were easily classified into three progressively simpler variations – from Old to Middle to Modern English – today, an increasingly globalized world connected through an English-dominated media has spawned the creation of multiple new English varieties. Linguists now point to distinct varieties in regions as diverse as Singapore, Nigeria, Ireland and the Caribbean, just to name a few. These World Englishes are the subject of intense interest by linguists who seek to describe, record and classify the new forms. Some of the common categories of variants, as described by Melchers and Shaw (2003), follow:


The number of divergent accents is on the rise. Accent refers to the way that individuals pronounce words. Variations in pronunciation include differences in the way that vowels sound. Many accent varieties arise because certain English sounds (such as the th in thin and the ) are difficult for some speakers around the world to pronounce.


Because written language is more standardized than spoken language due to the availability of dictionaries, there are fewer variations in this category. However, one familiar case is exhibited in the differences between British and American spellings such as traveled vs. travelled or gray vs. grey. Many of these differences were proposed and standardized by Noah Webster, whose dictionary was produced in 1789. One of its purposes was to establish an independent, national variety of English.


As with spelling, there are fewer variations in grammar, but some of the differences include changes in the use of auxiliaries such as using Do in questions and changes in the use of verb forms.

Lexical Items

One of the major variational differences is the creation of new words and new meanings for words. Words can be added through the process of borrowing where English speakers take the name for something in another language and use it verbatim. (e.g., in China, quanxi is used for relationship or connection). New words can be created by one of three word-forming processes:

• Compounding, or putting two separate words together to get a new word (e.g., the Japanese coined "walkman")

• Derivation, which involves adding affixes to an old word to get a new one (e.g., muffle, muffler )

• Applying an old word to a new concept (e.g., Americans and British speakers both speak of robins, but when they do, they describe different birds)

Finally, words may differ because at one time, two words existed for the same idea, but when the languages separated, one form dominated in one area and the other form dominated in the other (e.g., railway vs. railroad in Britain vs. the U.S.).

Further Insights

The spread of English to nearly every corner of the globe has given English an unprecedented number of non-native users. Figures vary, but estimates place the number of English speakers at somewhere around 508 million people. Native speakers are thought to account for one-third of these speakers while the vast majority are speaking English as a second language (Gordon, 2005). The unparalleled situation of having more non-native speakers than native speakers of the language has spawned questions about the potential linguistic and sociolinguistic impact on the world. For instance, some of the questions that arise include:

• Is the world witnessing the birth of one World English that is developing multiple geographical and social varieties or are multiple Englishes, deserving of autonomous recognition in their own right, now forming in the same way that Latin diverged into French, Italian, Spanish, etc?

• What are the specific characteristics of the new varieties?

• If English is to be a lingua franca, or language for specific international functions, should there be a recognized Standard English that users should learn?

• What variety or varieties of English should be taught in the classroom?

• What will the long-range impact of English be on the survival and use of other languages?

The Inner Circle, the Outer Circle

In order to investigate these and other potential consequences of the widespread use of English, Kachru (1985) proposed viewing the expansion of English in a model consisting of three concentric circles. The three circles illustrate the "types of spread, patterns of acquisition and the functional domains in which English is used across cultures and languages" (p. 12). In the Inner Circle are countries where English is the primary language. These include the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Outer Circle represents countries where English became institutionalized as a consequence of a political history involving colonization by one of the Inner Circle countries. Outer Circle countries are multilingual societies where English often has official status in government and education. In these countries, the use of English has depth and range, meaning that many users at different levels of society use English within a...

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