English or World Englishes? That is the question!

The spread of English: a global phenomenon

English Language Spread, Standard English, British Englishm, American English, English Speakers

Among the most significant and controversial phenomena of interest within the contemporary sociolinguistic scene, undoubtedly stands out that regarding the spread of English Language on a global scale. Infact, besides having monopolized the domain of international political and economic communication, English language nowadays plays an essential role even in the field of science and Information Technology.

For better understanding the extent of this phenomenon, we could make reference to some statistical data provided by British Council1 and reported by the British linguist David Graddol in The Future of English (2000), which clearly show that nowadays English is used, both in written and spoken communication, by over a billion and a half people worldwide.

In order to better identify the individuals listed in this enormous human cluster, we must necessarily perform some preliminar distinctions among the people who speak English as their own mother tongue (L1), those who make use of English Language as an additional institutional language and contextually employ it together with all the other languages present within their respective national borders (L2) and at the end the individuals who had the opportunity to study and learn it at school (English Foreign Language).

The distribution of English speakers worldwide

English Language Speakers

English as a native language (L1) is currently spoken by around 375 million people in those countries where it plays the role of unique national language, as it is for Great Britain, United States of America, Australia and New Zealand.

Approximately the same number of people use English as an additional institutional language (L2), especially in those territories of the former British colonies, as it can be clearly noticed in India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Cameroon etc.

The most significant number, however, remains the one represented by those individuals who have learned English as a foreign language (EFL) during their own educational carreer. It is estimated that this figure is supposed to reach over 750 million speakers and it is even expected to impressively increase in the coming decades.

All languages in the course of their existence are affected by continuous evolutionary processes, during which they undergo several considerable changes; as a consequence, also English language no longer mantains the same shape and features in all the areas concerned by its expansion.

According to the simple model proposed by the renown linguist Braj B. Kachru (1985) the spread of the English language can be functionally represented through the use of three concentric circles.

Modello dei tre cerchi concentrici della lingua inglese di B. Kachruintegrato con il numero di parlanti in milioni da David Crystal

Figura 1.1 Three Concentric Circles  model of English by B. Kachru (1985) integrated with the number of speakers expressed in millions by David Crystal (1997)2.

In the Inner Circle are grouped those nations where English, in addition to its role as the only national language, also represents the traditional foundations (Anglo Englishes or Older Englishes). This can be seen in United Kingdom, the United states of America, Republic of Irland, Australia and New Zealand.

The Outer Circle outlines instead the domain of the so called New Englishes (or non-Anglo Englishes) and includes those countries where English has an important institutional function, in conjunction with all the other linguistic realities actively present on each territory. This phenomenon can be seen as a consequence of the colonial heritage, as for instance it happens in India, Nigeria, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines and Bangladesh.

In the end we have the Expanding Circle also known as Extending Circle, which encompasses those nations where English Language is recognized as having a major role in the different contexts of international communication and therefore his teaching is strongly supported within their national educational policies, as it currently happens in Japan, Egypt, China, Germany, Italiy and so on.

If English as foreign language speakers (EFL) commonly use this language in international communication, for better understanding and make themselves understand by people belonging to a different linguistic environment, those who speak it as a second language (L2) usually use it in their daily intranational communication.

Those countries where English is used as a second Language (L2) often tent to develop some particular autonomous varieties of English, which are highly sensitive to the influence of other local languages with which they come into a daily contact, thus giving rise to the fascinating phenomenon of the so called New Englishes. This phenomenon is quite typical of those territories belonging to the former British colonies, such as some areas of South-East Asia, South Asia, Africa and the Caribean archipelago.

Although each territorial variety can autonomously evolve with an extraordinary vitality, every country follows its own canons of correctness, which are often considerably influenced by the respective colonial heritages. For this reason it is easier to notice the influence of British English in countries like India, Nigeria and South Africa, rather than in Liberia and the Philippine Islands, where American English is seen as the reference pattern par excellence.

A dettailed and practical overview, useful for the evaluation of the relation among the different geographical varieties of English, is offered by the famous Wheel Model developed by the talented Scottish linguist Tom McArthur.

Wheel Model di Tom McArthur (1987:97).

Fig. 1.2 Wheel Model of World Englishes by Tom McArthur (1987:97)4.

He starts from a central core to which he gives the name World Standard English, which, in turn, could be seen as an idealization of Written International English.

Obviously this idealization has been designed for a purely illustrative purpose, as it assumes an ideal situation in which there are no differences between British and American English in their respective written forms5.

The second ring of the wheel is instead composed by the 8 emerging regional standard varieties, which have the main function of standardizing the most common characteristics of all local varieties:

  1. Australian, New Zeland and South Pacific Standard English, from which come out: Antipodean English, Australian English, Aborigenal English, New Zeland English, Maori English e Tok Psin, Bislama/Beach La Mar etc.

  2. British and Irish Standard English, which standardizes the main characteristics of: BBC English, Scottish English, Scots, Norn, Welsh English, Hiberno-English, Irish English etc.

  3. American Standard English, from which are derived all emerging local varieties of: American English, Network Standard, Northern, Midland, Southern, Black English Vernacular, Gullah, Appalachian ed Indian English.

  4. Canadian Standard English, which incorporates: Canadian English, Quebec English, Frenglish/Franglais, Newfoundland English, Athabascan English, Inuit English etc.

  5. Caribbean Standard English, which includes the following local varieties: Caribbean English, Jamaican National Language, Barbadian/Bajan, Bahamian, Guyanese, Nicaraguan etc.

  6. West, Est and South(ern) African Standard(izing) English, within which are located: South African English, Tanzanian English, Kenyan English, West Afrikan Pidgin, Sierra Leone Krio, Cameroon English, Ghanaian English, Nigerian English etc.

  7. South Asian Standard(izing) English, to which are attributable local varieties as: Burmese English, Sri Lankan English, Bangladeshi English, Pakistani English ed Indian English etc.

  8. East Asian Standardizing English, which encompasses and standardizes the main features of: Hong Kong English, Singapore English, Chinese English, Japanese English etc.

In light of the above, rather than considering English language as a univocal linguistic reality, pervasively spread across the globe with the same characteristics with which it occurs in its places of origins, it would be far more appropriate to take note of the considerable impact, which through the centuries the cultural and linguistic traditions belonging to the various populations which adopted it exerted and still contiune excerting on it, identifying it more appropriately as a pluralistic linguistic reality. Its stucture could therefore be easily associated to a heterogeneous set consisting of all the different emerging local varieties of English such as: Singlish from Singapore, Hinglish from India, Chinglish active and vital in the People’s Republic of China as well as Spanglish, which is widely used both in the Spanish-speaking communities residing within the United States  and in almost all the Anglophone communities transplanted in Chile and Argentina.

Further Readings and Recommended Books

1Il British Council describes itself as an institution aimed to the promotion of cultural relations and the spread of British culture worldwide, in the sign of creativity and innovation.

2Crystal David, English as a Global Language, second edition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997, 2003, United Kingdom.

3Graddol David, The Future of English? A guide to forecasting the popularity of the English Language in the 21st century, The British Council, London, 1997, 2000, United Kingdom.

4Mesthrie Rajend, Bhat M. Rakesh, World Englishes the Study of New Linguistic Varieties, Key Topics in Sociolinguistics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008, United Kingdom.


6Lipski M. John, Varieties of Spanish in the United States, Georgetown Studies in Spanish Linguistics, Georgetown University Press, Washinghton, 2008, United States of America.

Dr. Biagio Faraci, traduttore tecnico, interprete di trattativa ed international web business consultant

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