The World Englishes

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The world has in the recent past experienced the spread of English as the language of communication and therefore earning itself the title of a global language. The spread of the English language has however stimulated interesting and controversial debate about the status and varieties of English which are commonly referred to as World Englishes (Kilickaya, 2009). While attempting to define World Englishes linguistic scholars such as Kachru described it as the language that has been indigenized in other countries such as India, Singapore, and Nigeria. Kachru, therefore, used the world to divide English into three concentric circles; they include the inner circle, outer circle, and the expanding circle. This paper will, therefore, discuss the three concentric circles of English and how they spread to various parts of the world and why it is essential for teachers of the 21st century to be aware of multiliteracies and language varieties.

To have a precise understanding of the various varieties of world Englishes, it is necessary first of all to understand the origin of English and how it spread to various parts of the world. According to studies, English originated from Northern Europe and arrived in England in the fifth century and then began spreading to other isles of England such as Wales, Cornwall, Cumbria and southern Scotland (Crystal, 2003). According to Crystal, the spread of English within the British Isles was insignificant and more localized. However, the significant progress of the English language in becoming a global language started in the sixteenth century when it spread into North America when English settlers began settling in America.

Crystal (2003) continue to state that America’s populations of English settlers had risen to four million in 1790 and shoot to over fifty million a century later. Crystal, however, states that it was not only England that dictated the direction that the English language was to take in America, present-day USA since there were also other immigrants such as the Spanish, French, Germans, and Africans. Studies continue to indicate that within one or two generations of arrival in America, most families had started speaking English through assimilation which is a natural process. The natural assimilation process, therefore, saw the English language become the mother tongue and first language in America. This could be proved by the 1990 census which showed that 86% of the American population spoke English at home. The same scenario occurred in Canada due to English-speaking settlers migrating to Canada direct from England and others from America. It is, therefore, due to assimilation and acquisition of English as the first language by the immigrants that America and Canada belong to the inner circle according to Kachru’s classification of World Englishes (Crystal, 2003).

The outer circle centric according to Kachru comprised of former British colonies such as India, Africa, Nigeria, Australia and Newzealand. For instance, studies show that the spread of English to Australia and Newzealand is attributable to emergence of English settlers into the southern hemisphere (Crystal, 2003). Studies however prove that despite the fact that majority of the settlers in Australia were from the British Isles and that they greatly influenced the language, it is also evident that many settlers came from Ireland and London hence the feature of Cockney accent of London and the brogue of Irish English can be traced in the speech patterns heard in Australia today. The English language also continued to spread into other regions following the British exploration and colonization of these regions. An example of countries where English became a national language following colonization include; Southern Asia, South Africa, and other African colonies such as Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia and Uganda among many countries (Crystal, 2003). In these countries English is taught as a second language since they have their own indigenous languages and that’s why Kachru refers to them as the outer circle countries.

The last concentric circle of the English Language is the expanding circle where English is becoming an important language in business, science, technology, and education. The expanding circle is comprised of countries such as China, Japan, and Turkey. One of the major reasons why these countries have adopted English as a language of doing business is due to America’s influential economic and political power (Bolton, 2012).

Following the spread of English, the language therefore ceased to be the sole possession of English several years ago. Studies show that not even USA that boasts the world’s largest English speaking population of about 20% can claim sole ownership of English. The lack of ownership and restriction on the usage of the English language by any one country or governing body, makes it deserve the title ‘global language’. Studies, therefore, show that the spread of English in the world is no longer under the control of the native speakers in England and America (Crystal, 2003).

Since the English language has spread to various regions and becoming a global language, studies now show that there are an almost equal number of speakers who speak English as the first language and those who speak it as the second language who are estimated to be 400 million people.  Studies, however, indicate that the outer circle countries have a combined higher growth rate of English speakers. For instance, in a country like India, there are as many English speakers as there are in England (Crystal, 2003).

The continued spread and acquisition of English in many countries have exposed the English language to linguistic change. This effect can be felt due to the emergence of new varieties of English in various parts of the world where the language has taken root hence the emergence of the term new Englishes in reference to the different varieties. The most popular example of different varieties of English is the American and British English. According to Crystal the American and British Englishes started diverging as soon as the first settlers arrived in America. For instance, by the time Noah Webster was writing his dictionaries, several words were known in America but not in Britain and that spellings and pronunciation of some words were in the process of change and today there are numerous differences between British and American English (Crystal, 2003).

Similar to American and British English distinctiveness, many distinctive forms can also be identified in different Englishes of inner circle countries. Such distinctiveness can be felt in the form of Australian English, New Zealand English, Canadian English, South African English, Caribbean English, and, within Britain, Irish, Scots, and Welsh English (Crystal, 2003). Several varieties of English have also grown in the outer circle countries especially during the postcolonial period. It is therefore for that reason that we speak of African, Asian, and Caribbean Englishes (Bolton, 2012).  For instance, the West African English is different from the East African English. There is also the South Asian English found in countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Another English variety is also emerging in the Caribbean and some parts of south-east Asia, like Singapore (Crystal, 2003).

Similar to other languages of the world, English also has a cultural specificity since it is an exponent of the Western Judeo-Christian tradition. Following its cultural orientation with the Western Judeo-Christian tradition, English is believed to interfere with the native socio-cultural traditions in Asia and Africa (Kachru, 1990). There is, however, another school of thought that has a non-culture-specific view of the English language. This group argues that English is distinct from other languages because of international demands made on it and therefore it gives extended meaning to particular words beyond their cultural specific connotations. Kachru argues that in spite of the two distinct opinions about the cultural specificity of the English language, most scholars are of the opinion that the culture-specificity of English is an essential characteristic of the language and that the position of the language is diluted by the non-cultural- specific view of the language. For instance, studies show that opposers of English in outer circle countries use culture-specificity arguing that the use of English is an intrusion into their native cultures. The group therefore also considers English as an alien language since it is not part of the linguistic stock of the region and it represents a culture that is alien to the region’s socio-cultural traditions.  According to Kachru, the strength of English is not in its cultural-specificity or non-cultural-specificity, rather in its multi-cultural specificity revealed in its formal and functional characteristics like in West Africa, South Asia, and the Philippines. The English language, therefore, gets distinct cultural identities in these regions. Since 1930, the English Language has had big impacts on a significant number people from various parts of the world. It is believed that English has created a special group of people who boast greater intellectual authority in several areas of language use (Kachru, 1990).

English is currently considered as the best communication option for people from different language backgrounds, and therefore it is referred to as English as an international language or English as a Lingua Franca. The expansion of English and the existence of its different varieties have led to the emergence of the question of teaching and teacher education. It is often difficult for English teachers to decide on the kind of English variety to be taught since most varieties are mutually unintelligible (Smith, 1992). For example, Singlish, the English variety spoken in Singapore has some unique features, and therefore it is considered as incomprehensible with other Englishes spoken in outside Singapore (McArthur, 2004).The existence of such unique features in Singlish makes it difficult for Singapore learners to communicate with other English speakers outside Singapore. Following the difficulties of selecting the English variety to teach, English language teachers are therefore encouraged to practice different types that exist and then use a balanced approach to teaching the English (Farrell and Martin, 2009).  It is, therefore, necessary that English teachers equip themselves with various English varieties and teach their students English to enable them to communicate across cultures and at the same time understand and tolerate multiple accents and varieties (Kilickaya, 2009).

Having learnt to speak the English language, it is also essential for teachers in the 21st century to be aware of multi-literacies and language variation. It is, however, necessary to, first of all, understand what literacy is and language is. The word literacy can be used in various ways, however in this discussion literacy is described as the ability to read and write the human language (Paul and Hayes, 2011). Literacy is, therefore, is a delivery system for the language.  Having understood what literacy is and since it is connected to language, it is also essential to understand what language is. Paul and Hayes (2011), describe language as the set of social conventions that communicate meaning by combining words, phrases, clauses, and sentences. Paul and Hayes further state that after the combination of words have formed language, this language is expressed through speech, thought, signing, or writing. There are however different varieties of language according to Paul and Hay; they include oral, thought or signed language. Written language is also another form of language though a latecomer and it is often used to express oral or signed language.

Upon defining literacy as the ability to read and write, it is, however, important to note that there are other forms of literacies apart from print literacy. These forms of literacies are often called multiliteracies. Before children attend school, they are already equipped with a vast array of literacy background since they are exposed to different literacies by their families (Ljungdah and March, 2014). Children nowadays can learn and understand the world not only from written words but also by interacting with other forms of literacies such as visual, audio, digital and multimedia texts (Unsworth, 2001).  It is also notable that before children attend school, they can learn oral language proficiently and have already mastered its grammar. Therefore when children attend school, the essential task of their teachers is to teach them how to read and write (Ljungdah and March, 2014). In addition to teaching children how to read and write, it is also essential for teachers in the 21st century to be aware of multi-literacies and language varieties and use them as an integral part of everyday classroom activities. There are a few reasons why it is essential for teachers to be aware of the multiliteracies and language varieties (Green, 2006).

One of the reasons is that it is necessary for the classroom to retain relevance to children’s lives outside the classroom. The second reason is that by being aware of other literacies apart from print literacy, the teacher will be able to interpret an image to a child without manipulating it. Thirdly, teachers will be able to filter information from newspapers and magazines, from the Internet, from unsolicited email, from billboards, television, and radio and hence pass relevant information to children under their care (Green, 2006). Therefore by teachers acquitting themselves with other literacies will easily understand and interpret several language varieties for their children and therefore creating an enabling learning environment for the children.

The English language has spread to various parts of the world, and it is the most used language worldwide which has given the title of a global language. Since English is spoken in various parts of the world, various varieties of English have developed hence the title world Englishes. This has led to linguist scholars such as Kachru to categorize the Englishes in three concentric circles using the world, namely inner circle, outer circle and the expanding circle. There are also different varieties of English, they include, American English and British English within the inner circle and African, Asian and Caribbean English within the outer circle. The English language having spread vastly and the almost equal number of speakers of Englsh as the first language and those who speak it as a second language, no country or body can claim its ownership. Just like other languages English also has a cultural specificity since it is associated with the Western Judeo-Christian tradition. In the same manner that there are Englishes, there are also multiliteracies which include visual, audio, digital and multimedia texts children. Children use these literacies to understand the world, and therefore it is essential for teachers of the 21st centuries to be aware of these multiliteracies and language varieties to be able to understand and interpret various images and texts to children.


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Farrell, T. S., & Martin, S. (2009). To Teach Standard English or World Englishes? A Balanced Approach to Instruction (2).

Gee, J. P., Hayes, E., & (Firm). (2011). Language and learning in the digital age. Place of publication not identified: Distributed by Amazon Digital Services.

Green, D. (2006). Understanding language and language learning. Campbell, R. (ed.).

Kachru, B. B. (1990). World Englishes and applied linguistics. World Englishes, 9(1), 3-20. doi:10.1111/j.1467-971x.1990.tb00683.x

Kilickaya, F. (2009). World Englishes, English as an International Language and Applied Linguistics. English Language Teaching, 2(3). doi:10.5539/elt.v2n3p35

Ljungdahl, L., & March, P. (2014). The writing Development continuum. In Literacy: Reading, Writing and Children's Literature.

McArthur, T. 2003. The Oxford guide to world English. Oxford: Oxford University Press. –––. 2004. Singapore, grammar, and the teaching of ‘internationally acceptable English.’ English Today 20 (4): 13–19.

Smith, L. E. 1992. Spread of English and issues of intelligibility. In The other tongue: English across cultures, ed. B. B. Kachru, 2nd ed. 75–90. Chicago: University of Illinois

Unsworth, L. (2001). Teaching multiliteracies across the curriculum: Changing contexts of text and image in classroom practice. Maidenhead, Berkshire [England: Open University

August 21, 2023



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