BY ALIXANDER HABAN ESCOTE
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), about five to seven million people out of the world’s 500 million population spoke English. Today, there are more non-native speakers than native speakers, and English has become a linguistic apparatus, a global medium with local messages and identities. It is also widely spoken by less than two billion people worldwide (Hohenthal 1, Are Immigration Preferences for English Speakers Racist? 1).
English has deeply penetrated in 60 countries and this resulted to native and non-native varieties. The development of new varieties, also called “new Englishes” or “world Englishes,” is connected with historical, sociolinguistic, and political and educational contexts. New Englishes have their own context of usage and function, and they have also affected “old Englishes” or native varieties of English (Hohenthal 3).
In his seminal papers and miscellaneous writings, Braj Kachru discussed the spread of English around the world in terms of three concentric circles: the Inner Circle, the Outer Circle, and the Expanding Circle. Annika Hohenthal explained that the concentric circles represent different ways where English has been acquired and is currently used (The Spread of English Around the World 1). Judy Yoneaka pointed out that the concentric circles fight for equal recognition of all English varieties no matter how they are classified and no matter where they are found in the world (4). In Kachru’s words, “the concepts of the three concentric circles helps us in understanding the pluralism and the institutionalization of English across cultures and languages” (7).
According to Kachru, the inner circle refers to traditional historical and sociolinguistic origins of English where it is used as a first or native language—Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States—with about 400 million speakers, almost 70 percent of which are from the United States (The New Englishes 1, English as International Language 7).
On the other hand, the outer circle includes countries colonized by Britain and the United States where English is spoken as a second language and plays an important historical and governmental role in multilingual settings like India, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Jamaica, Zambia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Bangladesh, South Africa, the Philippines, among other countries in the world, with more than 400 million speakers (The New Englishes 1, English as an International Language 7).
Not colonized by Britain and the United States, countries in the Expanding Circle did not institutionalize English as an official language but recognized the importance of English as a foreign language. These countries includes Israel, Japan, China, Egypt, Korea, Nepal, Russia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Western Europe, Caribbean countries, and the South African continent with more than one billion speakers (The Spread of English Around the World 2).
Hohenthal explained that the term “new Englishes” is used for “diaspora varieties” that have evolved from the Outer Circle. In historical and sociolinguistic sense, these varieties, although not relatively new, are called “new Englishes” because it is only recently that they were linguistically, and literature wise, recognized and institutionalized, although they have a long history of acculturation in historical, sociolinguistic, and political and educational contexts different from the Englishes of the Inner Circle (The Spread of English Around the World 3).
The spread of English is closely related to the expansion of the British Empire (English Language 1). In the Nineteenth Century and in the early Twentieth Century, Britain became one of the world’s leading trading and industrial nations and one of the world’s biggest colonial and military powers (Dürmüller 16). Consequently, British settlers, soldiers, merchants, and administrators carried their language to every continent (English Language 1).
In the middle of the Seventeenth Century, Britain completely conquered Ireland and became its first colony in Europe. The British Empire then took control of India and Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand, North America and the Caribbean, and other large areas in the African continent. The British Empire also controlled strategic ports and islands in almost every corner of the world from Malta, Cyprus, and Gibraltar to Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Mediterranean (English Language 2).
The British Empire’s continuing expansion in Asia, Africa, and the Oceania helped spread English beyond the original English-speaking colonies. Even though the United States colonized Guam, Alaska, Hawaii, the Philippines, and across the North American continent, Britain had already colonized about one quarter of the world by 1918 (English as an International Language 8).
In the second half of the Twentieth Century, American related factors encouraged the spread of English: the military and the economic powers of the United States, the affiliation of the world with much American culture and civilization, the concentration of scientific and technological advances in American universities and corporations, and the development of information superhighway and of new communication technologies like telegraphy, the Internet, and wireless telephony (Dürmüller 17).
According to Kachru, there are two types of linguistic communities: the norm-providing varieties with English as a native and a second language and the norm-dependent varieties with English as a foreign language or an international language (Kachru 9, Yoneaka 69).
In “Englishes in Asia,” Judy Yoneaka enumerated five criteria to define what makes an English variety: (1) words and phrases are coined to express key features of the social and physical environment; (2) standard and recognizable pattern of pronunciation is handed down from one generation to another generation; (3) literatures were written without apology in the native variety; (4) the variety is peculiar because of the history of the language in the speech community; and (5) dictionaries, style guides, and reference materials are published to show people in the speech community what is right and what is wrong (70).
The first two criteria are sufficient to define English as foreign language varieties, while the latter three differentiate English as a second language from English as a foreign language, providing their independence to create their own norms and standards. Kachru called English as a second language as “functionally native” for the expression of national identity and for communication across cultural and sociolinguistic boundaries (Yoneaka 71).
As regards to the definition that English as a second language is “functionally native,” Kachru said that the “distinction that has been drawn conventionally between native speakers and non-native speakers is becoming blurred and increasingly difficult to operationalize” (qtd. in Yoneaka 90). In addition, Yoneaka said that world Englishes reject the traditional dichotomy of native and non-native varieties and replaces it with pluricentric and multicultural English in a spirit of equality and shared communicative responsibility (90).
This shift to terminology, i. e., from English to Englishes or new Englishes or world Englishes, has been full of conflicts. In Kachru’s words, “this terminological feud is not innocent; it is loaded with ideologies, economic interests, and strategies of power” (qtd. in Singh 20). This was so, Amarjit Singh explained, because language has always been a fundamental position of struggle for social, cultural, political, and economic control (21).
POLITICAL AND EDUCATIONAL CONTEXTS
According to Kachru, the spread of new Englishes was through the classroom, at least initially (The New Englishes 13). In Southeast Asia for example, given the diversity of official languages and sociolinguistic profiles, English is taught in classrooms because government policies promulgated it, making oral and written communication possible. Although each country has its own reasons for teaching and learning English, the language is spread in the region through education and other means (Ho 6).
Unlike Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Lao People’s Democratic Republic where English is a foreign language, English in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Brunei Darussalam, is a second, if not official, language, and significantly, is associated strongly with their colonial past and history. Generally speaking, children in these countries learn English early in primary schools or even in preparatory schools. Except in Malaysia, English is the medium of instruction in most subjects, if not in all subjects, except other language subjects (Ho 7-8).
In the Philippines, English is a second language and is maintained as a language of international communication. It is taught as a compulsory subject and is a medium of instruction in all subjects from primary to tertiary schools. Filipino is propagated as a language of literacy and scholarly discourse and a linguistic symbol of national unity and identity (Ho 33).
N. B. This feature article was written using the Modern Language Association documentation format. List of works cited are available upon request.