World Englishes

Full title: World Englishes: Implications for International Communication and English Language Teaching Author: Andy Kirkpatrick Publisher: Cambridge University Press Reviewed by: Eric Roth Do the English in England speak the same English as the Americans, the Jamaicans, the South Africans, the Australians, the Irish, and the Indians? Do they even speak the same English as […]
Reviewed for Teflnet by Eric Roth

Full title: World Englishes: Implications for International Communication and English Language Teaching
Author:
Andy Kirkpatrick
Publisher:
Cambridge University Press
Reviewed by:
Eric Roth

Do the English in England speak the same English as the Americans, the Jamaicans, the South Africans, the Australians, the Irish, and the Indians? Do they even speak the same English as they did 100 years ago before radio, television, and the internet? Should there be a global standard for all English speakers? Linguist Andy Kirkpatrick raises these and many other provocative questions in his exceptionally documented book “World Englishes: Implications for International Communication and English Language Teaching” published by Cambridge University Press. What does it mean if a majority of English speakers are actually English as a second language speakers? Can we actually assert that one version of English is more correct, formal, or proper than other forms? Are native speakers of English really the best English teachers for English language learners in developing countries?

The enclosed audio CD might be the best, brief introduction to the subject as you hear a wide diversity of voices and accents tell stories and read poems in …. English? Or is it Englishes? That’s the essential question that this scholarly primer on sociolinguistics poses. For instance, as an American English teacher, I had little problem understanding the woman from Charlotte, North Carolina who vividly described her childhood picking cotton or the Downeast Maine woman who switches accents and vocabulary depending on her audience. Yet I struggled – really struggled- to comprehend Africans, Caribbean Islanders, and Irish on this CD. If the goal is international communication, than many folks on the CD fail to communicate with English as an International language standard. Yet Kirkpatrick systematically argues that English is spoken in particular contexts to specific audiences. What is proper, Kirkpatrick contends, depends more on circumstances and purposes than arbitrary absolute standards with neo-colonial overtones. As a result Kirkpatrick, who teaches at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, finds notions of “correctness” of pronunciation, vocabulary, spelling, and even grammatical functions quite problematic and limited.

Divided into three parts (Framework, Variation and Varieties, and Implications), World Englishes provides detailed case studies of the spread and use of English in Britain, the United States, Australia, the Caribbean, Africa, and South-East Asia. He also has a fascinating chapter titled “Emerging Englishes: Hong Kong and China” where he speculates on possible future directions of the world’s latest lingua franca. Often surprising, these concise historical overviews highlight the political aspects of speaking English. As a result, Kirkpatrick suggests that English be looked from an “identity-communication continuum.” The author emphatically places greater importance on the right of individuals to speak their own version of English over the communication needs of listeners.

“English operates as a lingua franca at a number of different level, including local, national, regional, and internationally” notes Kirkpatrick. When second language speakers focus on their audiences, the author convincingly demonstrates many speakers often change their register, grammar, and cultural references (code-switching) for international audiences (rather than fellow nationals in English). They speak, the author contends, a different English – and that’s okay. Further, Kirkpatrick examines the evidence that English is a language killer, worries about the prioritizing of English over local languages, and notes that non-native English speakers face additional hurdles to publishing scholarly articles in English. Yet Kirkpatrick eventually concludes that “local demand for English is at least as powerful a cause for its spread any imperial or post-imperial imposition on its unwilling speakers.” (p.183)

What are the classroom applications of this Global Englishes analysis? First, the author notes that the vast majority of English language learners will never actually work or live in an English speaking country. Therefore, he finds the advantages of upholding an “impossible” ideal of standardized English to be limited and a challenge to local, well-trained teachers. Further, he favors the hiring and promotion of local English teachers over native speaking English teachers. “Bilingual students benefit from and respect bilingual teachers” (p.187) to counter the prejudice against local model of World English. International English teachers from Australia, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom need not apply!

Was I persuaded that World Englishes is a healthier concept than International English for an emerging 21st global culture? No, not really. But I’m grateful that I had the chance to read this scholarly work, learn about many social environments where English is taught, and reflect on the needs of English teachers working in developing nations.

For better or for worse, World Englishes makes a powerful case for a politically correct, and increasingly influential, perspective. English language teachers, immigration activists, linguistics, and standardized test creators will certainly find the 257-page book fascinating. English teachers fond of grammar exercises, however, might well be offended- perhaps even horrified- by his tolerance for alternative word order. This critically acclaimed book, however, deserves to be widely read and debated by both English teaching professionals and language policy experts.

Reviewed for Teflnet by Eric Roth
March 2009 | Filed under Linguistics
Eric H. Roth teaches English at the University of Southern California to international students, and occasionally writes book reviews and articles for TEFL.net. He is also the co-author of the ESL conversation textbook Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics.

3 Comments on “World Englishes”

  1. Ruby G. Says:

    This book would definitely be of interest to anthropologists as well. This review has certainly caught my attention since this is a problem faced among other languages, especially those that are considered Indigenous to the Americas. In my experience, Mixtec and Nahuatl is commonly referred to as dialects when they should be called languages. The reasoning behind categorizing them as dialects is that they are not spoken as they were 500 years ago. But American English is a variant of the English spoken in England, and is it called a dialect? No. Personally I think that languages spoken by marginalized peoples are discriminated against… and there are people who are arguing for the same thing as Andy Kirkpatrick in Latin America, but for the written word. World Englishes and one International English shouldn’t be put against each other; both sides of the argument might be happy considering International English for the written word and World Englishes for the spoken word. Now I’m going to see if I can get the book and read it alongside my copy of Writing Without Words: Alternative Literacies in Mesoamerica and the Andes.

  2. Vineet Singh Says:

    This is one of the topics that lay in closet for a long time and I must complement Andy KirkPatrick and Eric Roth to dwell with such candidness.

    English has evolved from just a mere language to a tool of democracy. It can be considered a unifying language. As with anything that has a global reach and implication – one standard for English everywhere will not be practical.

    English at local levels and for non-native speakers has to be encouraged and propagated.
    I look forward to reading this book.

  3. Ismail Ali Harahap Says:

    This topic, World Englishes, will be discussed at LIA International Conference 2010, which is going to be held in Bali, Indonesia, April 28-30, 2010.

    Topic areas focus on the implications of World Englishes in the teaching and learning of English in different countries with various cultural background.

    I look forward to reading this book before the conference.

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