Structural changes to the English language

Used as a native, a second language by over 700 million people and as a foreign language by more than I billion (Galloway & Rose, 2015), English has spreadthroughout the world, especially 'not only the Global South (which has been gaining English speakers since the days of colonization) but also the Global North' (Garcia, 2010, p. 411). Indeed, the English language has significantly spread across ‘cultures, and cultures and languages have spread across English, enabling people to appropriate it differently to express global and local messages’ (Garcia, 2010, p. 409). As a result, a variety of different forms of English have been created and are gaining a rising number of new speakers, leading to the recent emergence of more World Englishes.

Over the last 25 years, this term World Englishes (henceforth WE), proposed by Kachru, has been widely used to refer to such varieties. According to Kachru and Smith (1985, p. 210), the use of the plural ‘Englishes’ ‘symbolizes the functional and formal variation in the language, and its international acculturation; for example, in West Africa, in Southern Africa, in East Africa, in South Asia, in Southeast Asia, in the West Indies, in the Philippines, and in the traditional English-using countries: the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand’. This notion, however, has been the object of debate as well. Some scholars criticise this paradigm for ‘its perceived “blindness to global forces”, its alleged adherence to a “natural” model of change and its purported “weak theorization of hybridity”’ (Pennycook, 2001, as cited in Bolton, 2005, p. 74). Pennycook (2003, pp. 519-520) also argues that WE has the tendency to display ‘the descriptive inadequacy of the three circles which mainly focus on “national” varieties of English’. This point is reinforced in Saraceni’s (2009) criticism that the WE paradigm overlooks the diversity of English spoken within a single nation, such as regional varieties of English, sociolects, and idiolects. Furthermore, Canagarajah (1999, p. 180) believes that Kachruvian WEs tend to

ignore the ideological implications of the legitimating periphery Englishes. In his attempt to systematise the periphery variants, he has to standardise the language [which then valorises] the educated versions of local English and leaving out many eccentric, hybrid forms of local English as unsystematic.

On the other hand, others conceptualise WE as a paradigm that captures the dynamic nature of English that has spread globally (Canagarajah, 2006), which calls for the equal recognition of all varieties of English. It also argues for ‘the importance of inclusivity and pluricentricity in approaches to the linguistics of English worldwide’ (Bolton, 2006, p. 204). Furthermore, Kachru (1997, p. 237) argues:

It is indeed vital to recognize that world Englishes represent certain linguistic, cultural and pragmatic realities and pluralism, and that pluralism is now an integral part of world Englishes and literature written in Englishes. The pluralism of English must be reflected in the approaches, both theoretical and applied, we adopt for understanding this unprecedented linguistic phenomenon.

Undoubtedly, in the contexts where English serves as an official language such as Singapore and India, people speak English among themselves. When this happens, ‘a set of indigenous patterns develops, a kind of patterns people find easier to handle' (Honna, 2000, p. 12). The more frequently English is used in such ways, the more those patterns will naturally develop into distinct Englishes. As a result, ‘these new Englishes have their own structural norms, their own characteristic features and even their communicative styles’ (Romaine, 1992, p. 254), a point which is the core focus of the following section.

Linguistic features

At a linguistic level, the study of varieties of English typically involves a description of distinctive features in terms of phonology, vocabulary', grammar and cultural meanings. For the scope of the literature review, this section presents a brief overview of those features in Asian Englishes such as Singaporean English, Philippine English, etc. (see Galloway & Rose, 2015, for more detailed examples).

Pronunciation features

These consist of ‘the lack of distinction between long and short vowels, the realisation of diphthongs as monophthongs, a reduction of vowel contrasts, consonant-cluster reduction and the use of syllable-timed intonation’ (Schneider, 2007, as cited in Bolton, 2012, p. 22). For example, Chinese and Thai English lack ending sounds as well as the distinction between long and short vowels (so that ‘eat’ is pronounced like ‘it’). In Singaporean English, a tendency towards syllable-timing is observed. Each syllable in a word may be given equal stress or a syllable that is unstressed in Received Pronunciation may' be stressed instead (e.g. Euro/>f). In addition, these consonant sounds such as /tf/ and /dj/, /f/ and /v/ and /s/ and /z/ are not differentiated in Philippine and Singaporean English.

 
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