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English in the world today
English in the world today

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What is English? (Part 4)

So what do these different examples in Activity 2 tell us about the nature of English around the world? One of the points I hope they illustrate is that the language is very diverse – that in different communities it has developed in such a way that its form is noticeably different.

You may feel, however, that some of the examples above are not necessarily ‘real’ English at all. Manglish, for instance, can be thought of as a mixture of English and a quite separate language. And while modern Scots and English developed from a common ancestor, Scots is now often viewed as a distinct language (although this decision is as much a political issue as it is a linguistic one). As I mentioned above, in these two cases there is a great deal of controversy about the status of these as independent or legitimate languages. So were you to make the argument that neither of them are really English at all, you wouldn’t be alone in doing so. The question that follows from this, though, is at what point do we decide to call these varieties a different language? At what point are they no longer ‘English’? Is the Arizonan example also a different language? Or is it similar enough to standard English that it should still be called English? In other words, where does the tipping point come? Given the fact that English is being used on an everyday basis in these diverse forms around the globe, how does one decide what counts as the core of the language? Is there a central version of the language which we should think of as authentic English? Or are each of these varieties equally valid systems of linguistic expression which just happen to be different? We can start to answer these questions by looking at the ways that languages exist in the world, and the distinctions that are made in describing them.