Understanding language and learning
Understanding language and learning

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Understanding language and learning

9 English as a global language and World Englishes

Another challenge to established paradigms prompted by globalisation and increased transnational and translingual communication can be found in the field of global English. Here, it is argued that because the number of English speakers has grown so considerably in recent decades, with estimates suggesting that non-native speakers of English now outnumber native speakers by at least three to one, new ways of thinking about norms and ownership are needed. One paradigm that has subsequently attracted criticism is Kachru’s three-circle model of English speakers (Kachru, 1992). When it appeared, this was itself a groundbreaking way of thinking the English language and stimulated a wealth of research under the heading ‘World Englishes’.

The field of ‘World Englishes’ developed towards the end of the twentieth century with the work of Braj Kachru and others to theoretically and empirically investigate the statuses and functions of the English language in various contexts around the world, and explore issues in the ownership of English. Kachru’s (1992) well-known three-circle model of English speakers has become an influential way of understanding the varieties and functions of different Englishes being used in the world. This can be broken down as follows:

  • The inner circle (norm providing) represents the traditional sources of English speaking, e.g. UK, USA, which have provided the language norms for English Language Teaching (ELT).
  • The outer circle (norm developing) which includes countries in Africa and Asia, where English is not necessarily people’s first language but has been important historically through colonisation.
  • The expanding circle of countries (norm dependent) where English has never had an official status, but is now important as an additional language or lingua franca.
Described image
Figure 9 Braj Kachru’s three-circle model of English speakers (Kachru, 1992)

The field of ‘World Englishes’ broke new ground in terms of challenging conventional notions of language ownership, and there is now a considerable literature on the existence of national or regional varieties of English, e.g. Indian English, Nigerian English, Malaysian English, Singapore English and so on. However, in response to the continued global spread of English, as well as the increasing diversity among communities within nation states as a result of globalisation, there have been criticisms launched against this work. In the following interview, Suresh Canagarajah questions whether Kachru’s model – which was developed at the end of the twentieth century – is still useful in the context of the twenty-first century.

Described image
Figure 10 Suresh Canagarajah

Activity 3

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Transcript: Suresh Canagarajah

I think everybody starts any discussion on World Englishes from Kachru … He did important service to English language and speakers of this language by I think for the first time showing that English is not one language. It's a heterogeneous language. It's a composite of many varieties of English and I think more importantly he showed that there are other new varieties that are evolving which are also standardised and he made the case that other varieties like, you know, Sri Lankan English, Indian English have their own rules. They have a grammar. So it was important breakthrough in linguistics to show that other varieties of English should be accepted as legitimate. I think it is a classic distinction of ESL countries in the outer circle and EFL kind of usage in the expanding circle.
And he also used a couple of other terms. I think he called the inner circle as non-providing and, you know, the norms come from there and go out to other communities. The outer circle he called non-developing because you know they are developing their own standards. But the third circle, the expanding circle, he called nondependent because, you know, he assumed that they borrow their norms from the inner circle because they don’t have a history of usage in their own country.
But things have changed since then. We find that there are a lot more uses of the English language outside the inner circle, you know, people who use English as an additional language are more in number and also the currency of English, its usage is much more among multilinguals. They are the people who need this language. So people think that the native speakers have lost their clout, you know, have lost their say over this language because others are using it much more and they are more importantly for their purposes. A lot of people wonder whether the inner circle is the inner circle any more. It has lost its status as norm providing. Youth all over the world are using English for their identity.
And there are also some articles I read recently from both Mexico and Germany where people say, you know, we have a variety of our own. So it looks like these countries are not norm dependent. They are evolving norms of their own. So in a sense a lot of people now doubt this tripartite distinction even native speakerhood is being critiqued and there are others outside the traditional native speaker countries, the USA, England, etc., who are claiming English as one of their local languages and part of their repertoire.
Now to be proficient in English from the way I look at the global scene is a person with a repertoire, a person who can shuttle between different varieties but then we come across a very practical problem. You can't teach all these varieties to everybody. So what I find interesting is to change the kind of paradigm of teaching English as we always taught in terms of a target language or a target variety and we had a good understanding of where we want these students to go, towards which model. But now I think that we need a repertoire rather than just one target variety. I think a lot of teachers are wondering whether it's better to teach students to become learners of English or people who can decipher the different varieties that are – that they are engaging with and accommodate those varieties, negotiate those varieties to outsiders so that we are not now thinking of variety X, variety Y etc. But developing in students a language awareness so that they know how varieties work or develop a social linguistic sensitivity to why people speak differently and then they can negotiate with these speakers.
So I think two things are happening. One is people, I at least am thinking in terms of developing language awareness. On the other hand we can also teach students negotiation strategies. So I'm thinking of moving away from grammar to strategies. So what I find is these are very traditional sociolinguistic constructs which might come to use like speech accommodation theory, code switching, things which will help us show empathy and show solidarity with another person but at the same time understand, you know, what they are saying. So what I think is, a lot of people this looks like a difficult kind of pedagogy where it goes against a lot of things we’ve been doing in language classrooms.
But I think this comes very naturally to multilinguals because they negotiate different languages in their communities. So I think multilinguals come with a readiness to negotiate. It's very intuitive. It's developed through social practice, you know, in their own communities. But eventually I … language teachers should learn from communication outside. We have a lot of research also, you know, recorded interactions between multilinguals they negotiate each other’s difference and sometimes come up with a third option. They may not end up with a native speaker, lexical items or grammatical structures but they end up using English in their own way. They develop their own norms and they are able to succeed in the business transacted in that particular location. Part of the assumption that there is multilinguals develop an intersubjective norm, you know. As they talk they negotiate and then come up with a usage, a particular structure or a word that native speakers won't use but it was just OK for them.
So there are a lot of scholars who feel English as a lingua franca is being negotiated in more dynamic ways. People are developing new norms on the spot as they talk to each other. And we have to if we are preparing students for those kinds of communication. I guess the shift will be from expecting students to look for grammar rules and, you know, the product of language, you know, in our particular system to work it out as a process in how do you communicate in a situation like this in English and then reflect on it to see what did you do in order to be understood and to understand each other. But I would say that it's still, because we've not been doing this kind of teaching, there's a lot more to be done. It's important to not only have high stakes kind of encounters where students are evaluated and assessed all the time.
Safe houses I've used it in terms of an intercultural classroom where there are students from different communities, formed hidden communities, to resolve some of their problems and they would talk about issues that seemed to be off task but when you look at them carefully they are framing the discussion in a way that’s relevant to them, you know. They are bringing things from popular culture or from music or, you know, cinema. And what I found was this at one level looks like deviating from the expectations of the teacher but at another level this is framing the discussion in their own terms and it's equally valid. Students need spaces to play, not always to be judged. They need spaces to be creative, to make mistakes, to have fun.
So I think in those sites that people will negotiate much more freely whereas if they sense that the teacher is looking for correctness they're not going to be negotiating on equal terms to try to understand other people and to make themselves understood. I think a lot of these things might not make sense if we look at language teaching and language through the glasses of traditional linguistics. So I think a lot of people are coming to the idea of a native speaker and using native speaker varieties as the norm might have to be re-thought for all kinds of reasons. We don’t know who the native speaker is now. I guess all of us are multilinguals in a sense. For a lot of us it's difficult to identify one language as sole or main language compared to the others. But more importantly I think for multilinguals it's the idea of a native speaker norm is unfair and even irrelevant because they are using English with other multilinguals to negotiate transactions at their own level so they are not necessarily thinking of satisfying a native speaker who is not present on that occasion. So that will affect assessment and so many other things, teaching materials.
In one sense it was easy to construct all these things because we had one variety as the target and as the norm but now when we are thinking in terms of repertoires and people negotiating one on one at an equal level the native speaker idea, you know, would be a hindrance it would, you know, stifle all this creativity. So people are thinking of newer terms. I have actually used in the summer recent articles used a term called ‘poorly lingual English’ to distinguish it from World English. World English is still oriented towards stable varieties of English; something that is stabilised, used for a long time. But what we find is the way people negotiate English varieties all the time now, there are new words and grammatical structures which are emergent and they are not wrong in the sense for that occasion it works perfectly well for them. You shuttle in between those languages to use them for your needs. And English is one of them.
It's one of those languages and with English, people might mix their own varieties of local languages. So we are bringing into question terms like inter language, error, competence, you know. I think competence where we are beginning to understand it's not perfect competence in every language but a social competence to use the language appropriately for your needs and functions. I think also the connection language is a separate system as, you know, English is different from Tamil and Brazilian or Portuguese, etc. I think people are beginning to acknowledge that language is so much more fluid. They interact with each other. They form a repertoire where English is part of other languages. So there are kind of major shifts in human linguistics about how we think of language. People are thinking of language as much more mixed and so that – sometimes kind of very disturbing kind of implications for the field.
End transcript: Suresh Canagarajah
Suresh Canagarajah
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Part 1

Listen to the audio interview with Suresh Canagarajah, conducted by one of the course authors. As you listen, consider what changes in the use of English across the world are calling into question Kachru’s tripartite model. Note them down in the text box.

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English is now spoken more extensively outside the inner circle, as an additional language. It is used globally in youth culture, and countries in the expanding circle are evolving their own norms and claiming English as one of their local languages. The norm-providing role of the inner circle and the status of ‘native speaker’ are therefore being questioned. Canagarajah suggests the use of the term ‘plurilingual English’ to better describe this context in which norms of English are not stable.

Part 2

How does Canagarajah suggest replacing the concepts underpinning ELT listed in the following table?

Original termNew term
target language
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linguistic proficiency
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native speaker norms
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language competence
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language as a system
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individual stable languages
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Words: 0
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Canagarajah suggests replacing terms as follows:

Original termNew term
target languagelanguage repertoire
linguistic proficiencylanguage awareness
grammarnegotiation strategies
native speaker normsintersubjective norms negotiated on the spot by multilinguals
language competencesocial competence
language as a systemlanguage as a process
individual stable languageslanguages as fluid, interactive, mixed

The criticisms charged at established theories of learning and language have been prompted by real-world changes such as migration and globalisation and a resultant increase of bi- and multilingualism and increase in the number of English-language users. Educational practitioners are still working on how to implement these changes into their practices. Some of the question which still need to be addressed are: according to what norms should English language learners be taught if non-native speakers outnumber native speakers? How does one reorient curricula and teaching strategies to align with the new terms suggested by Canagarajah above? To what extent do learners want and need to be taught according to more established norms and are we doing them a disservice by ignoring the status and prestige of established norms and varieties? The answers to such questions are complicated and are likely to emerge over time.


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