The 'Expanding Circle' of English-Speaking Countries

expanding circle of English
According to linguist David Crystal, the total number of English speakers in the expanding circle is between 500 million and one billion ( English as a Global Language, 2003). (John Lamb/Getty Images)

The expanding circle is made up of countries in which English has no special administrative status but is recognized as a lingua franca and is widely studied as a foreign language.

Countries in the expanding circle include China, Denmark, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Korea, and Sweden, among many others. According to linguist Diane Davies, recent research suggests that "some countries in the Expanding Circle have . . . begun to develop distinctive ways of using English, with the result that the language has an increasingly important functional range in these countries and is also a marker of identity in some contexts" (Varieties of Modern English: An Introduction, Routledge, 2013).

The expanding circle is one of the three concentric circles of World English described by linguist Braj Kachru in "Standards, Codification and Sociolinguistic Realism: The English Language in the Outer Circle" (1985). The labels inner, outer, and expanding circles represent the type of spread, the patterns of acquisition, and the functional allocation of the English language in diverse cultural contexts. Although these labels are imprecise and in some ways misleading, many scholars would agree with Paul Bruthiaux that they offer "a useful shorthand for classifying contexts of English world-wide"  ("Squaring the Circles" in the International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 2003).

Examples and Observations

  • "The spread of English in the Expanding Circle is largely a result of foreign language learning within the country. As in the Outer Circle, the range of proficiency in the language among the population is broad, with some having native-like fluency and others having only minimal familiarity with English. However, in the Expanding Circle, unlike the Outer Circle, there is no local model of English since the language does not have official status and, in Kachru's (1992) terms, has not become institutionalized with locally developed standards of use."
    (Sandra Lee McKay, Teaching English as an International Language: Rethinking Goals and Approaches. Oxford University Press, 2002)
  • Expanding Circle English and Lingua Franca English
    - "Despite the all-pervasive use of English throughout what many like to term the 'international community' and despite countless anecdotes about emerging varieties such as 'Euro-English,' professional linguists have so far shown only limited interest in describing 'lingua franca' English as a legitimate language variety. The received wisdom seems to be that only when English is a majority first language or an official additional language does it warrant description. . . . Expanding Circle English is not deemed worthy of such attention: users of English who have learned the language as a foreign language are expected to conform to Inner Circle norms, even if using English constitutes an important part of their lived experience and personal identity. No right to 'rotten English' for them, then. Quite the contrary: for Expanding Circle consumption, the main effort remains, as it has always been, to describe English as it is used among the British and American native speakers and then to 'distribute' (Widdowson 1997: 139) the resulting descriptions to those who speak English in nonnative contexts around the world."
    (Barbara Seidlhofer and Jennifer Jenkins, "English as a Lingua Franca and the Politics of Property." The Politics of English as a World Language, ed. by Christian Mair. Rodopi, 2003)
    - "I argue . . . that a lingua franca model is the most sensible model in those common and varied contexts where the learners' major reason for [studying] English is to communicate with other non-native speakers. . . . [U]ntil we are able to provide teachers and learners with adequate descriptions of lingua franca models, teachers and learners will have to continue to rely on either native-speaker or nativized models. We have seen how a native-speaker model, while appropriate for a minority of teachers and learners, is inappropriate for the majority for a range of linguistic, cultural and political reasons. A nativized model may be appropriate in Outer and in certain Expanding Circle countries, but this model also carries the disadvantage of cultural inappropriacy when learners require English as a lingua franca to communicate with other non-native speakers."
    (Andy Kirkpatrick, "Which Model of English: Native-Speaker, Nativized, or Lingua Franca?" English in the World: Global Rules, Global Roles, ed. by Rani Rubdy and Mario Saraceni. Continuum, 2006)

    Also Known As: extending circle