New Englishes - Adapting the Language to Meet New Needs

Singapore skyline at dawn
Examples of New Englishes include Nigerian English, Singapore English, and Indian English. Martin Puddy / Getty Images

The term New Englishes refers to regional and national varieties of the English language used in places where it is not the mother tongue of the majority of the population. Also known as new varieties of English (NVEs), non-native varieties of English, and non-native institutionalized varieties of English.

New Englishes have certain formal properties (lexical, phonological, grammatical) that differ from those of British or American Standard English.

Examples of New Englishes include Nigerian English, Singapore English, and Indian English.

Examples and Observations

  • "Most adaptation in a New English relates to vocabulary, in the form of new words (borrowings--from several hundred language sources, in such areas as Nigeria), word-formations, word-meanings, collocations and idiomatic phrases. There are many cultural domains likely to motivate new words, as speakers find themselves adapting the language to meet fresh communicative needs."
    (David Crystal, English as a Global Language, 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2003)
  • "The pioneer in the study of New Englishes has been, without doubt, Braj B. Kachru, who with his 1983 book The Indianization of English initiated a tradition of describing non-native varieties of English. South Asian English remains a well-documented institutionalized second-language variety, yet the cases of Africa and South East Asia are by now also relatively well described."
    (Sandra Mollin, Euro-English: Assessing Variety Status. Gunter Narr Verlag, 2006)

    Characteristics of New English

    • "A term that has gained popularity is 'New English,' which Platt, Weber and Ho (1984) use to designate an English variety with the following characteristics:
      (a) It has developed through the education system (possibly even as a medium of education at a certain level), rather than as a first language of the home.
      (b) It has developed in an area where a native variety of English was not spoken by a majority of the population.
      (c) It is used for a range of functions (for example, letter-writing, government communications, literature, as a lingua franca within a country and in formal contexts).
      (d) It has become nativised, by developing a subset of rules which mark it as different from American or British English.
      Excluded from their designation New English are the 'Newer Englishes' of the British Isles (i.e. Scots and Celtic-influenced varieties like Hiberno-English); immigrant English; foreign English; pidgin and creole Englishes."
      (Rajend Mesthrie, English in Language Shift: The History, Structure, and Sociolinguistics of South African Indian English. Cambridge University Press, 1992)

      A Controversial Term

      • "The varieties of English spoken in outer circle countries have been called 'New Englishes,' but the term is controversial. Singh (1998) and Mufwene (2000) argue that it is meaningless, in so far as no linguistic characteristic is common to all and only 'New Englishes' and all varieties are recreated by children from a mixed pool of features, so all are 'new' in every generation. These points are certainly true, and it is important to avoid suggesting that the new (mainly non-native) varieties are inferior to the old (mainly native) ones. . . . Nevertheless, the Englishes of India, Nigeria, and Singapore and many other outer-circle countries do share a number of superficial linguistic characteristics which, taken together, make it convenient to describe them as a group separately from America, British, Australian, New Zealand, etc. varieties."
        (Gunnel Melchers and Philip Shaw, World Englishes: An Introduction. Arnold, 2003)

      Old Englishes, New Englishes, and English as a Foreign Language

      • "We can view the spread of English in terms of the 'old Englishes,' the 'new Englishes' and English as a foreign language variety, representing the types of spread, the patterns of acquisition and the functional domains in which English is used across cultures and languages. . . . The 'old varieties' of English, for example, might be traditionally described as British, American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, etc. The 'new Englishes' on the other hand have two major features, in that English is only one of two or more codes in the linguistic repertoire and that it has acquired an important status in the language of such multilingual nations. Also in functional terms the 'new Englishes' have extended their functional range in a variety of social, educational, administrative, and literary domains. Moreover they have acquired great depth in terms of users at different levels of society. India, Nigeria and Singapore would be examples of countries with 'new Englishes.' The third variety of English, that of English as a foreign language, has often been characterised by the fact that unlike the countries where we find the 'new Englishes' these countries do not necessarily have a history of colonisation by the users of the 'old Englishes' but use English as a necessary international language. Japan, Russia, China, Indonesia, Thailand, etc. would fall into this category."
        (Joseph Foley, Introduction to New Englishes: The Case of Singapore. Singapore University Press, 1988)