What is World English?

Little girl looking far away in thought
By the year 2025, according to some projections, the largest number of English speakers in the world will be in China. Images By Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images

The term World English (or World Englishes) refers to the English language as it is variously used throughout the world. Also known as international English and Global English.

The English language is now spoken in more than 100 countries. Varieties of World English include American English, Australian English, Babu English, Banglish, British English, Canadian English, Caribbean English, Chicano English, Chinese English, Denglish (Denglisch), Euro-English,Hinglish, Indian English, Irish English, Japanese English, New Zealand English, Nigerian English, Philippine English, Scottish English, Singapore English, South African English, Spanglish, Taglish, Welsh English, West African Pidgin English, and Zimbabwean English.

Linguist Braj Kachru has divided the varieties of World English into three concentric circles: inner, outer, and expanding. 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). For a simple graphic of Braj Kachru's circle model of World Englishes, visit page eight of the slideshow World Englishes: Approaches, Issues, and Resources.

Author Henry Hitchings has observed that the term World English "is still in use, but is contested by critics who believe it strikes too strong a note of dominance" (The Language Wars, 2011).

A Phase in the History of English

  • "World English has been defined as a phase in the history of the English language. This phase has witnessed the transformation of English from the mother tongue of a handful of nations to a language being used by far more speakers in non-mother tongue settings. The changes that have accompanied this spread--the multiplicity of varieties--result not from the faulty and imperfect learning of the non-mother tongue speakers, but from the nature of the process of microacquisition, language spread and change."
    (Janina Brutt-Griffler, World English. Multilingual, 2002)

    Standardized Patterns

    • "The global spread of English, its causes and consequences, have long been a focus of critical discussion. One of the main concerns has been that of standardization. This is also because, unlike other international languages such as Spanish and French, English lacks any official body setting and prescribing the norms of the language. This apparent linguistic anarchy has generated a tension between those who seek stability of the code through some form of convergence and the forces of linguistic diversity that are inevitably set in motion when new demands are made on a language that has assumed a global role of such immense proportions.

      "One consequence of the global predominance that English has gained over the last few decades is that today non-native speakers of English far outnumber its native speakers (Graddol 1997, Crystal 2003)."
      (Rani Rubdy and Mario Saraceni, Introduction to English in the World: Global Rules, Global Roles. Continuum, 2006)
    • "[A]lthough world English is varied, certain varieties and registers are fairly tightly controlled, often through standardized patterns of use . . .. Thus, there is a marked uniformity in the following arenas:(Tom McArthur, The Oxford Guide to World English. Oxford University Press, 2002)
       
      1. Airports
        In the public usage of international airports, where, on signboards, English is often twinned with other languages, and announcements are commonly in English or are multilingual including English
      2. Newspapers and periodicals
        English-language broadsheet newspapers and magazine-style periodicals, in which the texts are tightly edited . . .
      3. Broadcast media
        The programming of CNN, the BBC, and other especially TV news-and-views services, in which presentational formulas and formats are at least as crucial as in newspapers
      4. Computer use, email, and the Internet/Web
        In such computer and Internet services as those offered by Microsoft . . .."

    Teaching World English

    • "The UK needs to abandon its outdated attitudes to English and embrace new forms of the language to maintain its influence in the global market, the leftwing thinktank Demos said today. 

      "In a series of recommendations, the report, As you like it: Catching up in an age of global English, says that far from being corruptions of English, new versions of the language, such as 'Chinglish' and 'Singlish' (Chinese and Singaporean varieties of English) have values 'that we must learn to accommodate and relate to.'

      "It says the UK should focus English teaching on how the language is now used around the world, 'not according to arcane strictures of how it should be spoken and written.' . . .

      "The report's authors, Samuel Jones and Peter Bradwell, say change is vital if the UK wants to maintain its influence around the world. . . .

      "'We have retained ways of thinking about the English language that were more suited to empire than they are to a modern, globalised world and we are at risk of becoming outdated,' says the report."
      (Liz Ford, "UK Must Embrace 'Modern' English, Report Warns." The Guardian [UK], March 15, 2007)

      Alternate Spellings: world English