English Language
Kachru's 3 Concentric Circles

Kachru's 3 Concentric Circles

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The Widespread Influence of the English Language

The English language has a remarkable reach, with 1.35 billion speakers globally, including 350 million native speakers. It has established itself as a universal language, used in business, science and technology, social interactions, and various other areas. However, this was not always the case. Over centuries, English has spread across the world, influenced by significant events and interactions with different societies.

The Expansion of English

To understand the extent of English, we can refer to Kachru's Three Concentric Circles model. This model divides countries into three circles according to the importance of English in each region.

  • The Inner Circle: Countries where English is the primary language, spoken by the majority of the population.
  • The Outer Circle: Countries where English is used as a second language, alongside a native language, for both local and global communication.
  • The Expanding Circle: Countries where English is used as a foreign language, primarily for international communications.

The significance of English, both officially and in everyday life, varies for countries in each circle, depending on factors like historical relations, such as British colonization, and technological advancements during the Industrial Revolution. Additionally, the rise of the USA as a dominant economic, political, and cultural power has also contributed to the spread of English.

Currently, 67 countries recognize English as an official language, and it is used in different capacities in numerous other nations.

World Englishes: A Diverse Range

The widespread influence of English has led to the formation of several varieties of the language, known as "World Englishes." These include Canadian English, Indian English, and many others that have evolved to suit the linguistic needs of specific populations. These variations may differ in word choice, grammar, and semantics, but they are still mutually comprehensible to English speakers.

Some examples of World Englishes include:

  • American English
  • Singaporean English (Singlish)
  • British English
  • Caribbean English
  • Hindi English (Hinglish)
  • Irish English

While there may be numerous World Englishes, there is no definitive definition of what constitutes an official variety of a language. Therefore, an exact number cannot be determined.

The Concept of World Englishes

The term "World Englishes" was coined by linguist Braj Kachru (1932-2016) to refer to the vast range of global forms of English. His Three Concentric Circles model offers a perspective on the spread of World Englishes.

The Worldwide Spread of English

The widespread reach of English is often viewed through two distinct "diasporas," or movements of a population. The first diaspora occurred through migration of English-speaking individuals from the UK to countries like Canada, the USA, and Australia. English adapted to these new environments, influenced by contact with native populations, resulting in language evolution. These countries are now considered native English speakers and make up the inner circle in Kachru's model.

The second diaspora was a result of British colonization, spreading English to regions like Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, and the South Pacific Islands. English was primarily used for trade, including the slave trade, leading to the development of New Englishes, influenced by British and American English. Despite British influence, English is still used in these areas in social, educational, and official contexts to varying degrees.

In recent years, English has continued to spread worldwide, becoming the dominant language in fields such as science, economics, and popular culture. This is mainly due to the emergence of the USA as a political and economic powerhouse. Additionally, English dominates the internet, with most users accessing the web in English.

The Evolution of English: A Perspective Through Kachru's Three Circles Model

Kachru's Three Concentric Circles Model

  • The Inner Circle
  • The Outer Circle
  • The Expanding Circle

Kachru's model presents a unique way of understanding the global spread of English, dividing the world into three circles, each representing a distinct group of countries where English holds a certain level of significance.

The Three Circles Model: A Deeper Look into the Global Spread of English

Kachru's Three Circles Model offers a comprehensive insight into the global spread of English. It divides the world into three concentric circles, each representing a different aspect of English's influence across cultures and languages. Let's delve into each circle to gain a better understanding.

The Inner Circle

The Inner Circle consists of countries where English is the native language, such as the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, and Anglophone Canada. These countries are considered the "norm-providing" circle, setting the standards and traditions for the English language.

The Outer Circle

The Outer Circle comprises countries with their own native language, but where English holds significance in domains like business, trade, or social contexts. These countries were once colonies of the British Empire and are now considered the "norm-developing" circle as they further develop the norms set by the Inner Circle countries. Examples include India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Egypt.

The Expanding Circle

The Expanding Circle includes all other countries where English is not the dominant or official language. Here, English is seen as a foreign language or "Lingua Franca" - a common language between non-native speakers. These countries are "norm-dependent," relying on the Inner and Outer Circle for the standards and norms of the English language. Examples of countries in this circle include China, Brazil, Russia, and Japan.

Kachru's Three Circles: An Overview

In summary, Kachru's model helps us understand the global spread of English in terms of its types of spread, patterns of acquisition, and functional domains. Each circle represents a unique perspective on English's influence across cultures and languages.

The Limitations of Kachru's Model

Although Kachru's Three Circles Model has been widely accepted, it does have its limitations.

Over-Simplification of Classification

With the world becoming increasingly interconnected, people are no longer limited to their country of birth or language. They can communicate with individuals from diverse cultures and languages, making the classification solely based on geographic and historical factors too simplistic.

The Changing Status of English in the Outer Circle

English has been present in the Outer Circle countries for over two centuries, with some individuals considering it their first language in all aspects of life. This challenges the traditional definition of a native speaker and highlights the changing status of English in the Outer Circle.

The Changing Status of English in the Expanding Circle

The global status of the English language is continuously evolving, with the emergence of new varieties like 'Chinglish' (Chinese English) from the Expanding Circle. These varieties have their own unique characteristics and are developing their own norms and standards, which may not be recognized by Kachru's model.

Looking Beyond the Three Circles

In conclusion, Kachru's Three Concentric Circles model offers a valuable perspective on the global spread of English. However, with English's constantly changing status and the world's increasing interconnectedness, it is essential to look beyond these three circles and explore the evolving nature of English as a global language.

The Three Concentric Circles Model: An Overview by Kachru

The Three Concentric Circles model, created by linguist Braj Kachru, outlines the spread and use of English across different cultures and languages. The model identifies three distinct circles, each representing the level of importance and influence of the English language in different countries.

The Inner Circle

The first circle, known as the Inner Circle, consists of countries where English is the native language and holds the highest significance in society. This includes countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, among others.

The Outer Circle

In contrast, the Outer Circle comprises countries where English is not the native language but still holds significant importance. These countries are typically former British colonies, where English was introduced and used as a means of communication during the colonial era. Examples of countries in the Outer Circle are India, Singapore, and Nigeria.

The Expanding Circle

The final circle, known as the Expanding Circle, consists of countries where English is not the primary language and holds minimal significance, if any, in social, historical, or official contexts. However, English may be learned as a foreign language in these countries. Some examples of countries in this circle are China, Brazil, and Russia. These countries have their own distinct norms for the English language and are not considered 'norm-dependent' like the Inner and Outer Circles.

Criticism and Limitations

While Kachru's model provides a comprehensive view of English spread, it has been criticized for oversimplifying the complexity of the English language and disregarding the changing status of English in the Outer and Expanding Circles. Despite these limitations, it remains a relevant model for understanding the current state of English in the world.


Kachru, B. B. (1985). Standard, Codification and Sociolinguistic Realism: The English Language in the Outer Circle. In R. Quirk & H. G. Widdowson (eds.), English in the world: Teaching and learning the Language and Literatures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 11–30.

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