English Language
World Englishes

World Englishes

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The Diverse World of English Varieties

Do you believe there are only a handful of English variations? Think again. With its widespread use, experts suggest that there are actually hundreds of unique English varieties spoken globally. While British English and Standard American English are the most well-known, there are numerous English-speaking nations you may not be aware of.

What are World Englishes?

The term "World Englishes" encompasses all the different forms of English used worldwide. As the language travels from one location to another, it adapts and evolves to meet the demands of its users. With an estimated 1.35 billion speakers, English makes up nearly 20% of the world's population. However, it can vary in terms of vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, and accents, leading some to view it as a plural concept - Englishes.

Have you ever heard of Singlish (Singaporean English), Indian English, or Caribbean English? These are just a few official varieties of English with their own unique characteristics.

The Impact of Colonialism and Imperialism

The spread of the English language can be traced back to British colonialism and imperialism. As communities adopted and modified the language to fit their needs, a multitude of new English variations emerged. Today, English continues to expand globally due to globalization, its use as a universal language for non-native speakers, and its prevalence on the internet.

The History of English

The origins of the English language can be traced back to the fifth century when Germanic tribes conquered Britain and formed Old English. In 1066, the Normans invaded, bringing a form of French that influenced Middle English. The formation of Modern English as we know it today is a result of two significant factors: the emergence of modern printing and British colonization in the 16th century, which extended English to the New World (the Americas, Australasia, and South Africa).

Throughout this period, the English language underwent significant changes and adaptations. If you tried to read an English book from the 13th century today, it would likely be a challenge.

The Emergence of New English Varieties

As British colonization and imperialism spread across the globe, English also reached Africa, South and Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific Islands. As the language merged with local dialects, new English varieties emerged, such as pidgins and creoles.

Pidgins and Creoles

A pidgin is a simplified form of language that develops when people with different native tongues communicate with each other. Typically, pidgins have a smaller vocabulary and basic grammar. If a pidgin evolves into a more complex language with its own syntax and grammar, it becomes a creole. Some well-known English-based creoles include Jamaican Patois, Gullah (from islands in the USA), and Singlish (Singaporean English). Most English-based creoles originated from British colonization and the transatlantic slave trade.

The Influence of the USA

By the early 20th century, Britain's political, economic, and industrial power began to decline, and the USA emerged as a superpower. With its prominence and influence, English spread even further around the world. As the world began to collaborate through international organizations like the United Nations, English was selected as one of the official working languages. The USA's cultural impact also aided in the diffusion of English through movies, advertisements, music, and broadcasting.

The Impact of the Internet

The final major contributor to the global spread of English is the internet. The credit for the invention of the internet goes to two American men, making English the leading language used on the internet. By the mid-1990s, almost 80% of online content was in English, but that percentage has since decreased to approximately 50%.

The Worldwide Use of English Today

Today, English is recognized as an official language in 67 different countries, and its global reach shows no signs of slowing down. As its varieties continue to evolve and adapt to local needs, the English language will undoubtedly continue to play a crucial role as a world language.

The Global Presence of English Language: Understanding Kachru's Three Circles Model

The use of English language varies significantly across different countries, with some countries using it primarily for administrative and educational purposes, while others have adopted it as their official majority language.

Braj Kachru, a reputable Indian linguist, coined the term "World Englishes" to describe the global spread of English. In 1985, he introduced his Three Circles of English model, which showcases the usage and status of English worldwide. This model comprises three concentric circles: the inner, outer, and expanding circle.

The Inner Circle

The inner circle encompasses countries where English is the first language, including the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The citizens of these countries are considered as native English speakers. Kachru refers to these nations as norm-providing countries, as they establish the norms of the English language.

The Outer Circle

The outer circle usually consists of former British colonies or countries with historical ties to Britain. These countries were exposed to English during the colonial era and now use it for administrative purposes, education, and social interactions. Some examples of countries in this circle are India, Singapore, Malaysia, Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya. Although English is not the primary language in these countries, it holds significant importance. They are known as norm-developing countries, as they build upon the established norms from the inner-circle countries.

The Expanding Circle

The expanding circle includes the remaining countries of the world, where English serves as a means of communication. In these countries, there are no direct historical or colonial ties to English, yet it is used as a foreign language or a lingua franca. Kachru refers to them as norm-dependent countries, as they rely on the inner and outer circles for language norms, rather than creating their own versions of "Englishes".

Kachru's Three Circles of English Model - Wikimedia Commons

Criticisms of Kachru's Model

Despite its significance in comprehending the global spread of English, Kachru's model has faced criticism and sparked debates. Some argue that it oversimplifies the complexities of language spread and is too geographically bound in a globalized world. Additionally, the status of English in outer-circle countries has been questioned, as these countries have been exposed to English for almost two centuries and have native English speakers, raising the question of whether they should also be considered as inner circle countries.

Moreover, with English being used as a lingua franca in the expanding circle, new varieties such as Chinglish and Euro English have emerged, indicating that these countries are no longer solely norm-dependent, but are also creating their own unique versions of English.

Examples of World Englishes

Strevens' world map of Englishes shows that all varieties of English can be traced back to British English or American English, making these two the most influential varieties. However, these are not the only countries where English is spoken. Here are some notable countries where English serves as an official language:


  • The United Kingdom
  • The Republic of Ireland
  • Malta

North America

  • The United States
  • Canada

The Caribbean

  • Jamaica
  • Barbados
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • The Bahamas
  • Guyana


  • South Africa
  • Nigeria
  • Cameroon
  • Kenya
  • Zimbabwe
  • Ghana
  • Rwanda
  • Sudan
  • Botswana
  • Ethiopia


  • India
  • Pakistan
  • Singapore
  • The Philippines
  • Sri Lanka
  • Malaysia
  • Brunei
  • Myanmar


  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Fiji
  • Samoa
  • Tonga
  • Solomon Islands
  • Micronesia
  • Vanuatu
  • Kiribati

English continues to evolve, adapt, and spread daily, and this is not an exhaustive list of all the World Englishes that exist.

The variety of English spoken all over the world

The exact number of English varieties remains a topic of discussion among linguists due to the difficulty in defining them. However, let's take a closer look at some of the most notable world Englishes.

British English (BrE)

British English refers to all the forms of English used in the UK. These varieties are often categorized as dialects, unique language varieties specific to a particular geographical region. The most well-known British accent is Received Pronunciation (RP), often associated with London and Southeast England. However, RP is not a regional dialect, and a speaker's origin cannot always be determined based on their use of RP.

There are also various dialects in the UK, such as Welsh English, Scots, and Hiberno-English. These are all English varieties heavily influenced by the languages spoken in their respective countries, resulting in unique pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.

Here are some examples of Scots phrases. Can you figure out what they mean?

  • "Dinnae ken" - I don't know.
  • "Haud yer wheesht" - Be quiet.
  • "Aye, a wee bit" - Yes, a little bit.

American English (AmE)

American English refers to the varieties of English spoken in North America, primarily in the USA and Canada. The English language was brought to the Americas by British colonizers in the 17th century. Over time, the USA and Canada have seen an influx of immigrants from different parts of the world, including Ireland and Africa, bringing their languages and culture, which have shaped American English as we know it today.

There are significant differences between American and British English, including accent, vocabulary, grammar, and spelling.

  • Accent: American English is rhotic, meaning they pronounce the "r" sound, whereas British English is non-rhotic and often omits the "r" sound after vowels and at the end of words.
  • Vocabulary: Many British English words have French roots, while other languages, like Spanish, have influenced American English vocabulary.
  • Grammar: American English tends to drop suffixes, such as "skim milk" in AmE versus "skimmed milk" in BrE. Compound nouns are also formed differently, with American English using the infinitive form (e.g., jump rope) and British English using the gerund form (e.g., skipping rope).
  • Spelling: American spelling often uses "z" instead of "s" (e.g., standardized in AmE versus standardised in BrE), and some letters, like "u" in color, are omitted in American English.

South Asian English (SAE)

South Asian English, also known as Indian-English, encompasses the varieties of English spoken in South Asia, including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.

English was introduced to the Indian subcontinent by the British in the early 17th century and has been reinforced by British colonization and rule. Despite gaining independence in 1947, English remains the language of government, education, and business, making it the country's lingua franca. It is estimated that 125 million Indians can speak English, making India the second-largest English-speaking country in the world.

A popular form of South Asian English is "Hinglish," a blend of Hindi and English. Hinglish often adds English words to Hindi, but their meanings can change and evolve over time. Here are some examples of Hinglish words:

  • "Stadium" - a man's hairstyle with a large bald spot, originating from "stadi" meaning "bald" in Hindi.
  • "Would-be" - a fiancé, derived from the Hindi word "banne wali" meaning "to become."
  • "Airdash" - to hurry, formed from the Hindi word "aadh" meaning "in a rush."
  • "Prepone" - to move a meeting or appointment earlier, a combination of the prefix "pre-" meaning "before" in Latin and the English word "pone" meaning "put."
  • "Glassi" - thirsty, from the Hindi word "glas" meaning "to feel like drinking."

Note: The word "stadium" is not of Hindi origin. In fact, the British language has also been influenced by Hindi, and many English words have Hindi roots.

The Influence of India on the English Language

The Oxford English dictionary contains approximately 900 words that originated from India. Some examples are pajamas, dungarees, shampoo, bangles, yoga, jungle, cot, and bungalow.

The Diverse English Varieties in Africa

Africa boasts a rich and diverse linguistic landscape. The term African English refers to the various forms of English spoken on the continent, which range from Egypt to South Africa. However, it is most commonly used to describe Black African English and is further divided into West African English, East African English, and South African English. Currently, 27 African countries recognize English as an official language, many of which were once British colonies.

West African Pidgin English (WAPE): A Fascinating Blend

West African Pidgin English (WAPE) is a unique pidgin language that combines elements of English with local African languages. It originated as a communication tool between British and African slave traders during the transatlantic slave trade era. Today, an estimated 75 million people in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia speak WAPE. One of its distinguishing features is the formation of tenses and aspects, where verbs remain uninflected, and different words are used to indicate tense and aspect.

For instance:

  • The word "ben" signifies the past tense - "A ben left" = "I left"
  • The word "don" (derived from "done") signifies the present perfect tense - "A don it" = "I have eaten"
  • The word "go" signifies the future tense - "A go Kom" = "I will come"

South African English: A Unique Blend of Many Influences

South African English is one of the most prominent varieties of English on the continent. English has been present in South Africa since the arrival of the British at the Cape of Good Hope in 1795. However, it is not the only official language in the region. With 11 official languages, including English, Afrikaans (a majority Dutch-based creole), and nine major African languages like isiZulu, isiXhosa, seTswana, and seSotho, South African English has been shaped by colonization, immigration, and religion. The country's diverse linguistic landscape has also been influenced by languages and dialects such as Portuguese, Hindi, and Arabic. As a result, South African English has its distinct features, setting it apart from British and American English.

African-American Vernacular English (AAVE): A Unique Cultural Variety

African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), also known as Black English, is a variety of English predominantly spoken by black Americans. This variety has its unique linguistic structures, including grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, that have evolved over time. Historically, AAVE has been regarded as a "low-prestige dialect" and criticized for being "bad English." However, many linguists argue that AAVE should be recognized as a distinct variety of English, and some even believe it should be considered its own language, known as Ebonics. In recent years, words and phrases from AAVE have become popular in mainstream culture, thanks to social media. For instance, the term "woke" has gained popularity since 2015, despite being used by black Americans since the 1940s to mean "stay aware of racial injustices."

The Influence of British and American English in Australia

Australian English is the dominant language in Australia and is considered one of the major varieties of English. The language arrived in Australia with British colonization in the 18th century and has been influenced by both British and American English. However, Australian English has its distinct features, including vocabulary and accent, that have developed over time. The unique flora and fauna found in Australia have also given rise to new words, such as the use of "laughing jackass" for the giant kingfisher, now commonly known as the kookaburra.

Australian English is also a non-rhotic variation, meaning the /r/ sound at the end of a word or after a vowel is often not pronounced. Another notable feature is the pronunciation of the "long I" (/aɪ/) sound, which is generally pronounced as "oi" (/ɔɪ/). For example, "bike" may sound more like "boike."

Australian English: A Unique Vocabulary

There are several typical Australian English words, including:

  • Barbie - BBQ
  • Doona - Duvet
  • Hooroo - Goodbye

Australia is home to several indigenous languages. Unfortunately, many of these languages are now endangered, and the number of speakers is dwindling. Despite this, some Australian English words originate from Aboriginal languages, including boomerang, dingo, billabong, and wallaby.

As English continues to spread and evolve, it has become a global lingua franca, serving as a common language for communication across different cultures and regions.

The use, adaptation, and modification of English by people from "expanding circle" countries has led to the development of distinct varieties of the language, such as Vinglish (Vietnamese English) and Chinglish (Chinese English).

Did you know? According to some dictionaries, the longest word in the English language is Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, which refers to a lung disease caused by inhaling silicate or quartz dust.

Understanding World Englishes

The term World Englishes refers to the various forms of English spoken globally. Other terms for this concept include Global Englishes or International Englishes. Linguist Braj Kachru introduced the "three circles of English" model to illustrate the global spread of the language. This model includes the Inner Circle (countries where English is the native language), the Outer Circle (former British colonies), and the Expanding Circle (countries where English is used as a lingua franca).

English first spread around the world during British colonialism and imperialism. Today, it continues to spread due to factors such as the internet, globalization, and its use as a lingua franca. Some of the most well-known varieties of English include British English, American English, Australian English, African English, and South Asian English. As English is used in new contexts, new varieties, such as Chinglish and Vinglish, are emerging.

How Many Varieties of World Englishes Exist?

There is no definitive answer to this question as new varieties are constantly evolving, and there is no universally agreed-upon definition of what constitutes an "official" variety of English.

How Many People Speak English?

Currently, there are an estimated 1.35 billion English speakers worldwide, with approximately 360 million speaking it as their first language.

The Most Prominent Varieties of English

The two most well-known and influential varieties of English are British English and American English.

World Englishes vs. Standard English

While Standard English refers to the standardized version used in English-speaking countries and considered the "proper" form of the language in education and publications, World Englishes recognizes the diversity of English spoken globally.

Defining World Englishes

The term World Englishes describes the various forms of English spoken worldwide. As English continues to spread, it transforms and develops in different ways to meet the needs of its users.

Examples of World Englishes

Some examples of World Englishes include British English, American English, Australian English, Indian English, Nigerian English, and Singapore English (Singlish).

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