World Englishes

Kachru's three circles of English

Kachru’s three circles of English

The concept of World Englishes has been much studied by groups such as the International Association for World Englishes (IAWE), including my own colleagues at the University of Illinois. They consider localized English in global contexts, how it’s spoken and written, along with pragmatic factors such as appropriate use and intelligibility.

When traveling, I notice these issues frequently on a very personal level. For example, one day we were waiting for the elevator (i.e., lift) in a hotel in İstanbul. A couple of people from Munich came up to us to ask about the hotel. We described our room, and then began to talk more generally. They then asked where we were from and were surprised to hear that it was the US. They had judged by our accent that we were from the UK.

Norwegian Star

Norwegian Star

In this case, I don’t think the confusion was due to our having British accents. Instead, it was from having enough interactions with speakers of various World Englishes that we had unconsciously muted our marked US accents, especially my Texas talk. That possibly more subdued and more clearly articulated dialect has proved necessary in travel and work with international colleagues.

Another example arose later the same day. A different couple approached us on a sidewalk, with one saying in a strong Arkansas accent, “Are y’all cruise people?” What was interesting then is that we were marked by appearance as possible cruise people without having said a word, an example of non-verbal language. Moreover, Susan couldn’t understand them, but I, who had grown up in a neighboring country, could.

We had to confess that we weren’t cruise people, but we were able to tell them where their ship was docked. It was a 2000 passenger Norwegian cruise ship about three blocks away. I’m not sure that it was the Norwegian Star, but it was one that looked similar to the one shown here. In any case it was hard to miss, but we were happy to help them find their way home.

3 thoughts on “World Englishes

  1. I was going to comment, then realized you had said exactly what I think is the reason you were mistaken for Brits– you (and we, too) subconsciously change your mode of speaking, so that you use a ‘more subdued and more clearly articulated dialect’. It’s not only our regional accents that mark us as Americans, but also the too-rapidly-strung-together phrases and slang that we use when we are not worrying about being understood by a non-native speaker.

    Interesting post — I am enjoying them all.


    Sent from my iPad



  2. Good question. It doesn’t fit Kachru’s model very well. I suspect that’s in part because he developed it when the spread of English was largely due to the British empire. So, countries such as many in northern Europe have adopted English as a strong second language without that colonial history. There are other models. I’m not sure which is best at capturing the multiple reasons that English is now spreading.

    It’s worth noting, too, that there are some other world languages, such as Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic, where similar phenomena occur.


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