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International English

'International English' is a variety of English that can be used worldwide as the main language of communication, even among people whose native language is not English. For example, a conversation between a native French speaker and a native German speaker may be carried out in 'International' English.

What is International English?

The term 'International English' can be used to refer to this variety (or 'form') spoken by non-native English speakers. International English is based on the British Standard, which is taught in schools.

It can be seen as:

  • Neutral because it is not tied to a particular culture or values and it is the variety that is spoken worldwide (Wardhaugh 1987). Learners do not learn a specific accent or dialect when learning International English.

  • Flexible because it can be used by many different people and adapted according to language needs. It is also studied and used as the world's 'lingua franca' (common language) and is generally understood by all English speakers, which is not the case with regional varieties.

You may also hear the terms 'Global English', 'World English', and 'Common English', all referring to the English that is spoken around the world. The term 'English as a lingua franca (ELF)' refers to the use of English between non-native speakers who use English to communicate with each other, regardless of background.

English speaking countries

Nowadays, people speak English everywhere; or so it seems. But how many people in the world actually speak English?

Let's take a look at the key figures:

English speakers International English StudySmarter

Out of the whole population of the world, English speakers make up a considerable chunk! StudySmarter Original

Out of the 7.8 billion people living on the planet, 1.5 billion people speak English to a conversational level.

How many people speak English as a first language?

Native English Speakers International English StudySmarter

There are more people who speak English as a non-native language than their are native language speakers in the world, StudySmarter Original

The history of the English language

The English language has evolved over many centuries, influenced by contact with various events and groups of people. Let's take a look at some key dates:

History of English International English StudySmarter

Here's a visual timeline of the history of English, StudySmarter Original

The standardisation of the English language

In the past, English existed in many different forms - people all over the country spoke in different ways and used different words. It wasn't until the introduction of the printing press in 1476 that English began to look more like the English we use today.

But how did this affect the English language? Well, since there were many different forms of English, people needed to agree on a common form to use in books, magazines, and newspapers. The standard chosen was a London dialect that was used in the Chancery (an office that prepared court documents), and this was the start of the standardisation of English!

The process of standardisation changed the English language, as the London dialect was gradually accepted as the common language for printing. The idea began to emerge that what was seen in books and official documents was a 'correct' and 'pure' way to speak. This 'correct' form is otherwise known as the 'Standard'.

Prescriptivism vs. descriptivism

This process of standardisation changed the English language, as the London dialect was gradually accepted as the common language for printing. The idea began to emerge that what was seen in books and official documents was a 'correct' and 'pure' way to speak. This 'correct' form is otherwise known as the 'Standard'.

The belief that a certain form of English is 'correct' is called prescriptivism.

  • Prescriptivists look at how language should be used.

  • They believe that language should follow specific rules.

  • This 'correct' form of language is seen as superior to all other variants, as it suggests that other forms of language are 'incorrect'.

This idea persists today, especially in education (throwback to all of the spelling tests and grammar corrections in school!). These standards are also enforced through 'official' institutions and resources, such as the Oxford English Dictionary.

The opposite of this view is called descriptivism.

  • Descriptivists look at how language is used in daily life.

  • They believe that English can take form in many different ways and do not see any of these variations as 'incorrect'.

Varieties of English

A variety is a specific form of language, for example, people from certain regions use certain varieties such as a Manchester variety or a Leeds variety. Standard English is also a variety, as well as dialects from around the world such as Canadian English and Indian English.

English varieties have numerous features that define them. These features include:

  • Accents (the ways in which people pronounce words e.g. David Beckham and the Beatles have Scouse accents).

  • Dialects (the particular words that people use in a specific region or group e.g. Cockney is a dialect in which they use rhymes such as 'the apples and pears' meaning 'stairs').

  • Slang (newly coined words and phrases e.g. 'that's dope' meaning 'that's great').

  • Register (a variety of languages used in a particular situation. This may be influenced by field (topic), manner (formality), or mode (written or spoken)).

  • Style (the way we express ourselves to our audience).

Social interaction

English is seen as a flexible and adaptable language and it is used by people from all over the world in many different settings. It is, therefore, a great tool for social interaction between people from different countries.

The internet is a major form of social interaction nowadays. Many of us cannot go a day without it! With billions of people worldwide using the internet for communication, a common language for interaction is essential. For this reason, English has risen as the language of the internet with the majority of users using the language online.

The rise of International English

So, how exactly did English become an International language in the modern world? Simply put, it is all a question of power.

English in science and technology

The influence of Modern English can be seen for centuries, starting with the growing power of the British Empire in the 16th century. By the 19th century, the Empire was HUGE and many new words and expressions were adopted from countries around the world (eg the word 'pyjamas' coming from India). This was also the time of the industrial revolution, in which many new technologies were introduced. New words were therefore needed to describe these new technologies, such as the steam engine and the spinning wheel.

Nowadays, most activities in science and technology around the world are still carried out in English. This is why scholars such as Drubin and Kellogg (2012) have named English the language of science and technology.

English in the economy

In more recent times, academics have been studying the links between the English proficiency of a population and the economic growth of the country, a field of study called the 'economics of language'. Some academics see English as a 'must have' for participation in the global economy, and a tool for socio-economic development 'and mobility (Brooker, 2018).

A variant of International English called 'Business English' is also taught and learned worldwide in order to aid communication between non-native speakers in the business world. It focuses on certain expectations of clarity, specific vocabulary, and specific grammar used within business interactions (Spencer, KA 2021).

English in popular culture

As big American corporations grew throughout the 20th century, so did the influence of American culture. Think Hollywood, Broadway, fast food, pop songs, and huge shopping malls. Brits also had an impact with bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. These anglophone influences in popular culture means that songs, films, and products are distributed all around the world in the English language.

World English: English Language

With the influence of English around the world, parts of the language are being adopted into other languages. This can create a blend, or 'hybrid', of the two languages.

For example, Hinglish is a hybrid of Hindi and English. Speakers of Hinglish will use English words and phrases within a Hindi conversation, creating a blend of the two. For example, a Pepsi campaign called 'Ask for more!' used a Hinglish version of the slogan 'Yeh Dil Maange More!' meaning 'The heart wants more!' (Gardner 2009). Hinglish is often seen as practical as it can be used between people who speak different Indian languages and the common language of English.

Other examples include Singlish (Singapore languages and English) and West African Pidgin (West African languages and English). Such hybrid languages allow people to express themselves using International English whilst also maintaining their identity in the native language.

What is Pidgin English?

A pidgin is a language that contains features from two or more languages and is generally simplified in terms of grammar and vocabulary. Pidgin English is therefore a simplified mix of English and another local language.

Pidgin English was originally a language used for commerce and trade during the 17th and 18th centuries, including during the Atlantic slave trade. It was used as a lingua franca between traders along the coast who didn't share a common language.

What is dialect levelling?

Dialect levelling is the reduction or elimination of differences/variations between dialects. In other words, the most unique features of people's language are reduced and people speak in a more similar way.

Dialect levelling occurs when multiple different cultures mix, often due to migration, social mobility, and other forms of interaction.

It also occurs frequently in places that have experienced industrialisation and modernisation as many people will move to cities to work. This means that people moving to the city have to adjust their language to be understood by others.

It's important to remember that these changes don't just happen in a day - they occur over a long period of time and often span several generations.

What is technological determinism?

Technological determinism is another key term in International English. This theory assumes that a society is determined by the technology they use. This technology is thought to affect social structures and cultural values, i.e. how a society thinks, feels, and acts.

An example of this is the introduction of mobile phones into society. This revolutionized communication, allowing us to interact across the world. However, it also impacted our language use.

There were limitations, however. The limited keypad made typing out a sentence a long and laborious process. If you wish to type out the letter 'S', you would have to press the '7' key four times! (How did people have the patience?). Unlimited texting also didn't exist at the time so text messages were pretty expensive. People, therefore, had to get creative in order to express their thoughts in as few characters as possible. Words such as 'you' and 'too' were abbreviated to 'u' and '2' whilst phrases like 'laugh out loud' were shortened to acronyms such as 'LOL'. This language is called 'Text Talk', you may also hear 'text speak' and 'SMS language'.

Text speak is still prominent online today, including in apps such as Twitter which still have word limits on posts. Mobile phones are therefore an example of how technology has shaped our society and language.

English language worldwide

Since English is so widely spoken today, it can be hard to comprehend the structures of this expansion. Due to this, theorists have come up with different ways of grouping English from around the world.

Strevens' model of English

Strevens' model of English from 1980 shows how varieties of English can be grouped hierarchically. Each form of English derives from either British or American English, with American English comprising the USA, Canada, the West Indies and the Philippines and British English comprising all other English speaking countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australasia.

Take a look at his model in the diagram below:

Streven's model of English International English StudySmarter

Strevens Model of English (StudySmarter Original)

Kachru's three concentric circles model

Another way of looking at the expansion of the English language is Braj Kachru's three concentric circles of English.

Kachru's model International English StudySmarter

Kachru's Three Concentric Circles Model (StudySmarter Original)
  • The Inner Circle shows where English is the primary language and the most dominantly used. In these countries, most people are native speakers of English. These countries are therefore considered to provide the 'norms' and traditions for the English language ('norm providing').

  • The Outer Circle shows countries that have their own native language but English is still an important language for communication eg as a second language or a language of business or institutions. These countries reproduce the norms set by the inner circle and develop these norms further ('norm developing').

  • The Expanding Circle shows the rest of the countries in the world. These countries have their own native languages and English does not hold any importance on an official level. These countries depend on the inner and outer circles to provide the norms for the English language ('norm dependent').

Political implications of International English

The global expansion of English and the power of the English language have faced criticism. Linguist Robert Phillipson argued that this dominance is an example of linguistic imperialism. This means that the imposition of English maintains inequalities between countries as it also imposes norms and values (similar to the idea of 'norms' in Kachru's model).

The idea of linguistic imperialism has had other negative impacts on languages, for example some theorists believe that English is a 'killer language' and that it is responsible for 'language deaths' worldwide (Quevedo 2016). However, this view is rather simplistic and risks generalising. It is important to recognise other factors at play such as natural disasters or political/social/economic disadvantages.

We also see the preservation and revival of many 'dying' or 'endangered' languages. For example, despite it being declared extinct by UNESCO, the Manx language has experienced revival efforts. This includes Manx radio shows, social media channels, and organisations like the Manx Heritage Foundation.

Due to the supposed threat of English to other languages, there have been attempts to stop it in its tracks. Even countries where English isn't an official language are trying to prevent Anglicisms (English words) from entering their own language. This is particularly the case in countries such as France who have organisations to protect the tradition of their language. The Académie Française (the 'French Academy' who are pretty much like the French language Police) call the use of Anglicisms (English words) and 'invasion' (Académie Française 2021) and have recommended alternative French words to use in their place. For example, saying 'Le baladeur' instead of 'le walkman'.

Future of the English language

So what do we see for the future of the English language?

The English language still holds strong as a global language and is continually used in science and business domains as well as in popular culture and on the Internet. Linguist David Crystal highlights the idea that English is now the most spoken language in the world (as a native, second, or foreign language) and 'is recognised by more countries as a desirable lingua franca than any other language' (Crystal 1999).

Due to its widespread use, International English will continue to exist in many different varieties. Crystal predicts that there have been around 60-70 new 'Englishes' created worldwide since the 1960s (ibid.). These are varieties of English such as Indian English and Nigerian English that are used around the world.

Crystal also highlights the struggles in the future of English Language Teaching (ELT) worldwide. He states that the main issue is finding the balance between finding a standard of English understood worldwide and maintaining international diversity / recognising personal identity.

International English - Key takeaways

  • International English refers to a variety of English that can be used worldwide as the main language of communication, it is based on the British Standard.
  • English is the most widely spoken language in the world and is the language of science and technology, business and the economy, and of popular culture.
  • Prescriptivists believe that language should follow specific rules while descriptivists believe that language can take form in many different ways.
  • A variety is a specific form of language. Features include different; accents, dialects, slang, registers, and styles.
  • English is an important language for social interaction. It is used on the internet and in official organizations.
  • Streven's model of English and Kachru's three concentric circles model can be used for looking at the global spread of English.
  • There are political implications involved in the global spread of English such as linguistic imperialism, language death, and the use of Anglicisms.

References

  1. Académie Française, Anglicismes et autres emprunts, 2021
  2. Algeo, J. The origins and development of the English language, 2013
  3. Brooker, D., English for Development: A review of research into the role of English as a driver for socio-economic development, 2018
  4. Crystal, D. 'The future of Englishes', English Today, 1999, 15 (2), 10-20.
  5. Foyewa, RA, International Journal of English Language and Linguistics Research, 2015, Vol.3, Issue 5, pp.34-41.
  6. Gardner, H. 'Hinglish - A 'Pukka' Way to Speak', The National. 1999
  7. Spencer, KA, 'What is Business English?', Instructional Solutions, 2021
  8. Wardhaugh, R., Languages in Competition: Dominance, diversity and decline, 1987

Frequently Asked Questions about International English

International English refers to a variety of English that can be used worldwide as the main language of communication, even among people whose native language is not English. The standard for International English is based on the British Standard.

English has become the International Language through the historical power and influence of English speaking countries. This started with the British Empire and the industrial revolution which saw English grow as the language of science and technology. The economic power of both the UK and the USA meant that English became known as the language of business and economics. The influence of popular culture from America has also meant that anglophone songs, films, and products were distributed around the world.

English is an official language in over 50 countries, however, it is spoken as a foreign language or as a de facto language (the language of daily life) in many many more.

English is considered to be a world language as it is becoming one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Many non-native speakers can use International English to communicate with others who don’t speak the same language.

Style is the way in which we express ourselves to our audience. Register is the variety of language we use in a particular situation and is influenced by field (topic), manner (formality), or mode (written or spoken).

Final International English Quiz

Question

International English refers to a type of English that is used worldwide for communication. True or false?


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Answer

True! International English can be used to communicate between people of many different nationalities.


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Which Standard is International English based on?


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Answer

The British Standard

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How many people speak English worldwide?


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Answer

1.5 billion

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Name 2 domains in which English is influential. 


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Answer

English is influential in the domains of science and technology, business and the economy, and in popular culture.

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What key invention led to the standardisation of English?


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Answer

The printing press (1476) led to the standardisation of English as people needed to agree upon a common language to print.

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Descriptivists believe that there is a ‘correct’ way to use language. True or false?


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Answer

False! Descriptivists do not view any varieties as ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’, instead, they look at how language is used in daily life.

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What is the difference between prescriptivism and descriptivism?


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Prescriptivism is the idea that ‘correct’ language should follow specific rules (looking at how language should be used). Descriptivism is the idea that language can take many forms and none of these are superior (looking at how language is actually used in daily life).

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What is variety?


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A variety is a specific form of language that can be defined by certain features.

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What is the difference between accent and dialect?


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An accent is a way in which people pronounce words. Dialect is the particular words that people use in a specific region or group.

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What language do the majority of people use on the Internet?


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English

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Technological determinism assumes that a society is determined by the _________ they use. Fill in the blanks.


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Answer

 technology

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Streven’s model of English groups varieties of English in what way?


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Answer

Hierarchically

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What are the 3 circles of Kachru’s concentric circles model?


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Answer

The circles consist of the Inner Circle, the Outer Circle, and the Expanding Circle

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What is linguistic imperialism?


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Answer

Linguistic imperialism is the idea that English as a global language maintains inequalities between countries and imposes norms and values.

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What is a dialect?


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A dialect is a form of language that is spoken amongst a specific group or in a particular region.

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Fill in the blanks: Dialect levelling is the process by which the differences and variations between certain dialects are ________ or ________ over time.

A: reduced; eliminated

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Answer

reduced; eliminated

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In the context of dialect levelling, what does it mean to ‘level’ something?

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Answer

To drop it

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TRUE or FALSE: Dialect levelling occurs over the space of 15 years

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Answer

TRUE: It has been proven that dialect levelling typically occurs over the space of 15 years 

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What is step 1 in the process of dialect levelling?


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Answer

The original generation to immigrate to this location kept and continued their home dialect

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Fill in the blanks: As it unfolds over time, dialect levelling results in the dialects and speech varieties of various parts of a country becoming increasingly _______

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similar

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When does dialect levelling seemingly occur the most?


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It seems to occur most frequently in languages following the industrialisation and modernisation of the areas where they are spoken.

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Which of the following are valid reasons for dialect levelling?

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Decreased social mobility

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  1. In the dialect levelling process, what is step 2 that leads to the final step of dialect levelling?

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The second generation picked and chose language from the linguistic options available to them

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What is the biggest problem with dialect levelling?

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The erasure of the uniqueness of individuality of dialects which means certain cultural quirks are now lost forever.

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Can you think of any examples of different dialects in Britain?

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Answer

Cockney, Brummie, Scouse, Yorkshire, Geordie...etc

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What event can we point to in Britain that led to the mixing of dialects?

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Economic change led to industrialisation and modernisation (migration of Britons), close proximity of soldiers during the World Wars, the popularity of media like TV and radio

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How likely is it that dialect levelling will eventually lead to one uniform dialect in Britain?

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Answer

Not very likely, as many close-knit communities/cultures will probably want to preserve the uniqueness of their own dialects

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How are the dialects of many adolescents often influenced by other adolescents?


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 Agemates likely to influence each other, as they are often in close proximity through youth group activities like schools and clubs

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How does social mobility often lead to dialect levelling?



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 Different social classes typically have had different dialects. Lower classes often  have to assimilate by their own dialect and the dialect of those from the higher class

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Why does watching a movie alone not count as a social interaction?


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Social interaction must occur between two or more people.

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True or False: Social Interaction refers to the verbal communication between individuals.


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False - Social interaction can involve verbal or non-verbal communication.

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T or F: Linguistic prescriptivism refers to the belief that a particular form of language is superior to another and should be treated as such.  


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True

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What is the aim of linguistic prescriptivism?

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To explore non-standard English in order to distinguish it from other languages

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What determines the ‘correctness’ of language to prescriptivists?

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‘Correct’ language refers to grammatical rules and conventions that have been predetermined by a system of language standardisation by scholars and those in positions of power. 


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Linguistic descriptivism refers to the analysis of how language is used by its speakers/writers. It is a __-______ approach to analysing language usage.

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Answer

non-judgemental


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What is the relationship between prescriptivism and descriptivism?

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Answer

Prescriptivism and descriptivism are antithetical approaches to analysing language.


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T or F: Prescriptivism and Descriptivism both analyse standard English.

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Answer

​True

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When is prescriptivism most likely to be used?

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Answer

Prescriptivism is typically used in fields such as education, publishing, and professional environments.


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Do dictionaries take a prescriptivist or descriptivist attitude?

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Both - they are constantly updating to account for how language changes over time, which is a descriptivist attitude. However, they are a vital aid to prescriptivism as they provide the tool with which to enforce the standard use of language.


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Fill in the blanks: Descriptivism studies what language ____ ____ while prescriptivism studies what language should ____ ____.

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Answer

looks like

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Which approach is more frequently used by academic linguists?


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Descriptivism is the more followed approach - linguists are typically more interested in studying language usage than enforcing rules.

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Give one negative and one positive about the prescriptivist approach.

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Negative - Prescriptivism hyper-fixates on established grammatical rules to critique use of language rather than attempting to understand the intended message

    Positive - Prescriptivism establishes a standard practice in these fields that is consistent. This can be useful.

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How has descriptivism reduced the stigmatisation of certain language usage?

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It is an approach that looks at socially-stigmatised groups and their way of using language in an analytical and non-judgemental way.


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T or F: Both approaches acknowledge that certain uses of language can be incorrect.

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True - Both prescriptivism and descriptivism acknowledge that certain uses of language can be incorrect.


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Which approach is more likely to be used to write a letter to Buckingham Palace?

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Prescriptivism, it is used in formal situations.


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Which approach is more likely to be a more accurate reflection of language usage across the world?

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Descriptivism, it analyses our use of language used in daily life.


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Fill in the blanks: Technological Determinism is a _______theory which points to ________ as the driving force of development in society.

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Answer

Psychological; technology

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Who coined the term technological determinism?


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Answer

Thorstein Veblen. 

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What is the primary concern of Technological Determinism?

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Answer

Language

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T or F: The creation of new slang terminology has slowed since the invention of the internet and social media

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Answer

True

Show question

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