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World Englishes

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World Englishes

How many variations of English do you think there are, two, maybe three? Think again. English is a truly global language, and linguists argue there are 100s of different English varieties around the world. The two most well-known varieties are arguably British English and Standard American English. However, the list of countries where English is recognised as an official language may be longer than you think!

World Englishes meaning

The term World Englishes is used to describe all the different varieties of English that exist worldwide. As English travels around the world, it changes and develops in different ways to fulfil the needs of the people who use it.

English is currently spoken by an estimated 1.35 billion people, meaning almost 20% of the world currently speaks English. However, the English used worldwide can differ in terms of vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, and accent. Therefore, it’s best to think of the English language as a plural, ie. Englishes.

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

Because of British colonialism and British and American imperialism, the English language spread around the world. Communities adopted and adapted the language to suit their needs, resulting in the creation of hundreds of new varieties of English. Today, English continues to spread worldwide thanks to globalisation, its use as a lingua franca, and its prominence on the internet.

Lingua franca = A language used as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different.

To understand the concept of World Englishes, we must first look at the history of English and how it has travelled around the world.

A brief history of English

The origins of the English language can be traced all the way back to the fifth century, when Germanic tribes invaded Britain and Old English was formed. In 1066, the Normans invaded Britain, bringing a form of French that helped shape what we now refer to as Middle English. The formation of Modern English as we know it today is due to two important factors: the advent of modern printing and colonialism in the 16th century. Britain’s first colonial ‘adventure’ brought English to the New World (the Americas, Australasia, and South Africa).

As you can imagine, the English language changed and adapted dramatically throughout this time. If you picked up an English book from the 13th century today, how likely do you think it would be that you would be able to read it?

British colonisation and imperialism continued to spread throughout the world, bringing English to Africa, South and Southeast Asia, The Caribbean, and the South Pacific Islands. As the language travelled, it mixed with other local languages creating new varieties of English, such as pidgins and creoles.

Pidgins and Creoles - A pidgin is a language variety that arises when people who do not speak the same native language communicate with each other. Pidgins are typically a simplified form of a language, with a smaller vocabulary and basic grammar. When a pidgin develops into a more complex language with its own syntax and grammar, it becomes a creole. Common English-based creoles include Jamaican Patois, Gullah (from islands in the USA), and Singlish (Singaporean English). Most English-based creoles were formed due to British colonisation and the transatlantic slave trade.

By the early 20th century, Britain’s political, economic, and industrial powers began to lessen, and the USA emerged as a political and economic superpower. The USA’s prominence and power helped spread English further around the world. As the world started working together via international organisations, such as the United Nations, English was chosen as one of the world’s official working languages. The USA’s cultural prominence also helped spread English through movies, advertisements, music, and broadcasting.

The final spread of English is primarily thanks to the internet. The invention of the internet is widely accredited to two American men, so naturally, the language of the internet is English. By the mid-1990s, an estimated 80% of the internet’s content was English; however, that number sits closer to 50% today.

Today, English is recognised as an official language in 67 different countries. The status of the language in each country can vary greatly, with some countries using English purely for administrative and educational purposes and others using it as their official majority language.

Kachru’s three circles of English

Braj Kachru (1932-2016) was an Indian linguist who studied the global spread of English and coined the term ‘World Englishes’.

In 1985, Kachru created his three circles of English model, which highlights the usage and status of English worldwide. The model comprises three concentric circles: the inner circle, the outer circle, and the expanding circle.

Let’s take a closer look at each circle.

Inner circle

The inner circle comprises the countries where English is used as a first language, such as the UK, Ireland, The USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The citizens of these countries are typically considered to be native English speakers.

Kachru considers these countries to be norm-providing, meaning the norms of the English language are created here.

Outer circle

The outer circle typically comprises countries that were once British colonies or had British colonial relations. English was brought to these countries during colonial rule and was usually used for administrative duties, education, socialising, and within government sectors. These countries include India, Singapore, Malaysia, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, and others.

English typically isn’t the first language in these countries but continues to be used as an important language in various different ways. English may be an official second language, used as the medium of instruction in education, or used as the ‘working language’ (the chosen language when doing business).

Kachru considers these countries norm-developing, meaning the outer-circle countries further expand upon the norms developed within the inner-circle countries.

Expanding circle

The expanding circle comprises pretty much the rest of the world! These are countries that have no immediate colonial or historical ties with English but still use it to some extent as a tool for communication. English is typically used as a foreign language or as a lingua franca.

Kachru considers these countries to be norm-dependent, meaning that they look to the inner and outer circles to learn how to speak English and generally don’t develop their own ‘Englishes’.

World Englishes Image of Kachru's three circles of English model StudySmarter

Kachru’s Three Circles of English Model - Wikimedia Commons

Criticisms of Kachru’s three circles of English

Although Kachru’s model has been highly influential in understanding the global spread of English, it has been met with several criticisms and has been the subject of many debates.

Firstly, the model has been criticised for being oversimplistic and too geographically bound. In a globalised world, it is becoming increasingly challenging to define people and the languages they speak in this way.

The second issue is with the status of English within the outer-circle countries. English has been present within some inner-circle countries for almost 200 hundred years, and has citizens who speak English as their first language. It could therefore be argued that they are also native English speakers.

Finally, due to English being used as a lingua franca across the expanding circle countries, new varieties of English are emerging, such as Chinglish (Chinese English) and Euro English (a term for the Englishes used across Europe). This suggests that the expanding circle countries are no longer wholly norm-dependent and are developing their own varieties of English.

World Englishes: examples

Strevens’ world map of Englishes shows that all varieties of English can be traced back to either British English (BrE) or American English (AmE), making them two of the most influential varieties of English.

However, the UK and the USA are certainly not the only countries where English is spoken. Let’s look at a list of some of the most significant countries that use English as an official language.

Europe

  • The UK

  • The Republic of Ireland

  • Malta

North America

  • The USA

  • Canada

The Caribbean

  • Jamaica

  • Barbados

  • Trinidad and Tobago

  • Bahamas

  • Guyana

Africa

  • South Africa

  • Nigeria

  • Cameroon

  • Kenya

  • Zimbabwe

  • Ghana

  • Rwanda

  • Sudan

  • Botswana

  • Ethiopia

Asia

  • India

  • Pakistan

  • Singapore

  • Philippines

  • Sri Lanka

  • Malaysia

  • Brunei

  • Myanmar

Oceania

  • Australia

  • New Zealand

  • Papua New Guinea

  • Fiji

  • Samoa

  • Tonga

  • Solomon Islands

  • Micronesia

  • Vanuatu

  • Kiribati

English continues to spread, evolve, and adapt daily, and this is no complete list of all the World Englishes. In fact, it is almost impossible to say how many varieties of English there are as linguists have long debated over how to define them.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most prominent world Englishes.

British English (BrE)

British English is the term used to describe all the varieties of English that exist in the UK. These varieties are typically broken down into dialects (a language variety unique to a specific geographical location). When you think of how ‘standard’ British English sounds, you’re likely thinking of Received Pronunciation (RP). RP is arguably the most well-known British accent because of its prominence in the media and its usage by famous figures, such as the Queen. RP is typically considered the standard accent of someone from London or the Southeast of England; however, it isn’t actually a regional dialect, and it’s not always possible to tell where someone is from when they use RP.

Dialects in the UK include Welsh English, Scots, and Hiberno-English (not to be confused with the languages Welsh, Gaelic, and Irish). These are all varieties of English that have been heavily influenced by the languages spoken in their respective countries, resulting in their own pronunciation, grammar, and lexicon.

Take a look at some of these Scots phrases. Do you know what any of them mean?

  • Dinnae ken.
  • Haud yer wheesht.
  • Aye, a wee bit.

Answers:

  • I don’t know.
  • Be quiet.
  • Yes, a little bit.

American English (AmE)

American English is the name given to the set of English varieties that exist across North America (mainly the USA and Canada).

In the 17th century, the British colonised the Americas, bringing the English language with them. Since then, the USA and Canada have seen people from all over the world arriving on its shores, from Irish immigrants to enslaved Africans, bringing with them their own languages; these have undoubtedly influenced standard American English as we know it today.

American English is often compared to British English, and today, we can see many variations between the two, including accent, lexicon, and grammar.

Some common differences include:

  • The accent. American English is considered a rhotic accent (meaning they pronounce the /r/ sound), while British English is regarded as a non-rhotic accent (meaning /r/ sounds after vowels and at the end of words are often omitted).

  • Many British English words come from French roots, whereas other languages, such as Spanish, have influenced some American English words.

  • American English is more likely to drop suffixes, ie. skim milk (AmE) vs skimmed milk (BrE) and barbershop (AmE) vs Barber’s shop (BrE).

  • With compound nouns, British English tends to use the gerund form, whereas American English uses the infinitive form, ie jump rope (AmE) vs skipping rope (BrE) and sailboat (AmE) vs sailing boat (BrE).

  • The spelling of words can also differ. American English tends to use the letter ‘z’ rather than ‘s’, ie., standardized (AmE) vs standardised (BrE). Some letters are also dropped in American English, ie. colour (BrE) vs color (AmE).

South Asian English (SAE)

South Asian English (sometimes called Indian-English) is an umbrella term for the varieties of English used in countries across South Asia, including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and others.

English was introduced to the Indian sub-continent in the early 17th century and subsequently reinforced due to Britain’s colonisation and long-term rule of the country. Although India gained its independence in 1947, English is still used as the language of government, education, and business, and is the country’s lingua franca. Today, an estimated 125 million Indians speak English, making it the world’s second-largest English-speaking country.

A popular variety of South Asian English is ‘Hinglish’ (A mix of Hindi and English). Hinglish typically adds English words to Hindi; however, the meanings can change and develop over time.

Here are some examples of Hinglish words:

  • Stadium - a man’s hairstyle that has a large bald spot.
  • Would-be - a fiance
  • Airdash - to hurry
  • Prepone - to bring a meeting or engagement forward
  • Glassi - thirsty

World Englishes Image of stadium hairstyle StudySmarter

Hinglish word ‘stadium’- StudySmarter Original

Britain didn’t just influence Hindi; it was a bit more of a two-way street, and many of the words that we use in English today came from Hindi. In the Oxford English dictionary, there are around 900 words of Indian origin; here are some examples: Pyjamas, dungarees, shampoo, bangle, yoga, jungle, cot, bungalow.

African English (AfrE)

Africa is one of the most linguistically diverse continents, and the term African English can cover English spoken anywhere within it, from Egypt to South Africa. However, the term 'African English' is typically reserved for Black Africa, and is divided into West African English, East African English, and South African English. Today, 27 countries in Africa recognise English as an official language, most of which are ex-British colonies.

West African Pidgin English (WAPE) is a pidgin influenced by English and a variety of local African languages. WAPE originated as a language of commerce used between the British and African slave traders during the time of the transatlantic slave trade. Today, it is used by an estimated 75 million people across Nigeria, Ghana, Siera Leone, and Liberia. A key characteristic of WAPE is the way tenses and aspects are formed. When speaking in different tenses, the verbs remain uninflected (this means the verbs don't change ie. walk -walked - walking). Instead, different words are used to highlight the tense and aspect.

Let's look at some examples:

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

South African English is one of the most prominent varieties of African English. English has been in South Africa since the British arrived at the Cape of Good Hope in 1795. However, it is not the only official language in the region. There are 11 official languages recognised in South Africa, including English, Afrikaans (a majority dutch based creole), and nine major African languages, including isiZulu, isiXhosa, seTswana and seSotho. In addition, many other languages and dialects are present in South Africa due to colonisation, immigration, and religion. Some of these include Portuguese, Hindi, and Arabic. As you can imagine, the influence from all these languages has dramatically impacted the English used in South Africa today, making the variety distinctly different from British English or American English.

African-American Vernacular English (AAVE)

AAVE is a variety of English spoken predominantly by black Americans. The variety has its own unique linguistic structures, including grammar, syntax, and vocabulary.

Historically, AAVE has been deemed a ‘low-prestige dialect’ and therefore accused of being ‘bad English’. However, many linguists argue that this is not the case, and AAVE should be considered a fully-fledged English variety in its own right. Others have taken this idea further and say that AAVE should be regarded as its own language, known as Ebonics.

In more recent years, common words from AAVE have been making their way into the ‘mainstream’ thanks to social media; you may even be using AAVE without realising it. For example, the word ‘woke’ has grown in popularity since 2015. However, the term is not new and was initially used by black Americans since the 1940s to mean ‘stay awake’ to racial injustices’.

World Englishes Image using African American vernacular English StudySmarter

The phrase 'stay woke' is an example of AAVE, StudySmarter Original

Australian English

Australian English is the de facto language of Australia and is considered one of the major varieties of English.

English came to Australia as a result of British colonisation in the 18th century. Australian English uses features from both British and American English, and in terms of grammar, the variety is a mix of both. However, Australian English does have many of its own distinct features, including vocabulary and accent. When British colonisers first arrived in Australia, many new words had to be created to describe the unique flora and fauna not found in the UK. For example, the giant Kingfisher was named the laughing jackass; today, it is called a kookaburra.

Australian English is also considered a non-rhotic variation, meaning the /r/ sound at the end of a word or after a vowel sound is typically dropped. Another key feature of Australian English is the pronunciation of the 'long I' ( /aɪ/ ) sound, which is usually pronounced as an ‘oi’ (/ɔɪ/) sound. For example, ‘bike’ might sound more like ‘boike’.

Some common Australian English words include:

  • Barbie - barbeque
  • Doona - Duvet
  • Hooroo - goodbye

There are several Australian aboriginal languages; unfortunately, many of them are endangered, and the number of speakers is incredibly low. However, some Australian English words come from the Aboriginal people, such as boomerang, dingo, billabong, and wallaby.

English-speaking world

An increasing number of people are using English as a lingua franca (a common language) as a tool for communication. Today, we see people, especially from the expanding circle countries, using, adapting, and modifying English for their own needs. Individuals using ELF are no longer necessarily looking towards the inner and outer circle countries for their norms, and this is paving the way for new varieties of English, such as Vinglish (Vietnamese English) and Chinglish (Chinese English).

Fun fact! The longest English word in the world (or at least the longest one in any dictionary) is Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis - which is a lung disease caused by inhaling silicate or quartz dust.

World Englishes - Key takeaways

  • The term World Englishes is used to describe the varieties of English that exist worldwide. World Englishes are sometimes named Global Englishes or International Englishes.
  • Braj Kachru created his ‘three circles of English’ model to help show the global spread of English. The model comprises three circles: The inner circle, The outer circle, and The expanding circle.
  • English first spread around the world due to British colonialism and British and American imperialism. It continues to spread today due to the internet, globalisation, and its use as a lingua franca.
  • Some of the most prominent varieties of English are: British English, American English, Australian English, African English, and South Asian English.
  • New varieties of English are arising all the time thanks to its use across the expanding circle. Some new varieties include Chinglish and Vinglish.

Frequently Asked Questions about World Englishes

Answering this question isn’t easy to answer, as new varieties of English are arising all the time. Additionally, there is no agreed-upon definition on what constitutes an official variety of English.

There are currently an estimated 1.35 billion English speakers. Of this number, an estimated 360 million people speak English as their first language.

Arguably, the two most well-known and influential varieties of English are British English and American English.

World Englishes recognises that many different varieties of English exist across the world. Standard English is the standardised version of English in an English speaking country typically considered the ‘proper’ variety of English and is used within education and publications.

The term World Englishes is used to describe all the different varieties of English that exist worldwide. As English travels around the world, it changes and develops in many different ways to fulfil people's needs. The term World Englishes is used to describe all the different varieties of English that exist worldwide.

British English, American English, Australian English, Indian English, Nigerian English, Singapore English (Singlish).

Final World Englishes Quiz

Question

Who created the ‘three circles of English’ model?

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Answer

Braj Kachru

Show question

Question

What are the names of the three concentric circles in Kachru’s model?

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Answer

The inner circle, the outer circle, and the expanding circle.

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Question

What name is given to the use of English as a common language between speakers with different native languages?


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Answer

English as a lingua franca (ELF)

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Question

What is the main reason English spread to the inner-circle countries?


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Answer

British colonialism and imperialism

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Question

True or false, it’s not possible to say how many varieties of English there are?


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Answer

True

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Question

Can you name three words we use in British English that originate from India?


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Answer

Choose three:


Pyjamas, dungarees, shampoo, bangle, yoga, jungle, cot, bungalow.

Show question

Question

True or false, there is only one variety of British English?


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Answer

False. British English is an umbrella term for the myriad of English dialects that can be found across the UK.

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Question

In what ways can World Englishes vary?


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Answer

Grammar, accent, and lexicon.

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Question

True or false, the expanding-circle countries have historical colonial ties with Britain?


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Answer

False.

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Question

Why is English considered to be ‘a global language’?

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Answer

It is used worldwide as the means of communication within domains such as business, science, everyday social interaction, and many more. It has over 1.35 billion speakers, including 350 million native speakers.

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Question

Kachru’s three concentric circles model provides a way of looking at the _________ of the English language across the world. Fill in the blanks. 

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Answer

Kachru’s three concentric circles model provides a way of looking at the expansion/spread of the English language across the world.

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Question

Name the three circles in Kachru’s three concentric circles model.


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Answer

The Inner Circle, the Outer Circle, the Expanding Circle

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Question

The English language holds the same level of importance across the world. True or false?


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Answer

False- The importance of English in both official contexts and in everyday life differs for all countries.

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Question

Braj Kachru coined the term ‘World Englishes’ to refer to these many varieties of English. True or false?


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Answer

True

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Question

The global spread of English is often seen in 2 parts or ‘________’. Fill in the blanks.


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Answer

The global spread of English is often seen in 2 parts or ‘diasporas

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Question

The first English diaspora involved migration from English speakers in the UK to the ‘new world’ (present-day English speaking countries). Which of Kachru’s circles do these countries belong to?


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Answer

These countries are now native speakers of English and make up the ‘inner circle’ of Kachru’s model e.g. USA, Australia, New Zealand, English-speaking Canada.  

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Question

The second English diaspora was the result of __________, bringing English to countries such as Africa, and South/South-East Asia, and was used particularly for trade.


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Answer

British Colonisation

Show question

Question

Countries in the Inner circle are considered to be ___________. Fill in the blanks. 

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Answer

Norm-providing

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Question

Countries in the Outer Circle have their own native language but English still holds importance in certain domains. True or false?


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Answer

True

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Question

What is the Expanding Circle in Kachru’s model?


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Answer

The Expanding Circle consists of countries that speak their own native language and English does not hold that much importance in social, historical, or official contexts e.g. China, Brazil, Russia, Japan, and many more. These countries may learn English as a foreign language. 

Show question

Question

What does ‘Norm-developing’ mean?


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Answer

Norm-developing countries rely on the inner and outer circle to provide the norms for the English language. They generally do not develop their own forms of English.

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Question

Australia, New Zealand, and Canada are countries in Kachru’s Expanding Circle. True or false?


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Answer

False

Show question

Question

Give 2 limitations of Kachru’s three concentric circles model.


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Answer

  • Simplistic- Kachru’s model doesn’t recognise that, in our globalised world, people can no longer be classified by where they live or what language they speak.

  • The status of English is changing in the Outer Circle- the model doesn’t recognise that some people in the Outer Circle countries now speak English as their native language. 

  • The status of English is changing in the Expanding Circle- hundreds of varieties of English are emerging across the globe, these have their own characteristics and are developing their own norms/standards (therefore they aren’t norm-dependent).

Show question

Question

Countries in the Inner Circle are considered to be 'Norm-dependent'. True or false?

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Answer

False

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Question

Define Bilingualism.

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Answer

The ability to speak more than one language, most commonly referring to the ability to speak two languages.

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What is monolingualism?

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Answer

The ability to speak only one language.

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What is a lingua franca?

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Answer

A lingua franca is a common language adopted by people who speak different languages to each other, in order to facilitate communication. 

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What is individual bilingualism?

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Answer

The ability of one person to speak two languages.

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What is societal bilingualism?

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Answer

The ability of a whole country or community to speak two languages.

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Question

What is it called when an individual develops a proficiency in two languages simultaneously within a single context?

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Answer

Compound Bilingualism

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Question

Which reason for becoming bilingual is more common?

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Answer

Being born to parents who each speak a different language.

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Question

In many countries across the world, English is an official language or the language of business. True or false?

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Answer

True, English is spoken as an official language in 67 countries and is a business language in many too.

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Question

Why might people in the same country need to be bilingual?

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Answer

To facilitate communication between disparate groups that speak different languages to each other. 

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Question

What is code-switching?

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Answer

Code-switching refers to the ability to switch between different languages or language codes within the same speech exchange.

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Question

How does Bilingualism enable more privacy?

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Answer

Bilingual people are able to switch to a different language if they do not want other people around them to understand what they are talking about. 

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Question

Give one example of societal bilingualism.

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Answer

In Singapore, English is an official language as well as the language of business and government. Majority of the population speaks English as well as another language.

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Question

Are bilingualism and multilingualism the same thing?

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Answer

Multilingualism refers to the ability to speak more than one language (this could be 2, 3, 4 or more) whereas bilingualism generally refers to being able to speak two languages. Bilingualism is a subset of multilingualism.

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Question

What is it called when someone learns a second language by filtering information through their native language?

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Answer

Sub-coordinate bilingualism

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Question

Define language contact.

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Answer

Language contact is the interaction that takes place between different language speakers 

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Question

What was Strevens model of English called?

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Answer

The world map of English

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Question

What is a lingua franca?

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Answer

A lingua franca is a common language adopted by speakers of different languages to facilitate easier communication. 

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Question

What is an official language?

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Answer

An official language is a language that has an administrative or institutional role or significance in a country and is widely used by the population. 

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Question

What kind of approach to teaching English as a foreign language did Strevens champion?

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Answer

A variety-based approach

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Question

What did Strevens mean by "variety-based approach to teaching English"?

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Answer

Strevens' variety-based approach refers to how he believed that localised varieties are more useful for schools and other settings as they gain public acceptance more easily than British and American standard varieties. 

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Question

What is an ESL area?

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Answer

An ESL area is an English as a Second Language area, and refers to countries or regions where English is not a native or official language.

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Question

What is an L2?

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Answer

A second language

Show question

Question

What is the difference between English and Englishes?

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Answer

'English' refers to the language itself as an umbrella term and lingua franca, whereas 'Englishes' refers to all subsequent varieties of English that emerge.

Show question

Question

What is the oldest model of English in the world?

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Answer

Strevens world map of English

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Question

What is the "first dispersal of English"?

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Answer

The period when English was spread to the "New World" by the British Empire during colonial times. 

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Question

What is the "second dispersal of English"?

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Answer

The period when Britain continued to colonise countries in African and Asia, spreading English to these countries as a second language. 

Show question

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