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World English – or World Englishes?

It is very important for us to acknowledge and comprehend language from its origin. English language holds a significant importance as it is one of the most commonly accepted and medium of communication across the Globe.

‘World English’ is a topic commonly debated in language circles and now discussed in daily newspapers – but what is meant by the term? There seem to be several distinct interpretations:

It is used to mean the core English vocabulary, that part of the language common to all English speakers, over which there can be no dispute – the vocabulary and grammatical structures which are common to English wherever it is spoken. (Some might call this Standard English).

‘World English’ is sometimes interpreted as referring to an artificially sanitized form of English for international use, purged of all regional quirks and peculiarities. This ‘World English’ is perhaps understood as being used among second-language speakers, possibly with theoretical mid-Atlantic neutrality. (An alternative term might be International English).

Finally, there is the understanding of the term that will be reflected in the discussion that follows. ‘World English’ is understood here as a collective term for all the different varieties of English worldwide, for the sum of the core vocabularies or central word-stocks of each English-speaking region – including England. In this sense it is possibly clearer to use the term World Englishes rather than ‘World English’.

The Family of Englishes

The geographical spread of English is unique among the languages of the world, throughout history. Countries using English as either a first or a second language are located on all six inhabited continents and the total population of these countries amounts to about 49% of the world’s population.

Whereas the English-speaking world was formerly seen as a hierarchy of parent (Britain) and children (‘the colonies’), it is now viewed rather as a family of varieties. The English of England, the original source of all the World Englishes, is itself seen as one of the ‘family’ of world English varieties, with its own peculiarities and its own distinctive vocabulary.

This awareness that English consists of a family of different varieties is not a new phenomenon, but goes back to the early 19th century. Published in 1808, John Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language recognized that there was a difference between the Scottish variety of English and the English of England. John Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms appeared in 1848, acknowledging that a distinct variety of English had arisen across the Atlantic. And the huge, multivolume Oxford English Dictionary (1884-1928) documented not just British English words, but also words from the varieties of English found in Australasia, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa and North America.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s the information available on the major regional varieties of English increased dramatically. Five large, specialized dictionaries were published, providing detailed records of regional Englishes: The Australian National Dictionary (1988); A Dictionary of South African English on Historical Principles (1996); A Dictionary of Caribbean Usage (1996); The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (1997); and The Dictionary of New Zealand English (1998).