LINGUIST List 15.1437

Thu May 6 2004

Review: Historical Ling/Socioling: Bolton (2003)

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  1. Liao Kaihong, Chinese Englishes: A Sociolinguistic History

Message 1: Chinese Englishes: A Sociolinguistic History

Date: Wed, 5 May 2004 11:34:04 -0400 (EDT)
From: Liao Kaihong <>
Subject: Chinese Englishes: A Sociolinguistic History

AUTHOR: Bolton, Kingsley
TITLE: Chinese Englishes
SUBTITLE: A Sociolinguistic History
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2003
Announced at

Liao Kaihong, College of Foreign Studies, Jinan University, Guangzhou,
Guangdong Province, People's Republic of China

This book aims to examine the history of the English language in China
from the early seventeenth century to the present. The author gathers
together and makes sense of an accumulated body of historical,
linguistic and sociolinguistic research on the description and
analysis of English in Hong Kong and China. Chinese Englishes have
been approached from the perspective of socioliguistic history and a
wide range of various disciplines: anthropology, history and
sociology. The author reveals the forgotten history of English in
China and points out how contemporary Hong Kong English possesses its
historical roots in Chinese pidgin English. The book is designed to
appeal not only to linguists, but to all those showing interests in
the fields of Asian studies and English studies, involving those
concerned with cultural and literary studies.

The book consists of five chapters. Chapter 1 attempts to associate
the study of World Englishes and new Englishes with a number of
related disciplines -English studies, English corpus linguistics,
the sociology of language, applied linguistics, pidgin and creole
studies, lexicography and critical linguistics, with the purpose of
providing a critical overview of current approaches to research with
these disciplines and exploring how far the World Englishes paradigm
may facilitate clarifying research on English in Hong Kong and
China. In the past two decades, the term 'new Englishes' has been
employed to refer to the 'localised' forms of English found in
different parts of world. A plethora of terminology has come into
being, in which the terms, for the present, enjoying the greatest
popularity are 'world English', 'World Englishes', ''global English''
and 'new Englishes'. In differing branches of linguistics, such as
English linguistics, sociolinguistics and applied linguistics, there
exists a sudden interest in 'new Englishes', which has gained
acceptance from language scholars and even won recognition among the
British and American general public. 'Hong Kong English' can be
considered as a 'new English'. Although little research has been
published on the 'indigenisation' or 'nativisation' of Hong Kong
English, it has long been recognized in the international
literature. By drawing conclusions from the published literature, the
author points out that there exists strong evidence of an increased
recognition of Hong Kong English as an autonomous variety on a par
with other Asian Englishes. As to English in China and Chinese
Englishes, the author briefly surveys the history and use of English
in China, discusses the historical development of Chinese Englishes,
makes an estimation of the number of English teachers and English
speakers in China and predicts the future development of Chinese
English. In a nutshell, Chapter 1 intends to clear the way for the
description and analysis of Chinese Englishes, which follows in the
succeeding chapters.

Chapter 2 explores in some detail the characteristics of Hong Kong
society from a sociolinguistic perspective and handles the
sociolinguistic description of English and various languages in Hong
Kong, in which the exploration of language issues is based on the
sociopolitical description of the final years of British
colonialism. The preceding parts of the chapter deal with the
sociopolitical history of Hong Kong in recent years. The author gives
a detailed description of Hong Kong society from 1980 to 1997,
including the political, economic and social contexts, the economic
transformation of Hong Kong, the cultural identity of Hong Kong people
and Hong Kong speech community. The remaining parts deal with the
linguistic aspects against Hong Kong sociopolitical backdrop from
historical and contemporary points of view for the sake of elucidating
the particular dynamics of Hong Kong as a multilingual society. The
author also brings up one remarkable feature of the recent linguistic
history of Hong Kong, viz., the numbers of Hong Kong Chinese speakers
of English have grown rapidly and dramatically in the late British
colonialism. The author further explores the sociolinguistic issues in
Hong Kong from 1980-1997, language planning in Hong Kong, the
'medium of instruction' issue, and the like. Then, the author lists a
number of studies concerned with varied mechanisms of language
contact, involving work on linguistic borrowing from English into Hong
Kong Chinese and from Chinese into English, as well as a series of
studies of code-switching and code-mixing in such domains as secondary
education, university and the print and broadcast media. As to the
issue of ideologies of language, the author makes a sociolinguistic
description of Hong Kong from three most powerful myths, dubbed as the
'falling standards myth', the 'mono lingualism' and the 'invisibility

Chapter 3 traces the 'forgotten past' of English in southern China and
describes the archaeology of Chinese Englishes. The core components of
the investigation are historical and textual aspects. The author
approaches the historical aspects in the meaning of examining the
western trade and settlement in Southern China and the textual
respects of the source materials of written, and occasionally oral,
forms of the language. More detailedly, a description of the western
traders' expedition in Asia and China, such as the Weddell expedition
and Peter Mundy in China, has been made. It is worth note that Mundy's
diary, which supplied a series of account of the people - Portuguese,
Japanese and Chinese - their social customs, appearance, dress and
food, for the purpose of describing their effects on the linguistic
aspects. A large number of the texts researched are the archives of
early maritime trading voyages to China, accounts of Canton trade and
writing of China missionaries and colonial officials. The author is
also in a position to present 'Early Asian English', definitely in the
Chinese context; 'Chinese Pidgin English', and 'China Coast English'
from nineteenth-and early twentieth-century sources. The linguistic
analysis of these Englishes has been made at the level of vocabulary
and in terms of semantic field. It is stated that Chinese English is
subject to changes in the long process of language
evolution. Sufficient data have been collected concerning the
Chinese-authored glossaries and dictionaries of English from the
period of 1637 to the present. All these descriptions present a line
of historical development of the English in Southern China which
commenced in the early seventeenth century, developed into the 'Canton
English' in the late eighteenth century, continued with 'China Coast
English' in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and
extended to the contemporary 'Hong Kong English'.

Chapter 4 discusses the status, functions and features of English in
contemporary Hong Kong. This chapter surveys the sociolinguistic
background of the recognition of Hong Kong English, and produces the
arguments in favour of a 'paradigm shift' which accommodates the
emergence and recognition of Hong Kong English as a localized variety
on a par with other Asian Englishes. Subsequently, a comparison
between Hong Kong English and other Asian English has been made in
terms of recognition and legitimation, especially in comparison with
Philippine English in the light of such distinguishing features as
phonology, vocabulary, syntax and even 'non-linguistic' factors, as
Philippine English has achieved recognition but is still moving
towards full 'legitimation'. The author presents an analysis of the
Hong Kong accent in terms of segmental and suprasegmatal features,
with reference to the vowel system and the consonant system, then
enumerates a number of studies of a distinct Hong Kong vocabulary
published recently, in which sample entries have been itemized and
categories of word-formation in Hong Kong English have been offered,
such as coinage, borrowing, modified semantic reference, and modified
grammatical form. The author further discusses the criteria
indispensable to the recognition of Hong Kong English. The later
sections of the chapter explores the Hong Kong English's creativity in
literary as well as less formal contexts. In addition, the author
produces arguments that the recognition of Hong Kong English is not
only on the grounds of features of language, but also on the
acceptance of a new space for the discourses closely connected with
English in Hong Kong.

Chapter 5 attempts to follow the history of Hong Kong English and
Chinese Englishes. The author presents a historical survey of English
teaching in China from the late Qing Dynasty to the present and brings
out records indicating that the earliest missionary schools and
colleges were established in South China, Macao and Hong Kong, and the
thirteen Protestant Christian colleges set up at the turn of the
century exerted influence on Chinese education, in which English was
taught and most of the colleges opted for the use of English as a
teaching medium. The author also describes the Chinese initiatives in
teaching English from 1862 to 1911, and mentions some important
Chinese officials and intellectuals who are greatly concerned with the
learning of European languages, especially English. Then the author
reviews English teaching in the Republican period from 1911 to
1949. At length, the author explores English in China after the
establishment of the People's Republic in 1949 to the present, and
points out that by the early 1980s, English has started to receive
increased attention, English teaching has become an indispensable
course in state schools, private schools and tutorial centers in
China. The author emphatically refers to a teaching approach, known
everywhere throughout China as 'Crazy English', designed by the
charismatic English teacher named Li Yang. In the final parts, the
notion of 'Chinese Englishes' has been advanced from a historical
viewpoint for the purpose of setting up some connections between the
past of Hong Kong and South China and the dramatically changing and
developing present of the PRC, and there are indications that the
world Englishes paradigm is its potential for pluralism and
pluricentricity. As China has entered the world trade Organization and
sustains the further opening policy, predictions are that the possible
futures of Chinese Englishes will be splendid.

''Chinese Englishes'' is a pioneer book exploring the history of the
English language in China from the arrival of the first
English-speaking traders to the present from a perspective of
sociolinguistic history. The author collects and examines a large body
of data concerning English in Hong Kong and China, Early wordlists,
satirical cartoons and data from journals and memorials, as well as
conventional sources have been supplied as evidences to uncover the
forgotten past of English in China and to demonstrate how contemporary
Hong Kong English possesses its historical roots in Chinese pidgin
English. Up till the present moment, no complete works concerning
Chinese English has been published. The materials of Chinese English
we have collected are quite fragmentary. Only some scrappy articles
written by western and Chinese scholars are available, which emphasize
the objective existence of the dubbed terms of 'Chinese English',
'China English' or 'Chinglish' (Li Wenzhong, 1993); however, nobody
attempts to employ theories and illustrations to present us a clear
picture of Chinese English. Therefore, the book has brought great
enlightenment to those working in the field of Asian studies and
English studies, especially to those who show interests in the English
varieties. In addition, the book has produced highly referential
values for English variety studies and language teaching fields.

In terms of its structure, the book is carefully arranged, well
knitted and coherent. The entire book is organized in the sequence of
starting from the macro or general coverage and ending with the micro
or specific elucidation. Specifically speaking, the book starts form
the macroscopic views on New Englishes and World Englishes, narrows
down to 'Chinese Englishes', subsequently deals with 'Hong Kong
English' as a 'New English', and concludes with examining the
development of Hong Kong English and Chinese Englishes. The
well-conceived arrangement of the chapters may help readers grasp a
good understanding of the world Englishes and 'new' Englishes, grow an
awareness of the variations of English as well as the pluricentricity
of English worldwide and recognize Chinese English as a branch of new
Englishes. This 'general-to-specific' arrangement of the structure
facilitates, to some degree, readers' understanding and grasp of the
essence and spirit of the book.

As to the contents, the book approaches English in Hong Kong and China
from historical, linguistic and sociolinguistic perspectives, with the
focus on the sociolinguistic history of Hong Kong English and the
archaeology of Chinese Englishes. The author has discussed Chinese
Englishes by supplying both the general linguistic background and
specific examples, which may help readers gain insights into the
history and formation of Chinese Englishes. While discussing the
sociolinguistics of late colonial Hong Kong English, a review has been
made of Hong Kong society from 1980-1997, including the detailed
description of the political economic, social and cultural contexts
and the Hong Kong speech communities and the effects these contextual
variables exert on Hong Kong English. A clear picture of the
sociolinguistics of Hong Kong English has been hierarchically
presented before readers. In the light of the archaeology of Chinese
Englishes, the author follows the same route of looking back on the
earliest records of western trade and settlement in China, the early
western maritime trading voyages to China, the diaries of China
missionaries and colonial officials, early accounts of the Canton
jargon and the existence of Chinese pidgin English and China Coast
English and their effects on the formation of Chinese English. In so
doing, readers' attention may be drawn to the actual process of the
formation of Chinese Englishes and an awareness of the backgrounds to
linguistic aspects of Chinese English may be sharpened with advantages
of helping readers obtain a linguistic profile of Chinese English from
a 'Top-down' perspective. This may also help readers develop interests
in the history of Chinese English and obtain a distinct image of what
Chinese English is like.

The defects of this book lies in the fact that a large section is
devoted to discussing the linguistic backgrounds of Chinese Englishes,
such as the social and cultural and political contexts, the western
trading voyages to China and so on, which have relation to the
existence of Chinese English; however, the book lacks sufficient data
demonstrating the characteristics of Chinese Englishes. Particularly,
some parts concerning Chinese dialects and the Yale system for
transcribing Cantonese seem to be irrelevant to the topic of Chinese
English. Therefore, it may be said that the book lacks the absolute
focus of attention. What is more, the book predominantly presents a
sociolinguistic history of Chinese Englishes and uncovers the
archaeology of Chinese Englishes, but fails to describe the varied
aspects of Chinese Englishes and examine the existence of Chinese
Englishes from various points of view. As a result, it may produce
less convincing significance to the study of English
varieties. Lastly, the book explores the linguistic phenomena of
Chinese Englishes only at the level of phonology, lexicon and grammar,
yet the use of language covers a wider range, such as discourse, and
cultural factors affecting the application of language. So there is
much interest to carry out the research of Chinese Englishes from
wider respects to remedy this defect.

As English has got internationalized and nativized, it differs, to a
certain extent, from British English in terms of phonology, lexis,
grammar, discourse, register, style and literature. The uncountable
noun 'English' has inevitably become pluralized as 'Englishes' (Jian
Yajun, 1995). The criteria of English have been the focus of
exploration for scholars from different countries. Britain made
English an international language in the nineteenth century with its
empire, but Americans have been the driving force behind its
globalization in the twentieth century (Augustin Simo Bobda,
1998). The booming of American English is threatening to shake the
hegemony of the mother variety. Most predictions are that English in
future will be American-dominated (David Crystal, 1992). The
legitimation and recognition of American English into the mother
variety enables us to consider the acceptability of other Englishes.

China has an estimated population of 300 million learning, speaking
and using English. English is everywhere in china (Kang Jianxiu,
1999). Definitely, the spread of English in China may be subject to
variations, bearing Chinese flavour. Do foreign tourists complain a
lot about the variety English used in China? Are the English-speaking
experts working in China at a loss when performing their tasks owing
to some pragmatic failures? Definitely, not.

In the past two decades, owing to the 'open-door' policy adopted in
China and the acceleration of international exchange, Chinese people
hope that English used in China may become a distinct variety from its
mother tongue, termed 'Chinese English'. How about the status quo of
Chinese English? Have linguistic scholars testified the objective
existence of Chinese English by carrying out empirical researches?
Some Chinese professors and scholars have attempted to define Chinese
English and approach Chinese English from theoretical points of view.
The commonly-held definition of Chinese English was offered by
Professor Wang Rongpei (1991) as: the English used by Chinese people
in their native land, with standard English as its kernel, yet bearing
Chinese flavour. As for the acceptance of Chinese English, Professor
He Ziran (1991) held that there exists empathy in verbal
communication. Empathy emphasizes that communicators have to respect
the other party's emotion and opinions for the sake of reaching a
tacit agreement to gain expected results in the process of verbal
communication. Simultaneously, Chinese people should respect English
pragmatic routines and cultural customs. Foreigners are, in turn,
supposed to tolerate and comprehend the exotic characteristics of
Chinese English. The unceasing development of Chinese economy, and the
constant expansion of its international influence have obliged
foreigners to come to China and understand China. The strong desire to
acquaint themselves with china compels them to accept the Chinese
expressions that do not exist in their native culture.

As international communication and cooperation appear in increasing
amounts in the global village, people are prone to accept the English
varieties. Yet scholars discussed Chinese English only from the
theoretical points of view. No empirical researches on the
acceptability of Chinese Englishes are available. Therefore
undertaking a research combining the transfer theory in SLA with
pragmatic principles becomes of great significance. Is it a fresh idea
to carry out researches aimed at approaching the issue of pragmatic
transferability of L1 features in order to ascertain that Chinese
English will legally exist as a linguistic variety? This type of
research may be helpful to remedy the defect of the book - ''Chinese


Augustin Simo Bobda (1998), British or American English: Does it
matter?, English Today 56, Vol. 14, No. 4., published by Cambridge
University Press, pp. 13-18.

David Crystal (1999), The Future of Englishes, English Today 58,
Vol. 15, No. 2, published by Cambridge University Press, pp. 10-20.

He Ziran (1991), Pragmatic Empathy in Verbal Communication, Foreign
Language Teaching and Research, directed by Beijing Foreign Studies

Jian Yajun (1995), A Review of Researches on World Englishes in Recent
Twenty Years. Foreign Language Teaching and Research, directed by
Beijing Foreign Studies University, pp. 13-19.

Kang Jianxiu (1999), English Everywhere in China, English Today 58,
Vol. 15, No.2, published by Cambridge University Press, pp. 46-48.

Li Wenzhong (1993), China English and Chinglish, Foreign Language
teaching and Research, directed by Beijing Foreign studies University,
pp. 18-24.

Wang Rongpei (1991), The Objective existence of Chinese English,
Journal of PLA Foreign Language Institute, p. 2.


I am currently an associate professor of English language at College
of Foreign studies of Jinan University, Guangzhou, People's Republic
of China. I have published widely on English-Chinese Contrastive
Analysis, Translation, Applied Linguistics, and Pragmatics. My recent
research interests include Chinese English, Contrastive Studies of
English-Chinese texts and Pragmatics.
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