LINGUIST List 15.679

Tue Feb 24 2004

Review: Sociolinguistics: Melchert & Shaw (2003)

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  1. Cornelia Tschichold, World Englishes

Message 1: World Englishes

Date: Mon, 23 Feb 2004 15:13:11 -0500 (EST)
From: Cornelia Tschichold <>
Subject: World Englishes

AUTHORS: Melchers, Gunnel; Shaw, Philip
TITLE: World Englishes
SERIES: The English Language Series
YEAR: 2003

Announced at

Cornelia Tschichold, Institute of English, 
University of Neuch�tel, Switzerland


This book is a recent addition to the growing number of textbooks on
varieties of English around the world. In the preface, the two
authors, both from Stockholm University, describe the intended
audience of the book as readers familiar with the basics of
linguistics and phonetics, thus typically undergraduate students after
their first year at a department of English, with English either as
their native or a second or foreign language. The book has an
accompanying CD, which is sold separately and therefore does not
figure in this review.


Chapter 1 is a very short chapter on the history of English from 450
to the beginnings of Modern English. The development of the language
is illustrated mainly through the most accessible aspect, its

Chapter 2 covers the more recent history of English, when the language
spread around the globe, first to the so- called 'inner circle'
countries, later to the 'outer circle' and finally to the 'expanding
circle'. This three- circle model by Kachru is adopted as the
organizing principle for the book. The chapter also introduces the
distinction often made between English as a second and English as a
foreign language, while drawing attention to the problems of
terminology and those of differing political viewpoints involved.

Chapter 3 discusses basic terms in language variation and provides the
framework for the classification and description of the many varieties
discussed in chapters 4 to 6. The authors divide variation into the
areas of spelling, phonology, grammar and lexicon, and give a brief
overview of the main types of variation in each area. For the
description of phonology, Wells' standard lexical sets are
introduced. The section on rhythm and intonation explains the concept
of stress-times vs. syllable-timed rhythm and mentions high-rising
terminals as the most striking phenomena in the area of
intonation. The sections on lexis and on the historical origin of
varieties introduce a large number of technical terms such as
'heteronymy' or 'substratum'. Other dimensions of classification
mentioned include the political stance of some of the more prominent
authors in the field, the degree of standardization for varieties and
for texts, and the position of a country in the three-circle model.

Chapter 4 portrays the inner circle varieties of England, Wales,
Scotland, Ireland, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South
Africa, Liberia and the Caribbean. With some exceptions, each of these
sections follows the pattern of first giving a brief overview of
geography and population, then an account of the general linguistic
situation, before the variety itself is described in terms of
spelling, phonology, grammar and lexicon. Where appropriate, important
internal varieties are briefly touched on as well, such as the main
differences between Southern and Northern dialects in England, the two
ethnic varieties African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and
Chicano English in the USA, and Aboriginal English in Australia.

Chapter 5 opens with a discussion of the political questions of
language prestige and then tries to identify some common linguistic
features of the varieties spoken in these countries. Among the
features mentioned are consonant cluster and vowel system
simplifications, a trend away from clearly stress-timed rhythm, and
more syntactic variety. The countries in this chapter are then
discussed in geographical groups, following a similar pattern to that
in chapter 4, but giving rather more historical background and extra
sections on style and pragmatics. The first variety is South Asian
English, with India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as its main
countries. The second major variety is African English, with South
Africa making a second appearance due to its higher number of speakers
who have English as a second language. Hong Kong, Malaysia, the
Philippines and Singapore are dealt with in the group of countries
where South East Asian English is spoken. The last section in this
chapter very briefly deals with a number of countries with a colonial
past: Gibraltar, Malta, and Cyprus in the Mediterranean, Puerto Rico
in the Caribbean, the Seychelles and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean,
Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Guam in the Pacific, without
however giving linguistic descriptions of the English spoken there.

Chapter 6 abandons the geographical perspective in favour of the
functions English can be seen to have taken over in the expanding
circle from the 18th century onwards. Among the domains where English
is making inroads the authors mention global politics and economy,
tourism, the education system, the mass media and popular culture,
advertising and subcultures. On the more strictly linguistic level,
the authors see no trend toward standardization, and argue instead
that speakers of lingua franca English need a high communicative
competence for dealing with the mixture of non-standard features and
the large amount of pragmatic variation found in much intercultural
communication. The authors then briefly consider the influence of
English on the local languages and the choices involved in choosing a
variety of English for education.

In Chapter 7, Melchers and Shaw take a look at the likely developments
in the near future and identify US power, globalization and
information technology as the most important factors favouring the
further spread of English across the globe. They posit that the high
visibility of unedited English found in computer-mediated
communication could have a destandardizing effect on international
English, but that the still considerable influence of the school
systems might counterbalance this trend.

Finally, Appendix 1 gives a list of the speakers on the accompanying
CD, and Appendix 2 contains a number of pre- and post-reading
questions for each chapter.


Everyone teaching a course on the varieties of English around the
world probably has their own idea of what the ideal textbook for such
a course should cover. One of the authors has taught just such a
course for many years, and the book under review is proof of
this. Many sections read more like lightly edited lecture notes than a
textbook meant to be studied by undergraduate students. The authors
include a number of anecdotes in the text, a feature that often works
well in class, but much less well in a textbook, and they have the
rather irritating habit of writing one-sentence paragraphs, something
which many university teachers try to eradicate from their students'

It is clear that balancing the content of such a short book is a
difficult task, and the authors should be praised for trying to
combine most of the relevant sociolinguistic aspects with a large
number of linguistic descriptions of individual varieties in a
relatively small book. Apart from the style, most of my criticism
therefore relates to details of content. A number of sections in the
book seem to be the result of compromises of various kinds: One might
argue, for example, about the usefulness of a very short chapter on
the roots of English, or whether such a a book is the best place for
contemplating the influence of English on other languages via
borrowing. Possibly these pages might have been put to better use.

One of my quibbles concerns the notoriously difficult problem of the
translations or glosses, which have not received the necessary
attention to detail. Dialectal variation is illustrated with a Geordie
poem (''A hev gorra bairn / an a hev gorra wife / an a cannit see me
bairn or wife / workin in the night''), where the word 'gorra' is
claimed to stand for the local pronunciation of 'got to' (p.13).

Generally, the maps in the book are often not very useful as they do
not show all areas mentioned in the text and do not distinguish
between cities and provinces. To give just one example, among the
dialects of England discussed in the text are those of Leeds, Derby,
West Wirral and Norwich, but only Leeds can be found on one of the
maps. One might also wonder about the necessity of listing statistics
on area, population and capital for the countries discussed, given
that such data can easily be found elsewhere and is of questionable
relevance in this context.

Within the descriptions of the individual varieties, spelling, a very
accessible aspect, is not systematically commented on, e.g. South
Asian English is said to be ''spelt in the British style'', but
British English does not have a section on spelling. In the more
extensive section on phonology most of the comparisons of the lexical
sets are clearly useful and could have been extended, e.g. it would
have been interesting to see the Australian vowels compared not just
to RP, but also to American English vowels. In addition to the concept
of lexical sets, much of the data used by the authors comes from Wells
as well, which often seems a needless repetition, especially where
even the examples are taken straight from Wells (1982), a study in
three volumes based on data which is now more than a generation
old. On the other hand, a number of sections (Liberian English and
AAVE, Caribbean English) are so short, they seem more like appetizers
than any kind of solid information. In the sections on the lexicon,
the authors' use of the word 'tautonym' to refer to words having
different meanings in different varieties seems somewhat

The references given in the book are not consistently placed in the
further-reading sections, but appear either there (sometimes with
comment, sometimes without; sometimes with full bibliographic details,
sometimes as author plus year only) or embedded in the text. Sharp
(2001) is referred to, but missing in the references. Appendix 2
contains a number of pre- and post-reading questions, which -
according to the preface - are meant to remind readers of what they
know and to check their new knowledge. This generally is a good idea,
but one would expect the pre- reading questions to be clearly easier
than the post- reading questions. Some questions sound more like
activation questions for a seminar group than questions meant to check
on the reader's knowledge.

Comparing the book under review to other books on the market that
might be considered as textbooks for courses on world Englishes, one
could mention Trudgill and Hannah (1994), a book that gives
considerably more linguistic detail on the varieties discussed, but
devotes only very little room to varieties in the expanding circle (an
aspect which is of much interest to students in potentially
expanding-circle countries in Europe) and does not cover the
sociolinguistic and political perspectives. The latter aspect can be
found in Crystal (1997) to a certain extent, or more thoroughly in
Brutt-Griffler (2002). Crystal (1995) provides an widely available
source for maps, statistics and historical background. Bauer (2002) is
mostly limited to varieties of the inner circle. Jenkins (2003) is
very useful as an overview for the debate on the sociolinguistic and
political aspects, but does not give linguistic descriptions. Cheshire
(1991) and Allerton et al (2002) finally are edited collections of
papers that provide accessible further reading on a range of subtopics
on world Englishes.

Writing a relatively short textbook of such a scope is a very big bite
to chew, and while I would like to congratulate the authors on their
choice of content, I wish they had chosen a different style for the
book and spent more time on revision and ensuring internal


Allerton, D.J., Skandera, P. and Tschichold, C., eds.
(2002). Perspectives on English as a World Language. Basel: Schwabe.

Bauer, L. (2002). An Introduction to International Varieties of
English. Edinburgh University Press.

Brutt-Griffler, J. (2002). World English: A Study of its
Development. Multilingual Matters.

Cheshire, J., ed. (1991). English around the world: Sociolinguistic
perspectives. Cambridge UP.

Crystal, D. (1995). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English
Language. Cambridge UP.

Crystal, D. (1997). English as a Global Language. Cambridge University

Jenkins, J. (2003). World Englishes: A resource book for
students. Routledge.

Trudgill, P. & J. Hannah (1994, 3rd ed.). International English: A
guide to the varieties of standard English. Arnold.

Wells, J.C. (1982). Accents of English, vols I - III. Cambridge
University Press.


Cornelia Tschichold teaches English linguistics at Neuch�tel
University. While her research interests focus on English phraseology,
computational lexicography and computer-assisted language learning,
she teaches a wide range of courses in English linguistics, including
courses on sociolinguistics, the history of English, and varieties of
English around the world.
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