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Review of  World Englishes

Reviewer: Cornelia I. Tschichold
Book Title: World Englishes
Book Author: Gunnel Melchers Philip A Shaw
Publisher: Hodder Education
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Anthropological Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 15.679

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Date: Mon, 23 Feb 2004 12:02:10 +0100
From: Cornelia Tschichold
Subject: World Englishes

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

Cornelia Tschichold, Institute of English, University of
Neuchâtel, 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 loanwords.

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'

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 idiosyncratic.

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

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 consistency.

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

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 Press.

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.

Wells, J.C. (1982). Accents of English, vols I - III.
Cambridge University Press.
Cornelia Tschichold teaches English linguistics at
Neuchâtel 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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