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Review of  Chinese Englishes

Reviewer: Kaihong Liao
Book Title: Chinese Englishes
Book Author: Kingsley Bolton
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 15.1437

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Date: Wed, 05 May 2004 12:23:32 +0800
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

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 ¨C 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 ¨C 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 myth'.

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 ¨C Portuguese, Japanese and Chinese ¨C 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¨Cauthored
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 ¨C
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 ¨C ''Chinese Englishes''.

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

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

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

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, p. 13 ¨C 19.

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

Li Wenzhong (1993), China English and Chinglish,
Foreign Language teaching and Research, directed by
Beijing Foreign studies University, p. 18 ¨C 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

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