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Review of  The Typology of Asian Englishes

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Book Title: The Typology of Asian Englishes
Book Author: Lisa Lim Nikolas Gisborne
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Book Announcement: 23.1355

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EDITORS: Lim, Lisa; Gisborne, Nikolas
TITLE: The Typology of Asian Englishes
SERIES TITLE: Benjamins Current Topics 33
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2011

Tim S. O. Lee, Department of English, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong


The present volume is a collection of papers presented at the 1st International
Conference for the Linguistics of English (ISLE1) in October 2008, in the
workshop “The Typology of Asian Englishes,” organized by Lisa Lim. Assuming a
firmly typological perspective, the six papers in this book investigate
different structural features manifested in an array of Asian Englishes,
utilizing carefully controlled data and various corpora. Some of them also
question traditional classifications and analyses, such as the idea of
“angloversals” and the distinction between stress and intonation languages.

The introductory chapter, “The typology of Asian Englishes: Setting the agenda,”
by Lisa Lim and Nikolas Gisborne, stresses that while the English lexifier and
the nature of transmission are significant factors in the study of New
Englishes’ structure, the typological profile of substrate languages is the
central focus of this volume. Next, the introduction offers three reasons to
explain why Asian Englishes are, among all New Englishes, particularly
interesting: 1) The rich range of substrate languages, mostly unrelated to
English, allows us to look into the contribution of substrate typology more
comprehensively; 2) The ecologies of Asian Englishes are notably dynamic, and
great changes have taken place in, for example, Singapore and Malaysia, in a
matter of decades; 3) Factors such as date of independence, language and
education policies, and proportion of population having access to the language
have caused Asian Englishes to represent different nativization and
stabilization stages. Lastly, Lim and Gisborne give an overview of the
subsequent papers in terms of their thrusts and foci, while also reminding
readers of the presence of other determinants of emergent English.

Chapter Two, “The Asian typology of English: Theoretical and methodological
considerations,” by Umberto Ansaldo, points out that language change is a
product of competition, selection, and replication, and that English has never
been the only target in the evolution of Asian English varieties (AEVs). After
that, the paper shifts its focus to the evolution of Singapore English (SgE),
and briefly discusses the substrate languages involved and post-independence
language and education policies. Three salient features of SgE grammar, namely
zero copula, predicative adjectives and topic prominence, are illustrated as
evidence of the fact that typologically prominent features are selected and
strengthened in the restructuring of English in a multilingual ecology. The
development of these features is accounted for by the social and structural
profiles of Sinitic and Malay. Due to their numerical and typological dominance,
Sinitic and Malay variables are more readily available for selection and
replication. In the end, the author proposes that SgE and other AEVs should be
described based on a matrix of diverse features in all dominant languages, not
as simplified or even faulty acquisition of English.

The next variety covered in this book is Hong Kong English (HKE), in Chapter
Three, “Aspects of the morphosyntactic typology of Hong Kong English,” by
Nikolas Gisborne, where he meticulously analyzes the expression of finiteness in
HKE. The chapter first reviews the sociolinguistic contexts of HKE, covering
census data, the education system, and other colonial legacies. It then looks at
finiteness in standard varieties of English, and how tense contrast and
finiteness contrast are absent in Chinese. The next section is an analysis of
HKE corpus data, which shows that the claim for non-finiteness in HKE is not an
absolute one. Instead, finiteness contrast exhibited by some speakers is found
to be non-systematic, and is probably influenced by zero copula and the blurring
of the lexical category distinction between verbs and adjectives. The paper
emphasizes that HKE, as an emerging system with a certain degree of variability,
is still at Stage 3 (i.e. nativization) of Schneider’s (2007) dynamic model, but
not Stage 4 (i.e. endonormative stabilization). For a more systematic
acquisition of a Standard English finiteness distinction, HKE features need to
be entrenched in the environment more forcefully.

Chapter Four, “Typological diversity in New Englishes,” by Devyani Sharma,
discuss three of Kortmann and Szmrecsanyi’s (2004) “candidates for universals of
New Englishes” -- past tense omission, over-extension of the progressive, and
copula omission -- in Indian English (IndE) and SgE. The IndE data was collected
from 12 individuals, whereas the SgE data was drawn from secondary sources. The
use of past tense marking to indicate perfectivity in IndE is very similar to
that of SgE, with the exception being that SgE has grammaticalized the word
‘already’ as an additional perfective marker. Imperfectivity-marking with -ing
in IndE leads to a systemic shift to marking all imperfective categories with
-ing, yet this does not happen in SgE. Though copula omission occurs in both
IndE and SgE, grammatical conditioning is evidently influenced by the substrate
language. It is concluded that substrate-superstrate interactions could perhaps
explain emergent systems in postcolonial English varieties better than
“angloversals” do.

The fifth chapter, “Thai English: Rhythm and vowels,” by Priyankoo Sarmah, Divya
Verma Gogoi, and Caroline Wilshire, is an empirical study comparing the use of
rhythm and vowels in Thai, Thai English, HKE, and SgE. As Thai has mixed
prosodic characteristics, the traditional rhythmic categories, ‘stress-timed’
and ‘syllable-timed,’ are not appropriate for the study of Thai and Thai
English. Therefore, %V (Ramus, Nespor, & Mehler, 1999) and nPVI (Grabe & Low,
2002) are used in this paper. The former measures what percentage of an
utterance consists of vowels and the latter compares the duration of a vowel to
an adjacent vowel, reflecting vowel reduction and variation in syllable
structure. A total of 12 Thai speakers were recorded reading English words,
sentences, and a short paragraph, and then an interview was conducted. Results
revealed some transfer from Thai to Thai English, such as a high nPVI, the
presence of a low-front vowel, and mergers of certain pairs of vowels. However,
the high %V of Thai does not survive in Thai English. While the vowel system of
Thai English shares some features with those of SgE and HKE, it is Thai English
whose rhythmic characteristics closely resemble that of British English (BrE).

The last chapter, “Revisiting English prosody: (Some) New Englishes as tone
languages?,” by Lisa Lim, reconsiders the suitability of the traditional view of
English as a stress/ intonation language in terms of Asian Englishes, and in
particular, SgE. It begins by arguing that New Englishes should not only be
compared with native varieties in terms of what is missing, but also with
reference to structural features of New Englishes on the basis of the typology
of substrate languages. Lam also claims that the presence of tone in some New
Englishes warrants more attention. She then illustrates how tones are used in
discourse particles, words, and phrases in SgE. Such uses are an outcome of
tone’s dominant presence in both internal and external ecology, that is, the
high proportion of both tone languages and speakers of these languages in
Singapore. Based on these findings, the author suggests that SgE should be
viewed as a tone language, and that the traditional distinction between stress
languages, accentual languages and tone languages needs to be remodeled. As for
the typology of Asian Englishes, it is not surprising that some linguistic
features (e.g. discourse particles and choppy intonation contours) are present
in both SgE and HKE, as their ecologies are very similar. However, it should
also be noted that their ecologies are highly dynamic, and actually, some
patterns shared by SgE and HKE in the past have already started to diverge.


As a collection of conference papers, this book comprises some of the hottest
topics in the study of Asian Englishes, with extra emphasis on substrate
languages, multiple ecologies, and language evolution. All the papers take a
typological perspective when approaching the similarities and differences
between contact varieties of English, as suggested by the book’s title.
Likewise, the same lines of caution appear multiple times throughout the book,
such as the presence of determinants other than the substrates’ typology, and
the questionable view of new English formation as a deviation from native
varieties. This theoretical uniformity ensures that all contributions, despite
their different themes, are comparable, and it is unlikely that readers would
feel disoriented in looking for a common thread.

The fact that the authors commit themselves to only four Asian Englishes (i.e.
Indian, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Thai) does not undermine the book’s usefulness
to other researchers of world Englishes. For one thing, the book makes frequent
reference to languages all over the globe, e.g., the lack of morphological
processes in Sinitic as well as various Caribbean Creole languages (Chapter
Two), the use of language universals in describing South African English
(Chapter Four), and the languages of Nigeria and Jamaica, which approximate the
syllable-timed extreme (Chapter Five). Additionally, a range of quantitative and
qualitative analyses can be found in the six papers, which are presented at
length, and coupled with concise tables and figures. Hence, the book opens the
possibility for readers to carry out similar studies not only in Asia, but also

“The Typology of Asian Englishes” is by no means an Asian Englishes handbook,
and novice researchers and teachers looking for practical suggestions might find
Kachru and Smith (2008) or Kirkpatrick (2008) more helpful. The former covers a
much wider range of linguistic features and sociocultural conventions of world
Englishes, whereas the latter describes selected varieties from every continent
and considers the implications for English language teaching. That said, this
book is successful in consistently associating the typology of substrate
languages with corresponding emergent Asian varieties, and thus constitutes an
invaluable resource for the burgeoning field of world Englishes.


Grabe, E., & Low, E. L. (2002). Durational variability in speech and the rhythm
class hypothesis. Papers in Laboratory Phonology, 7, 515-546.

Kachru, Y., & Smith, L. E. (2008). Cultures, contexts, and world Englishes. New
York: Routledge.

Kirkpatrick, A. (2008). World Englishes: Implications for international
communication and English language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kortmann, B., & Szmrecsanyi, B. (2004). Global synopsis -- morphological and
syntactic variation in English. In B. Kortmann, K. Burridge, R. Mesthrie, E. W.
Schneider, & C. Upton (Eds.), A handbook of varieties of English. Vol. 2:
Morphology and syntax (pp. 1122-1182). Berlin; New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Ramus, F., Nespor, M., & Mehler, J. (1999). Correlates of linguistic rhythm in
the speech signal. Cognition, 73, 265-292.

Schneider, E. W. (2007). Postcolonial English: Varieties around the world.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tim S. O. Lee is currently undertaking a PhD in Applied English Linguistics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is also a visiting lecturer at the Hong Kong Community College, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and he has been teaching adults and sub-degree students since 2006. His previous research has focused on the use of communicative tasks and written exercises in vocabulary teaching and learning in tertiary institutes.