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EDITORS: Kachru, Braj B., Kachru, Yamuna, Nelson, Cecil L. TITLE: The Handbook of World Englishes PUBLISHER: Wiley-Blackwell YEAR: 2009
Joel Heng Hartse, University of British Columbia
The Handbook of World Englishes, one of 24 books so far published in the Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics series, collects essays on nearly every aspect of a burgeoning field. This field has grown in influence and sophistication during the last thirty years to become an important approach not only to English studies, but to a host of other issues central to applied linguistics across subdisciplines.
The handbook, first published in 2006 and now available in paperback, is edited by Braj B. Kachru (a scholar whose influence on the scholarship therein cannot be overstated -- he is cited in nearly every chapter), Yamuna Kachru, and Cecil L. Nelson, who collect forty-two articles specifically commissioned for this book (though several are re-written versions of previous speeches or articles), covering aspects of the English language broken into nine thematic sections: Historical Context; Variational Contexts; Acculturation; Crossing Borders; Grammar Wars and Standards; Ideology, Identity and Constructs; World Englishes and Globalization; World Englishes and Applied Theory; and Resources on World Englishes.
The depth and scope of the book is ambitious: its editors seek to ''represent the cross-cultural and global contextualization of the English language in multiple voices'' (1), not only by virtue of the nationalities of the contributors, who hail from a number of countries in each of Kachru's Three Circles (the Inner Circle, or native-English-speaking countries, the Outer Circle, or former British colonies or territories under British influence or rule, and the Expanding Circle, or countries in which English is taught and spoken as a foreign language and in which the language plays a significant role), but who are also scholars influenced by a wide variety of disciplines and approaches to language study.
The first and longest section, ''Historical Context,'' covers the history of English and is itself arranged into five sections: in the first, labeled ''The Beginnings,'' Robert D. King discusses the origins and history of the language up through Modern English. The remaining sections refer to four diasporas of English: two chapters on the first diaspora (the spread of English to Wales and Ireland, by King, and Scotland, by Fiona Douglas), two on the second (English in North America, by Edgar W. Schneider, and Australia and New Zealand, by Scott F. Kiesling), nine on the third (English in various regions of Asia -- South by Ravinder Gargesh, East by Nobuyuki Honna, and Southeast by Maria Lourdes S. Bautista and Andrew B. Gonzalez; Africa -- South by Nkonko M. Kamwangamalu, West by Tope Omoniyi, and East by Josef Schmied; the Caribbean, by Michael Aceto, and Europe, by Marko Modiano), and one on the fourth, ''World Englishes Today,'' in which Kingsley Bolton reviews not a geolinguistic diaspora but a scholarly one, outlining seven approaches to the study of the global spread of English. Though each of the fourteen authors takes a slightly different approach -- some take cues from historical linguistics, while others seek to describe the unique features of English varieties -- Part 1 offers a complete picture of the spread and diversity of the language.
The second section, ''Variational Contexts,'' offers four chapters which elucidate the causes and sources of worldwide English variation. Mesthrie brings insights from contact linguistics, arguing for greater recognition of other languages' influence on English varieties, while Mufwene questions the traditional belief that creoles evolved from pidgins and encourages us to reevaluate the complex relationship between world Englishes and local languages. Bolton offers a useful overview of terminology used to describe varieties of English (questioning and examining terms like 'variety', 'language', 'dialect', and so on), while Wolfram's chapter on African American English offers a detailed description and analysis of one of the world's most-studied 'non-standard' English varieties.
The third section deals with acculturation in several ways. MAK Halliday differentiates between global English and international Englishes, both of which are ''ways of creating new meanings that are open-ended,'' but which differ in their degrees of acculturation, the former spreading Inner Circle English through technology, the latter transforming the language into varieties with new meaning potential (362-363). Yamuna Kachru describes functions of speaking and writing in world Englishes, and the multifaceted ways in which ''speech acts, rhetorical strategies, conversational organization,'' and politeness are use in multilingual societies (379). Part 3 ends with a discussion of genre and style in world Englishes by Vijay K. Bhatia, in which he differentiates the two terms (based on text-external and text-internal influences) and world English users language users have a variety of choices for identity construction through genre and style.
Part four, ''Crossing Borders,'' deals mainly with the consequences of the transnational flow of English in three different areas: literary creativity, intelligibility, and culture. All three chapters (by Edwin Thumboo, Larry E. Smith and Cecil L. Nelson, and Braj B. Kachru, respectively) are updated versions of previous papers, offering important arguments against oversimplifying the role of English. Thumboo maintains that English literatures must be understood as part of the individual literary ecology of a nation, not simply as an English literature divorced from its local linguistic context. Smith and Nelson, in their study of intelligibility, comprehensibility, and interpretability of English varieties in interpersonal communication, find that native speakers ''were not found to be the most easily understood, nor were they ... the best able to understand the different varieties,'' suggesting that ''being a native speaker does not seem to be as important as being fluent in English and familiar with several different national varieties'' (441). Kachru, in a chapter on 'culture wars' based on several of his previous seminal articles, writes of the ''diverse, cross-cultural sense'' in which ''English is international,'' and that, despite the warnings of those who would protect a supposed purity of English language and culture, the 'variousness' of culture and canonicity of English today are a ''unique cultural and linguistic resource of our times'' (449, 466).
Part five again discusses 'wars,' this time on the subject of grammar and standards, and the context is mostly historical; 'grammar' here refers mainly to the guidebooks called by that term, which attempt, whether prescriptively or descriptively, to set down an English standard. Lisa C. Mitchell, John Algeo, and Daniel R. Davis describe the evolution of English grammars and standards in seventeenth and eighteenth-century England, the United States, and in areas where newer English varieties are used, respectively. In each chapter, a picture of a struggle over standards emerges, though these 'grammar wars' are seen to be less about actual points of usage and actually tied to larger issues such as ''correctness, gender, politics, religion, and class'' (491). In his concluding chapter, Davis argues that grammars represent a dialectic between ''symbols of vibrant national literature, media, and intellectual life'' and ''a betrayal of the richness and complexity of language heritage,'' and that more attention should be paid to this sometimes tense relationship (520).
The book's sixth section, ''Ideology, Identity, and Constructs,'' includes critical perspectives on World Englishes from postcolonial, cultural, and feminist studies, demonstrating the unique possibilities created by applying these theories to the study of English. Pradeep A. Dhillon suggests that world Englishes offers a new perspective on postcolonial critique which ''offers the possibility of a refinement of liberal international communication ... as it strives to uncover a deep humanism'' (542). Wimal Dissanayake examines new questions raised by world Englishes vis-a-vis the increasing integration of cultural studies and English studies, encouraging exploration of culture, politics, and discourse in world Englishes. Tamara M. Valentine, in her chapter on gender identities, makes connections between the study of world Englishes and that of language and gender, with an emphasis on bilingual women's creativity as a sometimes overlooked facet of English's pluralism.
Part seven deals with the many connections between world Englishes and globalization, examining the role of English in global media, advertising, and commerce. Each author takes a slightly different tack: Elizabeth A. Martin looks at English a variety of international media (from film to television to radio) and calls for more engagement with media communications scholars in order to develop inquiry into, among other things, the impact of English on media audiences, technology, and pedagogy worldwide. Tek J. Bhatia, examining the issues of standardization, language choice and attitude, and audience, finds that the use of world Englishes in advertising is multifarious and that mixing occurs both between English varieties and between ''English and other languages'' (615). Finally, Stanley Yunick Van Horn discusses international business communication in English throughout the world, touching on business letters, meeting and negotiation, and business English pedagogy, concluding that the expansion of English for commercial purposes will bring with it ''the hunger for prescriptive mono-norms'' as well as ''creativity and awareness of varied contexts and discourses'' (633).
Part eight brings world Englishes out of the realm of theory and analysis and into various problematic context as the authors discuss language policy and planning, teaching, testing, lexicography, and communicative competence. Ayo Bamgbose discusses language policy and planning in a world in which the dominance of English is inevitable and ''must be so managed as to produce maximally favorable outcomes'' for citizens who use English in a ''multilingual and multicultural context'' (656). Robert J. Baumgardner offers a survey of the ways in which world Englishes is or could be taught, both in the sense of academic courses about world Englishes, and language classes in which the Kachruvian paradigm is acknowledged, while Kimberly Brown argues for ''a world Englishes framework underlying ELT methods courses'' (689). Frederic Dolezal's chapter on lexicography touches on many issues mentioned in part five, this time dealing with dictionaries rather than grammars, and concludes that dictionaries of English varieties not only function as references, but as tolls ''that raise our awareness of language and people and culture'' (705). Fred Davidson writes about test construction, arguing for the need to better understand variance and validity when constructing English tests which will be taken by a variety of English users and for the necessity of more empirical study in language testing and world Englishes in order to enhance the validity of tests. Finally, Margie Berns investigates the mutual influence of communicative competence and world Englishes, both ''rooted in recognition of the social realities of the users and uses of a given variety'' (727) and both useful in English teaching which recognizes both local social norms and better understanding of the pragmatic problems of intercultural communication.
The handbook's ninth and final section is brief, with only two chapters: the first, by Gerald Nelson, details the growth of corpus linguistics and its usefulness as a tool for describing and differentiating varieties of English. Helen Fallon's final chapter lists major books, articles, journals, and websites on world Englishes for those who wish to make further inquiries.
The Handbook of World Englishes succeeds in presenting a view of Englishes (and English studies) as pluricentric, and so succeeds in the terms the editors lay out in their introduction, mentioned above. The book's exhaustive treatment of issues relating to world Englishes makes it an important addition to the field, and although most of its authors and editors have written extensively on their specialties elsewhere, the strength of the Handbook lies in the diversity of its viewpoints.
At times, this can be disorienting for a reader looking for a common thread while reading chapter by chapter; as a collection of individual resources, however, this volume is an invaluable tool for anyone seriously interested in the spread of English, the theories which seek to understand it, and the ways in which the language is changing and being changed by the world in which we live.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Joel Heng Hartse is a PhD student in the Language and Literacy Education
Department at the University of British Columbia. His research interests
include ESL writing, TESOL and culture, world Englishes, and China English.
He has presented papers on English language teaching and culture at
conferences in the United States and China.