LINGUIST List 28.3527

Fri Aug 25 2017

Review: English; Historical Linguistics; Sociolinguistics: Kachru (2017)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 10-May-2017
From: Achilleas Kostoulas <>
Subject: World Englishes and Culture Wars
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Braj B. Kachru
TITLE: World Englishes and Culture Wars
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2017

REVIEWER: Achilleas I. Kostoulas, Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz

REVIEWS EDITOR: Helen Aristar-Dry

‘World Englishes and Culture Wars’ (Cambridge University Press) is the last book to appear under Braj B. Kachru’s name, and it brings together his thinking on World Englishes by drawing on his extensive writing over the last four decades. As Salikoko Mufwene, the editor of the ‘Cambridge Approaches to Language Contact’ series, explains, the book has an unusual publication history. It appears that it was originally written at some unspecified point in the past, and a hard copy of the manuscript was serendipitously discovered by Mufwene, when visiting Kachru some time before the latter passed away. The manuscript, for which there was no electronic copy, had to be scanned, extensively copy-edited, and updated to reflect demographic changes that had taken place in the last two decades, an arduous and time-consuming process undertaken by the series editor, on account of Kachru’s deteriorating health and eventual death in April 2016.


The 304-page volume begins with a seven-page foreword by Salikoko Mufwene, which summarises the main themes of the book and connects them to recent scholarship. The remainder of the book is structurally divided into six main parts, discussed below.

Part I, comprising five chapters and approximately one-third of the book, provides an overview of the construct of World Englishes. This serves to establish the theoretical backdrop for the discussions that will follow in subsequent chapters. The first chapter, entitled ‘The Agony and Ecstasy’ (pp. 3-22) highlights positive developments associated with the unparalleled spread of English (the ‘ecstasy’), while problematizing the global dominance of the language (the ‘agony’). The chapter also introduces multiple themes that foreshadow later discussions, thus serving as an introduction to the remainder of the volume. Chapter 2 (‘The Second Diaspora’, pp. 23-44) describes the spread of English into Africa and Asia, and contrasts this process with earlier stages of linguistic expansion, such as the spread of English to North America and the Antipodes. In this chapter, which is based on Kachru (1992), the author also outlines processes of linguistic diversification associated with the spread of the language in the new contexts.

The next chapter, ‘Culture Wars’ (pp. 45-65), is a version of the chapter that appeared in the ‘Handbook of World Englishes’ (Kachru, 2006). The chapter challenges pessimistic views about the perceived decay of English, and argues for an expanded view of canonicity, which encompasses “multiple cultural visions, discourses and linguistic experimentation” (p. 65). Chapter 5 (‘Standards and Codification’, pp. 66-84), which is a slightly revised version of Kachru (1985), describes the well-known Three-Circle model. This provides Kachru with a theoretical framework to discuss issues such as codification, prescriptivism and innovation. The last chapter in Part I, entitled ‘The Power and Politics’ (pp. 85-105) examines the construct of linguistic power, which is connected to Foucault’s theory of power (1980), and uses it to explain the spread of English. The chapter is, of course, a version of Kachru’s (1986) similarly-titled article.

The two chapters that make up Part II, which also appeared as Kachru (1995a) and (1995b), discuss literary creativity in relation to World Englishes. The first of these two chapters (‘The Speaking Tree’, pp. 109-120), builds on the distinction between English as a medium of communication and English as a message, or a “repertoire of cultural pluralism” (p. 109), and argues for a literary canon that encompasses all the literatures of World Englishes. This theme is further expanded in Chapter 7 (‘Creativity and Literary Canons’, pp. 121-132), where Kachru takes a focussed look at literary creativity, and challenges accounts that exclusively connect it to a native language. Using a wealth of examples from Kashmiri, he shows that multilingual authors draw on a pool of linguistic resources from multiple languages, and uses this observation to question established theoretical accounts of creativity, translation and stylistics.

Part III, consisting of three chapters, connects the monograph to the ‘English Today’ debate and the scholarly exchanges that ensued it. As might be inferred from its title, ‘Liberation Linguistics’, Chapter 8 (pp. 135-150) is a version of Kachru’s response to Randolph Quirk, who had likened the scientific study of emerging varieties of English to ‘liberation theology’ (cf. Kachru, 1991). Chapter 9, entitled ‘Sacred Linguistic Cows’ (pp. 151-165), calls for the re-examination of a number of foundational assumptions about English linguistics and the English language, including conceptualisations of interlanguage, error, fossilisation, speech community, ideal speaker-hearers and native speakers (cf. Kachru, 1988). The section concludes with Chapter 10 (‘The Paradigms of Marginalisation’, pp. 166-181), which looks into the various ways that have been used to marginalise issues raised by World Englishes scholarship (cf. Kachru, 1994)

Part IV is less directly focussed on World Englishes as such, as it mainly discusses a range of ethical issues of relevance to the entire discipline of Applied Linguistics. Chapter 11, ‘Applied Linguistics’ (pp. 185-205), which is based on Kachru (1990), raises a number of ontological, pragmatic, ideological and cultural issues. The author also argues that the ways in which Applied Linguistics has engaged with them has consistently failed the Outer Circle of English, i.e. the communities where English has become institutionalised. Kachru further develops this argument in Chapter 12 (‘Leaking paradigms’, pp. 206-220), which outlines a series of theoretical, methodological, pragmatic and ethical biases in the ways that we think about the English language(s).

Chapter 13 (‘Mythology in Teaching’, pp. 223-237), the sole chapter in Part V, discusses implications of the World Englishes perspective for English Language Teaching. This is done by examining a number of persistent myths that have underpinned the teaching profession, including the notion that English is primarily learnt for communication with native speakers, the restrictive conceptualisation of native speakers as being monolingual and monocultural, or the belief that the linguistic norms of the Inner Circle (the countries where English is the mother language of the majority of the population) should function as standards.

Part VI, which also consists of only one chapter (‘Research resources’, pp. 241-268), is structured more loosely than the chapters that preceded it. It begins with a narrative account of how World Englishes were originally conceptualised. This is followed by a list of diverse theoretical and applied issues connected to World Englishes. The brief discussion of each topic, which is annotated with useful literature, seems to be intended to orient the reader in their further investigations of World Englishes. The book concludes with a list of selected references and two relatively short indexes of authors and key terms.


This book is a valuable resource to any scholar with an interest in World Englishes. Its main appeal lies in the fact that it brings together, in a single volume, a number of key contributions that Braj Kachru has made over the years. There is, of course, at least one more collection of Kachru’s works in the literature, namely Webster’s (2015) comprehensive three-volume collection, but what this volume offers is more focussed selection of the works that Kachru believed to be key to developing his thinking. By helpfully arranging the chapters and framing them with a useful introduction, Kachru guides the reader to make connections between themes and see how they develop into a grander narrative that is more than the sum of its parts.

That said, I was left wondering whether the monograph format was the most appropriate way to present the content of the book. As was seen above, the provenance of most of the chapters can be traced to various chapters and articles published by Kachru over his long, productive career. Despite some editing, the content, structure and text of the chapters usually echoes the original publications. In addition, there is in places some overlap between the content of different chapters. To name a few examples, the discussion of Achebe (1966) in p. 34 is repeated in p. 60, using the same quote; the legend of the Speaking Tree in p. 45 overlaps with a very similar passage in p. 109; and Bailey’s (1987) concerns are outlined and addressed twice, in pp. 49 and 174, also in very similar ways. For these reasons, readers might want to approach the book as they would engage with an edited collection.

Most of the criticisms that might be raised about the book pertain to its unusual publication history. To begin with, while the content of the book is firmly embedded in the scholarly discourse of the 1980s and 1990s, connections to more recent scholarship are not always there. For instance, readers will not find much discussion of salient issues like English as a Lingua Franca, and even emblematic works such as Phillipson (1992) are only mentioned in passing, even when there are obvious parallels between them and Kachru’s line of thinking. Such omissions are partly addressed in the introduction, which traces some connections to recent theoretical developments, but Mufwene is limited by the restricted scope of an editorial preface. Other imperfections include a higher-than-usual number of typesetting flaws, as well as well as occasional factual inaccuracies that suggest the distance between the date of authorship and the date of publication. Some of these issues, it is hoped, might be resolved by additional copyediting in subsequent editions.

If the book seems at times to cover familiar ground, this should be interpreted as testimony to how influential Kachru’s legacy has been. In addition to being a tribute to this enduring legacy, this book is also a very useful resource for readers who need an overview of World Englishes. This is particularly important since the passage of time since Kachru’s early publications, coupled with their powerful impact, have meant that his work is often encountered indirectly, and perhaps misinterpreted along the way (cf. Saraceni, 2016). The book would therefore seem to be particularly useful, for example, as a work of reference in university courses that focus on the global spread of English. Readers who are more familiar with Kachru’s scholarship are also likely to benefit from seeing the development of his thought, and the connections between different aspects of the World Englishes paradigm. The clarity and precision of Kachru’s writing style also make the book particularly enjoyable to read.


Achebe, Chinua. 1966. The English Language and the African Writer. Insight 20.

Bailey, Richard W. 1987. Resistance to the spread of English. Paper presented at the Georgetown University Roundtable, March 1987.

Foucault, Michel. 1980. Power-Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 (transl., Colin Gordon et al.). New York: Pantheon.

Kachru, Braj B. 1985. Standards, codification and sociolinguistic realism: The English language in the Outer Circle. In Randolph Quirk and Henry G. Widdowson (Eds), English in the World: Teaching and Learning the Language and Literatures (pp. 11-30). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kachru, Braj B. 1986. The power and politics of English. World Englishes 5(2‐3). 121-140.

Kachru, Braj B. 1988. The sacred cows of English. English Today 4(4). 3-8.

Kachru, Braj B. 1990. World Englishes and applied linguistics. World Englishes 9(1). 3-20.

Kachru, Braj B. 1991. Liberation linguistics and the Quirk concern. English Today 7(1). 3-13.

Kachru, Braj B. 1992. The second diaspora of English. In William Machan & Charles T. Scott (eds), English in its Social Contexts: Essays in Historical Sociolinguistics (pp. 230-252). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kachru, Braj B. 1994. The paradigms of marginality. James E. Alatis plenary address at the 1994 TESOL Annual Convention. Baltimore, March, 8-12.

Kachru, Braj B. 1995a. The Speaking Tree: A medium of plural canons. In James E. Alatis (ed.) Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics 1994: Educational Linguistics, Cross-Cultural Communication, and Global Interdependence (pp. 6-22). Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Kachru, Braj B. 1995b. Transcultural creativity in world Englishes and literary canons. In Guy Cook & Barbara Seidlhofer (Eds), Principle and Practice in Applied Linguistics: Studies in Honour of H.G. Widdowson (pp. 271-287). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kachru, Braj B. 2006. World Englishes and culture wars. In Braj B. Kachru, Yamuna Kachru and Cecil L. Nelson (eds), The Handbook of World Englishes (pp. 446-471). Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Quirk, Randolph. 1990. Language varieties and standard language. English Today 6(1). 3-10.

Saraceni, Mario. 2016 Review of Collected Works of Braj B. Kachru (Jonathan Webster. ed.). Journal of Linguistics 52. 232-236.

Webster, Jonathan. (ed.). 2015. Collected Works of Braj B. Kachru. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.


Achilleas Kostoulas is a post-doctoral research associate at the Institute of English Studies at the University of Graz (Austria). His research interests include exploring the implications of the spread of English for teaching the language globally.

Page Updated: 25-Aug-2017