LINGUIST List 31.1553

Fri May 08 2020

Review: English; Historical Linguistics; Sociolinguistics: Kachru (2019)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 28-Jan-2020
From: Mayowa Akinlotan <>
Subject: World Englishes and Culture Wars
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Book announced at

AUTHOR: Braj B. Kachru
TITLE: World Englishes and Culture Wars
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2019

REVIEWER: Mayowa Akinlotan, Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt


The book “World Englishes and Culture Wars” is a novel collection of issues and concepts, past, present, and future that have (and will still continue to) shape intellectual debates and discussions about the narratives of the contentions in the history, development, and future of World Englishes, which, according to Kachru, are a metaphor for a window to see the fierce but subtle competition among the World Cultures to remain at or move from the periphery to the center. One veritable weapon to sustain the battle is to effectively and efficiently play the game of the politics of language, which in this book, is the politics of the English language, past, present, and the future. The fourteen chapters in the book are grouped into six sections representing World Englishes Today, Context and Creativity, Past and Prejudice, Ethical Issues and the ELT Empire, World Englishes and the Classroom, and Research Areas and Resources. The first section of the book consists of five chapters.

Chapter 1, The Agony and Ecstasy discusses two different reactionary perceptions of the spread, uses and functions of the English language in the present global age. According to Kachru, there are two camps, whose attitudes, reactions, and perceptions of the spread and status of the English language can be identified as the agonising camp and the ecstasying camp. The agonising camp, such as Ngugi Wa Thiongo, agonises that the continued spread of the language is tantamount to the death of their local languages, cultures, identity, ideologies, and sensibilities, all of which sum up into the loss of future for the people and their societies. The ecstasying camp, according to Kachru, thus includes those who see nativisation and institutionalisation of English not only as liberation but as an opportunity to express and export to a global audience those cultural milieu, identities, and ideologies that the local languages had no opportunity to do. Also, the ecstasying camp rejoices at the opportunity to abandon the classical canon, and create a new canon which promotes and controls the ideological tenets of the society. Of course in this camp is the likes of Wole Soyinka, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature on a literary career exporting African (Yoruba) ideologies to a global audience via the English language (Akinlotan 2019b).

Chapter 2 The Second Diaspora revisited how English language as colonial tool came to Africa, Asia, and beyond. The first diaspora is the spread of the language from Britain to the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. The Second Diaspora is characterised by expansion of the canon, a conscious creation of a distinct African and Asian canon, which means a repudiation of the shackles of canon from the colonial English. Moreso, a new linguistic order began to emerge in these places, such as the creation of form and meaning that are not shared with native speakers from the established varieties. The growth and development of English in the second diaspora has brought about different varieties in each country, which is often classified along ‘an educated variety and a range of subvarieties’.

The reality of different varieties thus necessitates a question of standard and codification, a conscious agenda that all new varieties must plan and execute. One important argument made in this chapter is that of pluricentricity which argues that places such as Nigeria, India, Singapore, etc are now recognised ‘centers for the norms of standard, literary creativity, and linguistic experimentation’.In other words, the argument that the center, which was used to be Britain, then USA added, followed by Canada, and New Zealand, can be least labelled a hegemonic cognitive shackle of linguistic imperialism, which, if the USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, etc could successfully break up after several decades of struggle, then here comes the start of a new linguistic movement for the new varieties. Unfortunately Kachru failed to mention how the political clout of these once-new varieties of the USA and others helped them achieve that status. Eckert (2018) has argued that such a linguistic agenda and movement would require that such an agenda be complemented with a great play of political power.

In Chapter 3 Culture Wars Kachru presents different shades of ‘wars’ that are linguistically and culturally driven, more especially as a result of the continuous spread of the English into cultures and speech communities that once aggressively and politically repudiated the language. To these societies, the English language is a Western power and weapon, and its spread comes with risks of cultural and political shifts. Another dimension of war ‘is appropriated by the Anglophone African and Asian countries, who are severing their umbilical cord from the Inner Circle, or the original native speaking countries...’ (p.50). In spite of this repression, Kachru argues that the English language continues to attain more functions in new societies such that ‘no other language is close to English in its penetration in various levels’ (p.53). There is also a third dimension of war, which is the conscious language policy to promote local languages at the expense of English in the second diaspora speech communities. For instance, there are many State legislative houses in Nigeria that conduct their business in local languages, preventing the use of English. Of course such a proposal is a reflection of resentment towards dominance of English over local languages. Also, a continued repudiation of the traditional English canon in many societies reflects the attitude towards English, which is “learn just the language but not the culture and learn our own culture through the language”.

Chapter 4 Standards and Codification touches on ever topical issue and question characterising studies and research of World Englishes. The chapter reiterates that the debate about the question of standard has moved from the Standard to standards, which again reflects that Outer Circle Englishes are potentially standard-bearing themselves. In order to attain standards, Kachru proposes four ways of codifications; (1) authoritative codification, an establishment of an agency to guide the process, (2) sociological codification, agreeing on a certain form, such as an ‘accent bar’ that everyone should aim for, (3) educational codification, using educational resources (e.g. teacher’s competence, dictionaries, the media) to identify ‘proper’ and ‘acceptable’ uses, and (4) psychological codification, that the society should reward those who use the language correctly, ensuring that users are psychologically pressed to use the language correctly.

In addition, Kachru proposes that an international institute or center be established, and that it should not be an agency ‘correcting, improving and ascertaining the English tongue...but a research center that has the functions of a clearinghouse, archive, think tank, and graduate teaching program’ (p.79). Chapter 5 Power and Politics reiterates the power behind language and how the politics characterizing its interplay at the center and the peripheries is displayed. This chapter conceptualises many practical questions and issues raised in Chapter 2 and 3. For instance, the continued struggles between the English language and other mainstream languages will continue to be shaped by ideological battles powered by political sphere and influence. In another dimension, the movement of any new variety of English from the outer circle to the inner circle will require a titanic play of power and politics.

Part II Context and Creativity consists of Chapters 6 and 7, The Speaking Tree and Creativity and Literary Canons respectively. Chapter 6 The Speaking Tree conceptualises World Englishes as a speaking tree, which not only continues to grow in branches (i.e. different varieties in the Outer and the expanding circles) but also continues to enable these societies to use it to meet different social needs ranging from educational, research, media, cultural and cross-cultural, political, commerce and trade purposes. Also, this spread has ensured that English language and literature have ‘ceased to be exclusively Eurocentric, Judeo-Christian, and Western’ (p.110). In other words, it has becomes an exponent of multiculturalism, which was once frowned upon. For instance the expansion of canon, which was fiercely fought by the ‘owners’ of English, has now become a norm. That is, different societies with their own varieties today now have different canons, symbolising their inclusion in a global discourse and articulation of one’s cultural repertoire and identities. Kachru argues that literatures produced in World Englishes, together with all of their linguistic innovations, should provoke conscious questions in the form of debate and research, with a view to harmonising the form, uses, and functions of the language in an increasing cross-cultural global community of users of the language.

Chapter 7 Creativity and Literary Canon shows the relationship between creativity and literary canon, especially how the various multicultural literary canons benefited from linguistic creativities both in their mother tongue and other languages. The chapter presents creativity as being in the core of World Englishes, as evident in their literary canons, their innovations, their writing styles, creation and translation of texts into English and local indigenous languages, and transfer of cultural systems from local indigenous language to expressions in English.

Part III Past and Prejudice presents three chapters 8, 9, and 10 as Liberation Linguistics, Sacred Linguistic Cows, and The Paradigms of Marginalisation respectively. Chapter 8 Liberation Linguistics revisits the questions, issues, and discussions, past and present, that characterised early reactions of the then ‘owners’ of English towards the peculiarities characterising the uses, functions, form and meaning of the language in the former colonies. The chapter presents how different processes converged to break the owners’ attack ‘on the recognition of pluricentricity and multiidenties of English’. At the centre of Quirk’s concern is that of the retention, preservation, conservation of British variety of English with which other varieties should be measured. Kachru argued that linguistic, educational and sociolingusitic realities converged against such utopia idea of a World Standard. The fact that English language has been nativised and reconstructed to express different cultures necessitates emergence of standards rather than the standard.

Chapter 9 Sacred Linguistic Cows shows that the spread of English has been characterised with three types of reactions: linguistic, attitudinal and ethnocentric. Part of the attitudinal reaction is the question of whether the spread of English has made other cultures and languages it co-exists with stronger or weaker? Chapter 10 The Paradigms of Marginalization shows that there are systematic paradigms with which quite a number of users of English across the World cultures are marginalised. One paradigm holds that ‘monolingualism and monolingual societies are the norms for hypothesis formation’ (p.168). The other paradigm refers to the ‘resistance to taking into consideration linguistic and sociolinguistic contexts that entail modification or alternation of hypotheses’. One of such hypotheses is that non-native speakers cannot have a complete grammar of a language, an hypothesis representing the perspective of a monolingual grammar. The third paradigm, according to Kachru is the ‘misconnection between a hypothesis and its generalisation, and the relationship of both to sociolinguistic contexts and the historical realities of language use.’ The chapter clearly summarizes its argument: the need to revisit the idea that only hypotheses, theories, and concepts developed from the Inner circle or its users are the ‘lights’ and thus should be generalised into the Outer and Expanding circles.

Part IV Ethical Issues and the ELT Empire has two chapters, 11 and 12 representing Applying Linguistics and Leaking Paradigms respectively. Chapter 11 Applying Linguistics presents us with a number of concerns between the conceptualization of the relationship between World Englishes and Applied Linguistics, and that such concerns need to be addressed, if the gains made in the studies, teachings, and research into World Englishes will continue to be of linguistic, cultural and social value for everyone concerned, the users, researchers, and the policy planners. Among those concerns is continued debate about the nativist versus non-nativist attitudes towards the status of the varieties of English needs to be re-examined in how we design, conceptualise, theorise, and explain issues of interest and findings in research and studies into varieties of English around the globe. Chapter 12 Leaking Paradigms challenges linguists to be self-evaluative of the models and paradigms we applied in teaching and describing language as a powerful social tool. In other words, paradigms must always be evaluated time and again, to ensure a creation of a sound theoretical, methodological, pragmatic, and ethical paradigm that allows us to objectively study language and the speech communities without bias.

Part V World Englishes and the Classroom and Part VI Research Areas and Resources have a chapter each, Mythology in Teaching and Research Resources respectively. Chapter 13 Mythology in Teaching re-examines a number of misconceptions about method, approach, and strategies of teaching the English language, together with its subtle culture, to users who are bilingual or multilingual. Some of these myths, which are consciously and unconsciously created by the Inner Circle, with a power-driven and power-seeking purpose, are that (1) the inner circle ‘owns’ the language, and users in outer and expanding circles are just ‘borrowers’ of the language, (2) English language and its literature is monoculture and has one literary canon, whereas the reality is one of many literary canons, (3) uses, functions, forms and meanings of usages in outer and expanding circles look up to models in the inner circle, whereas empirical data has shown bilingual speakers from the outer circle attaining equivalent performance with speakers in the inner circle, (4) outer circle varieties are error-driven, and should be approached as such, therefore promoting and characterising these varieties with error-analysis and fossilisation approaches, and (5) those who challenge the hegemony, power and control of the inner circle carry linguistic, cultural and social risks.

Kachru argues that the process of demythologising must start from the classroom, where the ‘perceptions of our needs, our priorities, and our needed tools - theoretical, methodological, and educational’ must be passed onto our students, co-researchers, and the society at large, with serious re-examination of these myths. The final chapter Research Resources provides a list of areas and issues that constantly require the attention of student, researchers and all users from all the different speech communities. For instance, more research is called for on the issue of conceptual frameworks in World Englishes, stratification, intelligibility, power and politics of English, hegemony and globalisation of English, nativisation and acculturation, and differing contexts and identities in World Englishes (for example, Akinlotan 2019a,&b).


The weight of the content of this book means a single review or read cannot do justice to it. This is an encyclopedia of the studies and research in varieties around the globe, including their history of status, conceptualisation and development. Important issues, question, and concepts relevant to understanding the history, state-of-the-art studies/research, and the future of World Englishes are well discussed throughout the fourteen chapters contained in the book. Also, key concepts such as nativisation, linguistic ideology, language power and politics, language ownership in a global world, the problems of measuring standards via different paradigms, etc are discussed from probing perspectives such that readers are challenged to rethink the theoretical, methodological, and socio-cultural standings characterising World Englishes. Kachru also succeeds in moving the questions about the theoretical and practical realities of World Englishes to the teaching of English language, in the lights of pluricentricity brought about by the widespread development of the language in different societies.

The book is very lucid in its language, clear in its re-conceptualisation of known concepts, ambitious and bold in asking difficult questions in very clear language. Many thanks for Kachru in using his vintage position to once again bring forth those difficult questions of: (1) when will the users, together with all the apparatus of institutions made up of the educational, political, cultural, social, and economic institutions , in the inner circle universally accept the realities of the shift of the English language from monocentricity to pluricentricity, where all literary canons, creativities, innovations, etc are not approached with suspicion, as ‘borrowers’ of the language, as not good enough to develop paradigms and/or hypotheses for the inner circle varieties? The book is a must for students, teachers, researchers, linguists and non-linguists, everyone who lives with the realities that the spread of English language is an important socio-economic and political phenomenon.

The following lines clearly state one of the agendas Kachru sets out to achieve (which he does achieve) in this great work: ‘We have now to re-examine the myths we follow, the myths we believe in, and the myths we pass on to our students and colleagues. We must gravely and calmly analyze the relevance of such myths to our sociolinguistic contexts. We must engage in self-examination and ask ourselves. Why is it that we have always shirked from taking bold local initiatives...and why is it that we have accepted primarily the role of receivers of patronage and not asserted our partnership?’ (p.237).


Akinlotan, Mayowa. (2019b). Evolution of outer circle varieties: a new model for Nigerian English. Socjolingwistyka, 33 (3), 43-55

Akinlotan, Mayowa. (2019). Noun phrase complement in Nigerian English. Brazilian English Language Teaching, 9 (2), 342-346

Eckert, Penelope. (2018). Meaning and Linguistic Variation: The Third Wave in Sociolinguistics. Cambridge University Press


Mayowa Akinlotan currently works at Katholische Universität Eichstätt Germany. My current research interests cut around corpus linguistics, syntax, varieties of English, sociolinguistics, quantitative methods, language variation and change.

Page Updated: 08-May-2020