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Review of  Areal Features of the Anglophone World

Reviewer: Amelia Tseng
Book Title: Areal Features of the Anglophone World
Book Author: Raymond Hickey
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 24.3127

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“Areal features of the Anglophone world” aims to provide a new perspective on areal processes by bringing together scholars working on diverse but complementary areas, both new and established, of the field. Its authors employ diverse methodologies to identify the areal clustering of non-standard linguistic features, ranging from a comprehensive review of traditional dialect-map data (Britain, Chapter 1) to computational methods for phylogenetic modeling (Brato & Huber, Chapter 6). ‘Areal features’ reviews a wide range of previous research on non-standard English features in vernaculars and basilects, and addresses under-researched topics such as African and Asian Englishes and variational pragmatics. Its nineteen chapters outline and compare multiple features and typologies, a necessarily complex approach to areal concentrations (Thomason, 2000), in order to provide insight into the overall structures of different varieties and to investigate processes including substrate and founder effects, (dis)similarities in acquisitional situations, the importance of sociolinguistic context, and potential vernacular universals (Chambers, 2004).

Structurally, the book comprises two parts. The first presents case studies in particular geographic areas. These chapters address specific areal features by region and/or variety, beginning with non-standard features in the United Kingdom and United States, and followed by Africa, Asia, emergent varieties more broadly, and the Antipodes. The book’s second half addresses levels of linguistic structure across the Anglophone world more broadly, providing a broader context for case-study results.

Raymond Hickey’s introduction provides a clear overview of key themes and goals. These include the different social and linguistic factors involved in language contact and areality (e.g. input; language universals; types of contact; levels of language; transportation of features; etc.). Hickey also discusses the typological status of features and draws particular attention to differences between phonetics/phonology and morphosyntax as diagnostics of areality. Finally, he is careful to distinguish between processes of areality and the controversial concept of “linguistic areas” (p. 2).

In Chapter 1, “English in England,” David Britain examines the evolution of British English dialects via review and comparison of phonological maps, noting that the stability of these dialect regions in spite of changing methodologies indicating robust differences. Britain further notes that relatively little research exists on the contemporary formation of new dialect areas. He therefore calls for the examination of emerging “dialectological city-regions” (p. 41, cf Trudgill, 1999) and supralocalization. These topics are intimately related to the movement of peoples (e.g. internal and international migration), as also noted by other authors in this volume.

Next, Warren Maguire (“English and Scots in Scotland”, Chapter 2) situates an overview of Scots phonetics and phonological features in Scotland’s complex historical sociolinguistic context. He particularly contrasts urban sound changes with traditional dialects, concluding that these contemporary changes appear to be part of the U.K.’s broader supralocalization patterns, but that different outcomes may result in Scots due to the unique linguistic constraints and social identity concerns involved.

In the next chapter (“English in Ireland”, Chapter 3), Raymond Hickey examines areality in Irish English via contemporary linguistic features and reconstructed “remnant” traits (p. 91). Hickey found concentrations of phonological, morphological, syntactic, and intonational features which indicate prolonged Irish-English language contact and shift and reflect historic cultural and settlement patterns; he further notes the emergence of supraregional forms incorporating urban (Dublin) vernacular features.

Relatedly, Matthew Gordon (“English in the United States”, Chapter 4) discusses sociohistorical context and language-internal processes as factors in the development of American English phonology. By contextualizing koineization within nineteenth-century U.S. population shifts, Gordon proposes an alternate timing and geographical origin for the well-documented Northern Cities Vowel Shift (Labov, Yaeger, & Steiner, 1972). In contrast, he characterizes the Southern Vowel Shift as the consequence of structural mechanisms rather than social shifts.

Chapters 5-8 highlight the importance of research on less-researched and emergent language varieties. Jeffrey Williams (“English varieties in the Caribbean”, Chapter 5) outlines the Caribbean region as a linguistic area, noting that the area’s geography has given rise to an understudied “multiplicity of insularities” (p. 133). He also compares phonological and morphosyntactic patterns in the Euro-Caribbean Anglophone Linguistic Area (ECALA) and Caribbean Anglophone Creole Linguistic Area (CACLA). Based on this, he rejects prevalent theories of an Anglophone Creole continuum, arguing that input varieties for present-day creoles were colonial koine predecessor varieties rather than basilects. As such, he calls for a more nuanced view of the sociohistorical setting.

In “English in Africa” (Chapter 6), Thorsten Brato and Magnus Huber argue that traditional notions of “areality” which imply geographical contiguity are inadequate for the African case; traditional language-tree modeling is also inadequate since there is no prototypical “African English,” but rather simultaneous independent input and co-existence in the context of a highly complex African languages substrate. They applied phylogenetic modeling to data from the electronic World Atlas of Varieties of English (EWAVE; Kortmann & Lunkenheimer, 2011) to calculate the number of shared phonetic-phonological and morphosyntactic features between varieties. Phonetic-phonological results showed an ethnic divide between black and white varieties; however, no hierarchical grouping of morpho-syntactic features was observed. These different arealities illustrate the complexities of the relationships between varieties, challenge the traditional division of African Englishes into geographical regions, and indicate that “nativization” may proceed at different speeds and directions on different linguistic levels (p. 182).

Umberto Ansaldo and Lisa Lim (“English in Asia”, Chapter 7) compare two varieties of Asian Englishes, an understudied area which has much to offer regarding our understanding of dialect formation and areal processes. As a recent development, many of these restructured varieties are unstable, and horizontal transfer is difficult to identify; further, input includes non-native and pidgin English varieties as well as diverse substrate languages. Ansaldo and Lim focus on tone (a Southeast Asia areal feature) in Singaporean and Hong Kong English, finding that English stress patterns are reinterpreted through Sinitic tonal assignment. However, Singapore English shows word-level tonal patterns which are distinct from general-contact and second language (L2) behavior, particularly regarding particles; phrasal-level differences were also observed. These findings indicate an early time-depth of tone transfer and, importantly, show that “complex” (p. 190) features which are dominant in the linguistic ecology and/or susceptible to contact diffusion may be selected for spread from early stages of language contact, especially in cases of common substrates or typologies.

In Chapter 8, “Shared features in New Englishes”, Devyani Sharma establishes a shared typology of New English morphosyntactic features, expanding on Chambers (2004) and Szmrecsanyi and Kortmann (2009a) to identify possible “emergent universals”, or language universals which arise as a consequence of the language contact process (p. 220). Importantly, since New Englishes manifest a “robust additional presence of shared traits arising out of substrate commonalities or out of common adult L2 learner strategies” (p. 228), research on these varieties must consider L2 acquisition theory and substrate languages as well as superstrate influences and universals. Sharma also calls for careful investigation and cross-linguistic comparison to distinguish genuine shared features from structural similarities which may arise from different grammatical conditionings.

Pam Peters and Kate Burridge (“English in Australia and New Zealand”, Chapter 9) conclude the case studies section with an overview of phonological, lexico-morphological, and morphosyntactic features in Australian and New Zealand English, classifying each as areal, angloversal, stylistic, inherited, or vernacular universal (e.g. high-rising terminals). Peters and Burridge distinguish between vernacular sociolects and colloquial “angloversals” (Mair, 2003), concluding that the recalibration of informal British English features into standard Australian/New Zealand varieties may be grounded in context-specific social valuation and a general Antipodean preference for informality. Their chapter emphasizes the importance of culture and the ecolinguistic habitat in areal studies, since the selection and concentration of features can reflect the recalibration of “stylistic norms of a given register… in the socio-cultural contexts of regional varieties of English” (p. 253).

The second half of the book focuses on variation and areal concentrations of features by structural domain. In Chapter 10, “Global features of English vernaculars”, J.K. Chambers examines a range of non-standard phonological and morphosyntactic features to support his well-known argument for “vernacular universals” (Chambers, 2004). Chambers further describes a sociolectal continuum which categorizes native and learner varieties based on complexity, understood as the relative presence or absence of constraints for “primitive” feature suppression and replacement (p. 264). The continuum also relates to social context via an antagonistic prestige relationship between varieties.

Daniel Schreier (“Phonological inventories”, Chapter 11) addresses diffusion, inheritance, and universal features in areally-concentrated phonological inventories, finding that consonant-cluster reduction, while a universal feature, increases in language-contact situations, while rhoticity seems to reflect the diffusion and legacy of input varieties at different points in English’s colonial history and linguistic development. Schreir concludes that “the dividing line between shared, diffused and universal features is necessarily blurred” (p. 279), encompassing local language ecologies, sociohistorical context, input varieties, and universals.

Lieselotte Anderwald (“Negation in varieties of English”, Chapter 12) examines non-standard negation in adjunct data from the ‘Handbook of Varieties of English’ to expand on Szmrecsanyi and Kortmann (2009b). Anderwald defines geography broadly as ‘world regions’ and addresses pidgins, creoles, and first language (L1) and non-L1 varieties. While she identifies one potential universal (punctual ‘never’), she attributes geographic patterning overall to historical input-variety distributions; pervasive morphosyntactic asymmetries may be a function of the difficulty of L2 acquisition of marked Standard English features.

Kerstin Lunkenheimer (“Tense and aspect”, Chapter 13) uses a similarly broad understanding of areality to analyze non-standard tense and aspect marking in EWAVE data. She finds an overall connection between area and dominant variety type, particularly in the Caribbean, Asia, and the British Isles; “individual” features may be attributable to substrate influences or input varieties. While these large-scale quantitative results generally support previous research, they challenge previous research on compound structures using completive/perfect ‘done’ in pidgins and creoles (p. 346).

In Chapter 14, “Verbal concord”, Lukas Pietsch reviews historical and sociolinguistic research on the Northern Subject Rule (NSR) using Survey of English Dialects maps (Orton & Dieth, 1969, 1971; Orton & Wakelin, 1968). He challenges the prevalent wave-model assertion (Godfrey & Tagliamonte 1999; Wright 2002), arguing instead for separate, parallel innovation of type-of-subject constraints in England; NSR in newer Irish dialects is attributed to a general convergence and diffusion of northern features to southern Irish English varieties. Pietsch also identifies ‘was’ leveling as a possible vernacular universal, in contrast to ‘was/were’ realignment, which differs between Britain and the rest of the Anglophone world (p. 357).

Suzanne Wagner (“Pronominal systems”, Chapter 15) investigates non-standard pronominal subject usage in forty-six varieties of English from the ‘Handbook of Varieties of English’ (Kortmann & Schneider, 2004) and other corpora. Findings generally indicate a binary pattern, where tendencies group by regional distribution or formal characteristics. True areal features were rare, consisting of traditional dialect features, special forms (‘youse’), and tri-contrastive Australasia/Pacific number systems; ‘them’-demonstratives, previously considered non-areal, were found to be a diffusing (possibly globally) New World feature (p. 399). Other non-standard usage likely reflects contact-reinforced universal tendencies; overlap between these processes and restricted systems remains to be explored.

Similarly, Pieter Siemund, Georg Maier, and Martin Schweinberger (“Reflexive and intensive ‘self’-forms”, Chapter 16) examine pronominal form and function in the ‘International Corpus of English’, finding little L1 regularization of reflexive paradigms and low frequencies of non-standard use (compared to Kortmann & Szmrecsanyi, 2004). Indian English and Irish English were notable in terms of self-intensifiers and untriggered ‘self’-forms, respectively. Their results imply that varietal differences in non-standard syntactic forms are gradual, not categorical, and require quantitative assessment rather than reliance on binary distribution.

Stephan Gramley (“Vocabulary”, Chapter 17) engages with areality in terms of English lexicon, reviewing lexical and semantic approaches (Wierzbicka, 1997), while acknowledging the difficulty of operationalizing this topic. Gramley argues that slang and tabooed words constitute vernacular universals and are productive areas of investigation since they operate independently of “middle-class” norms. He concludes that shared rather than variety-exclusive forms are the norm: English reflects much present and historical language contact and borrowing, and “Americanisms” and subculture-specific terms, in particular, are widely distributed globally. However, areal vocabulary can be restricted by ethnic contact (South Africa). Gramley also identifies euphemisms and euphemistic strategies as possible universals.

Finally, Klaus Schneider (“Pragmatics”, Chapter 18) surveys pragmatic variation in national English varieties. In brief, he finds most pragmatic structures to be variety-preferential, though some are shared by “inner-circle” L1 varieties (Kachru, 1985). Local forms of discourse markers and related phenomena, for example, differ across varieties and can serve as local identity markers. Conventions of form and speaker strategies (e.g. required degree of indirectness; “appropriate” forms in different social situations) are also culture-dependent; however, some structures have variety-exclusive features (e.g. imperative-structure offers in Irish English). Finally, interactional-level sequences and speech acts are informative and presumably reflect culture-specific values and behavioral expectations. While unsurprising that sociocultural explanations, as well as structure and frequency, are key to understanding pragmatic behavior, Schneider’s call for increased study of variational pragmatics is timely, particularly in terms of comparative research and less-studied emergent and “outer circle” Englishes, which are likely to manifest L2 and substrate influences.


‘Areal features of the Anglophone world’ engages productively with processes of areality, providing a nuanced perspective on language contact and processes of change via research by top scholars of sociolinguistics, variation, dialectology, pidgins and creoles, historical linguistics, and theories of language universals. Its contributions include: evidence that linguistic levels may vary in rate or direction of change in contact situations; detailed research of less-studied varieties, leading to the expansion and challenging of preexisting theories; succinct overviews of key research on inner-circle varieties, giving a basis of comparison only possible with diachronic data; new methodological directions; and an emphasis on the importance of social context and language ecology when distinguishing “true” from “apparent” areal features and identifying internal language processes and possible universals.

Importantly, the book indicates the need for more research on less-researched and emergent Englishes in order to understand the relationship between sociohistorical context, contact-induced change, and more universal tendencies. Sharma (Chapter 8) explicitly calls for the integration of substrate language and L2 acquisition theory into New English paradigms; future directions in this regard might have implications for theoretical models such as Exemplar Theory (Johnson, 1997). Other directions include new foci in well-studied dialect regions, such as urbanization in Britain, in which Britain (Chapter 1) notes the importance of iconization and international immigration. Finally, Gramly (Chapter 16) notes the need for more principled methodologies addressing lexical areality, and Schneider (Chapter 17) argues strongly for increased research on variationist pragmatics.

This edited volume’s diversity constitutes both its strength and its primary drawback. The range of approaches to areality can be difficult to follow, especially given the space constraints which make methodological reporting uneven. While the material speaks for itself, a clear and accessible discussion of terms would help orient the reader and make the book more accessible to scholars from related subfields and disciplines and broaden its impressive potential for impact. For example, understanding of vernacularity (e.g. Wolfram & Schilling-Estes, 2005) and definitions of language dominance vary between and within subfields. More discussion of how the chapters complement each other and of the benefits of integrating different research perspectives into the overall framework would also increase the book’s coherence.

In sum, ‘Areal features of the Anglophone world’ achieves its goal of applying “areal considerations in the analysis of change in varieties of English … (for) a better understanding of the configurations found throughout the Anglophone world” (p. 13). It is recommended for linguists and linguistic anthropologists working in the fields of dialectology, variation, language contact and change, and sociolinguistic research on “non-traditional” or less-studied varieties. While less suitable for non-specialist readers, it will be extremely useful to scholars seeking an informative and thought-provoking resource on the distributional and structural aspects of English dialects, and to those engaging with a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to areal processes.


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International Corpus of English (ICE).
Amelia Tseng is a Ph.D Candidate in the Department of Linguistics at Georgetown University. Her primary research interests are the sociolinguistics of language contact and (im)migration, with focus on multilingualism, identity, and emergent dialects; her current research examines these topics in U.S. Latino communities using variationist, sociophonetic, and discourse analytic methodology. Her dissertation project addresses style, emergent dialect development, and Latino identity in Washington, D.C.