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Review of  The Handbook of World Englishes

Reviewer: Joel Hartse
Book Title: The Handbook of World Englishes
Book Author: Braj B. Kachru Yamuna Kachru Cecil L. Nelson
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 20.4273

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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

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,

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

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.
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.

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