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Review of  The Handbook of Asian Englishes

Reviewer: Teresa Wai See Ong
Book Title: The Handbook of Asian Englishes
Book Author: Kingsley Bolton Werner Botha Andy Kirkpatrick
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 32.2778

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“The Handbook of Asian Englishes”, edited by Kingsley Bolton, Werner Botha, and Andy Kirkpatrick, consists of an introduction and 37 chapters that are grouped into four parts: (i) The History and Development of Asian Englishes, (ii) English in Outer Circle Asian Societies, (iii) English in Expanding Circle Asian Societies, and (iv) New Frontiers of Research. The handbook is levelled at the large audience of students and scholars interested in understanding the varieties of English in Asia.

The volume begins with Chapter 1 (“Asian Englishes Today”) written by the three editors. It briefly discusses Braj B. Kachru’s model of “Three Circles”, which is widely used to distinguish varieties of Englishes across the globe. In this volume, the variation of Englishes developed in the multilingual and complex Asian societies are organised according to Kachru’s Outer and Expanding Circles.

Part I consists of chapters on how English was introduced in the Asia region and its development. Chapter 2 (“Asia before English”, by A. R. Coupe and F. Kratochvíl) describes the linguistic situation in South and Southeast Asia before British and European colonisation. The region was heavily influenced by the summer and winter monsoonal patterns, which determined the agricultural practices, trade network, and spread of migration. All these activities involved commercial and cultural exchanges that led to language contact.

Chapter 3, entitled “The Statistics of English across Asia”, by K. Bolton and J. Bacon-Shone, discusses statistical data related to English in Asia. The authors provide basic data to estimate the number of English users in both Outer and Expanding Circle Asian societies. The data are based on government censuses and language surveys. The authors also compare the assessments of English proficiency, such as TOEFL, IELTS, and EF, that are commonly used in Asian societies.

In Chapter 4 (“English and Language Policies in East and Southeast Asia”), A. Kirkpatrick and A. J. Liddicoat address the social and official roles played by languages in Asia. They discuss the development and range of issues related to status, corpus, and language-in-education policies. Using several case studies, the authors illustrate the linguistic and cultural diversity of the region while showing the complexity of the implementation of those policies.

Chapter 5 (“English in Asian Schools” by E.-L. Low) surveys English language education in Asian schools through a selection of 10 Outer and 10 Expanding Circle countries as examples. In each country, a brief historical context is provided, followed by the contemporary issues linked to the use and teaching of English. Low concludes her survey by stating that the differences and similarities found are due to the adoption of teaching systems that vary greatly from one another.

Chapter 6 (“English in Asian Universities”, by K. Bolton and W. Botha) explores the current spread of English in Asian higher education. The authors present examples based on recent surveys from the Outer and Expanding circle contexts. They conclude that there is clear evidence of English being adopted as the medium of instruction in Outer Circle rather than Expanding Circle contexts and that the influence of university rankings has impacted its adoption and spread.

In Chapter 7 (“The Features of Asian Englishes: Morphosyntax”), W. Botha and T. Bernaisch present an overview of some current issues pertaining to the features of Asian Englishes, particularly in relation to morphosyntax. They provide examples using different varieties from L2 speakers and suggest possible future directions for research, such as comparing those features and interpreting large-scale patterns against historical perspectives.

Chapter 8, entitled “The Features of Asian Englishes: Phonology” (by I. A. Gardiner and D. Deterding), outlines the many phonological features of different varieties of English in both the Outer and Expanding Circle countries. Gardiner and Deterding conclude that the separation between Outer and Expanding Circles has diminished but that there is a significant distinction when these Circles are compared to the Inner Circle.

The last chapter of Part I (“The Lexicography of Asian Englishes”, by J. Lambert) provides a holistic understanding of the lexicographical resources of Asian English. Some varieties, like the Englishes of India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and the Philippines, have better coverage, while others have a limited subset of vocabulary. Lambert concludes that none of these varieties have come close to the varieties of English in the Inner Circle until the present-day.

Part II comprises chapters related to the varieties of English from the Outer Circle countries. It begins with “Indian English” (Chapter 10, by S. N. Sridhar), which is considered “the oldest non-native variety of the English language” (Sridhar, 2020, p. 244). Sridhar gives a brief historical overview of the development of English in India, followed by the status, functions, and grammatical features of Indian English. He concludes that English is valued highly among Indians in multilingual India today.

Chapter 11, by T. Rahman, discusses “Pakistani English”. The author states that English in Pakistan helps the younger generation to climb up the social ladder, while those who lack such skills consider it as a major impediment. As in Chapter 10, the author presents an overview of the historical development of English in Pakistan and some features of Pakistani English.

In Chapter 12 (“Bangladeshi English”), M. O. Hamid and Md. M. Hasan examine the sociolinguistic reality of English in Bangladesh. Although Bangla is dominant in most areas of the society, many private sectors increasingly rely on English. The authors also illustrate the functions of English in different domains, ranging from education to non-government organisations.

Chapter 13 describes “Nepali English”. R. A. Giri gives an account of the historical background of how English was introduced in Nepal, followed by its status and functions. English has impacted contemporary Nepali society, which subsequently caused a decline in the number of students enrolling in mother tongue schools. Attitudes towards English have changed as it is now perceived as an appropriate language for Nepali society.

Chapter 14 (by T. I. Ekanayaka) deals with “Sri Lankan English”. English was introduced in Sri Lanka during the late 18th century when it became a British colony. Since then, English has played an important role in Sri Lankan society even after Sinhala replaced it as the sole official language in 1956. The author presents some linguistic features of Sri Lankan English and its influences on Sri Lankan popular music.

Chapter 15 (“Myanmar English”, by K. K. Aye) addresses the role of English in the linguistic ecology of Myanmar, a culturally and linguistically diverse country. Aye describes how English was introduced in Myanmar and later became an important language of education and development. She continues her chapter by discussing the features of Myanmar English, suggesting that more research is needed on this issue.

In Chapter 16 (“Malaysian English”), A. Hashim begins by discussing the role of English during British colonial days, followed by the current language planning policies that shape its functions and status. English plays an important function in three key domains: government and law, the education system, and higher education. The chapter ends with a description of the phonological, grammatical, and lexical features of Malaysian English.

Following next is J. Mclellan’s discussion (Chapter 17) of “Brunei English”. Brunei is a small Islamic sultanate country located on the island of Borneo. Although English plays an important role in Brunei’s bilingual education system, its spread does not threaten the position and status of Malay as the country’s official language because each language remains strictly within its own domain of use.

In Chapter 18 (“Singapore English”), F. Cavallaro, B. C. Ng, and Y.-Y. Tan examine one of the most researched varieties of English in the Asia region. Singapore English has today become a distinctive variety due to its development of unique syntactic and lexical features that differ from other Englishes. To many young Singaporeans, English is considered their mother tongue, so much so that they are trapped between their heritage languages and English.

Chapter 19, “Hong Kong English” (by K. Bolton, J. Bacon-Shone, and K. K. Luke), focuses on addressing the shift and struggle of English as the Hong Kong government promotes trilingualism after the Chinese takeover in 1997. English continues to enjoy high prestige in official domains although there are significant changes in the new policies. Although Cantonese holds power and prestige in Hong Kong society, English remains important in the lives of the vast majority of the people of Hong Kong.

The last chapter in Part II (“Philippine English”, by I. P. Martin) discusses the role of English seen as several sub-varieties in a range of situations and contexts in the Philippines. English in the Philippines was influenced by American colonisation, which later developed into Philippine English as a non-standard variety that is now used in everyday contexts. Martin illustrates with examples of lexical properties. She ends the chapter by challenging scholars to “explore the sociolinguistic realities of English language use in the Philippines” (Martin, 2020, p. 496).

Part III deals with varieties of English in the Expanding Circle Asian Societies. It begins with K. Bolton, W. Botha, and W. Zhang providing an overview of the status, functions, and features of “English in China” (Chapter 21). Over the past two decades, there has been increasing attention and demand paid to English in the domain of education and learning of English as a foreign language. With the many studies conducted, the authors present examples of linguistic features of Chinese English.

Chapter 22, by W. Botha and A. Moody, focuses on the status and functions of “English in Macau”. The learning and use of English in contemporary Macau is motivated by Macau’s modernisation process via education, media, and the casino world. Nevertheless, more research is needed on this variety as it competes with Portuguese and Chinese.

Chapter 23 (“English in Taiwan”, by P. I. Kobayashi) deals with how English was introduced in Taiwan and its development in the current era. As English operates as a semi-official language in Taiwan, many Taiwanese universities offer courses in the English medium due to its importance. The promotion and current spread of English have prompted a preference for American English.

In Chapter 24, “English in Japan” by P. Seargeant, English functions predominantly as an ornament/decoration rather than as a form of communication within Japanese society. Seargeant concludes that although many efforts have been made to increase the society’s fluency and proficiency in English, the use of English in everyday life or even in the business sector remains relatively low.

In Chapter 25 (“English in Korea”, by J. S. Lee), English is regarded as “the language of ultimate importance” in modern South Korean society (Park, 2009, p. 1). With the ever- increasing contact with English, “Konglish” has emerged. Features of Konglish are discussed, with its influences on music, advertising, and television. Lee concludes that English is becoming increasingly functional among the younger generation.

Chapter 26 (“English in Indonesia”, by A. F. Lauder) discusses English in Indonesia from a broad perspective. As a multilingual and diverse country, Indonesia allows English to have a special status due to its function as a global language and a foreign language, and it is compulsory in schools. Due to the many problems of implementation in classrooms, suggestions have been made to set up a portal for archives and to make available for online download English teaching lesson plans.

Chapter 27 (“English in Thailand”, by S. Pechan-Hammond) addresses the role, status, and functions of English in the Kingdom of Thailand. English is categorised as a foreign language in Thailand, and thus many initiatives have been taken by various institutions to provide English courses. The author provides some examples of features of the Thai variety of English, although the development of this variety remains unclear.

In Chapter 28 (“English in Cambodia”), S. H. Moore and S. Bouchan attempt to deliver a comprehensive overview of key issues concerning the function and status of English in today’s Cambodia. With Cambodia joining the Association of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) in 1999, the status and functions of English have been elevated. English serves as a lingua franca in Cambodia and its importance is recognised in various sectors, including tourism and education.

In Chapter 29, “English in Laos”, L. Achren and D. Kittiphanh explore the role of English in the multilingual and multiethnic state of Laos. English has contributed to the state’s economic development regionally and globally. Nevertheless, disadvantaged children continue to fall behind due to lack of Lao language skills. The authors argue for the need to support these children, because the introduction of English as a compulsory subject in Grade 3 has further burdened them.

In the final chapter of Part III (Chapter 30: “English in Vietnam”), P. Sundkvist and X. N. C. M. Nguyen assert that English functions in various sectors in Vietnam, including communication, education, and the greater society. They illustrate this variety with features of English spoken and written by Vietnamese students. The authors conclude that the use of English in Vietnam remains for instrumental purposes.

Part IV, New Frontiers to Research, presents chapters on contemporary research in English within the Asian region. Chapter 31 (“Globalisation and Asian Englishes”, by M. Saraceni) tackles the broad phenomenon of globalisation that is influencing the development and spread of English in Asia’s complex sociolinguistic environments. Within the Outer and Expanding Circle societies, English has become an Asian lingua franca, serving as an important language in the fields of education, tourism, government, media, and communication.

Chapter 32 (“English as an ASEAN lingua franca”, by A. Kirkpatrick) describes the history and current role of English in ASEAN. As English becomes the sole working language of ASEAN, emphasis has been made to teach English where the cultures of ASEAN are included in its curriculum. This emphasis demonstrates the vitality of English as an important medium of communication and its growing future prospects in ASEAN.

As Asian Englishes have increasingly received much attention, in chapter 33, “Corpus Linguistics and Asian Englishes”, J. Murkerjee and T. Bernaisch discuss how scholars use corpora as a tool to conduct research on these varieties. The authors give a brief introduction on the principles of corpus linguistics, followed by examples of Asian Englishes corpora, and end by presenting some new developments in this field of research.

In Chapter 34 (“English in Asian Popular Culture”), A. Moody surveys the literature on the roles of English in Asian popular cultures. He discusses two dominant themes of bilingual creativity/language mixing and expression of identity within the language of pop culture. Moody illustrates the exonormative and endonormative varieties of English using two case studies – the Japanese pop band, Love Psychedelico, and the Singaporean television program, Girls Out Loud.

The next chapter (Chapter 35: “Asian Literatures in English”, by S. G.-L. Lim, C. B. Patterson, Y-D. Troeung, and W. Gui) examines topics related to Asian literatures in English. The authors highlight the historical position of English literature in postcolonial Asian settings, followed by its development up to the 2000s. They conclude by stating that new artistic forms and concepts will emerge in future English literature writings.

Chapter 36 (“English and Asian Religions”, by P. G.-L. Chew) addresses the role of English in Asia’s religious domain. Chew begins her chapter with an overview of the literature on language and religion. She continues the discussion on how English, as a foreign language, has impacted Christianity through TESOL. Chew ends by providing some questions on the issue of language and religion for future consideration.

As linguistic landscape research has become an evolving area of study in recent years, in Chapter 37 (“English in Asian Linguistic Landscapes”), K. Bolton, W. Botha, and S.-L. Lee review how English is contextualised in Asian linguistic landscapes. They provide examples of studies from various countries in Asia. Special focus is placed on Hong Kong’s “Lennon Walls” as the authors illustrate the language conflict issues observed from the data.

In the final chapter of Part IV and of the handbook (Chapter 38: “English in Asian Legal Systems”) R. Powell explores the de jure and de facto positions of English in Asia’s jurisdictions. Some countries, such as Brunei and Singapore, practice a monolingual English legal system, while others, such as Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka, practice bilingualism. In countries such as Japan and South Korea, the use of English in the legal system is seen as spreading. All in all, the importance of English in today’s Asian societies has produced patterns of contact between English and local languages in both private and public law, which poses challenges to lawyers, translators, policy makers, and interpreters.


This handbook brings together topics related to English varieties in Asia, which are receiving much attention in the present era. The wide range of topics in the handbook do not solely cover the varieties but also take into account research in applied linguistics, which is rather impressive. Each chapter ends with a reference list that is useful to obtain further information on the chapter. One criticism of this handbook is that it lacks a concluding chapter to wrap up all the topics, something I felt to be wanting when I completed reading the last chapter on English and the legal system.

Despite this criticism, the handbook is a perfect point to start off, especially for those interested in or working on topics related to Asian English varieties. Each chapter, which examines an English variety from either the Outer or Expanding Circle Asian Societies, presents a comprehensive overview, starting from the historical introduction of English in the respective society to its current development, including examples of linguistic features of the given variety. These chapters will definitely be of interest to both theoretical and applied linguists. Even those linguists who are familiar with the respective variety will probably find the handbook convenient as a quick reference.

There are some points to emphasise about each section of the handbook:

Part I describes an overview of Asian Englishes. This section is useful for understanding the history and development of Asian English varieties. The chapters on policies and schools/universities are important as they present background knowledge on the role of English in the domains of government and education. Although it is understandable that the chapters on features of Asian Englishes are intended to provide a general understanding, they are somewhat repetitive as the same features are discussed in much greater detail in Parts II and III.

Part II presents chapters on English in the Outer Circle Asian Societies. Generally, they follow a similar structure of starting with the historical background, followed by the development in the country, and finally engaging with current policies. The examples of linguistic features provided are useful for recognising the distinctive variety.

Part III is comprised of chapters on English in the Expanding Circle Asian Societies. Most of the chapters give a historical overview followed by the role of English in the present-day Expanding Circle countries. Nevertheless, not all chapters present examples of linguistic features of the respective variety, which may disadvantage those interested in investigating them.

Part IV consists of chapters related to the current linguistic research on English in Asia. A variety of aspects are touched upon, including linguistic landscape, which is a currently popular topic. Some of the chapters end with questions for future consideration, which will provide inspiration for early-career scholars.

In sum, “The Handbook of Asian Englishes” is definitely recommended for scholars studying varieties of English, particularly in the Asian region, because these varieties are still developing and have much potential for future research. As Asia is growing and becoming the new frontier in the economy sector, English plays a vital role and thus, there are many issues that need investigation, including the inequality among languages as English competes with local/regional languages. This handbook is definitely a useful resource.


Martin, I. P. (2020). Philippine English. In K. Bolton, W. Botha, & A. Kirkpatrick (Eds.), “The handbook of Asian Englishes” (pp. 479-500). USA: Wiley Blackwell.

Park, J. S. (2009). “The local construction of a global language: Ideologies of English in South Korea”. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Sridhar, S. N. (2020). Indian English. In K. Bolton, W. Botha, & A. Kirkpatrick (Eds.), “The handbook of Asian Englishes” (pp. 243-277). USA: Wiley Blackwell.
Teresa Wai See Ong holds a doctorate in sociolinguistics from Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. Her research interests include community language maintenance, children’s language acquisition and development, and multilingualism. Dr. Ong is currently leading in a study related to adolescents’ voices on family language policy in East Malaysia.

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