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Review of  Exploring World Englishes

Reviewer: Steffen Schaub
Book Title: Exploring World Englishes
Book Author: Philip Seargeant
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 23.5287

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AUTHOR: Philip Seargeant
TITLE: Exploring World Englishes
SUBTITLE: Language in a Global Context
SERIES TITLE: Routledge Introductions to Applied Linguistics, Vol. 4
PUBLISHER: Routledge
YEAR: 2012

Steffen Schaub, Department of English Linguistics, Philipps University Marburg, Germany.


‘Exploring World Englishes: Language in a Global Context’ is the fourth volume in ‘Routledge Introductions to Applied Linguistics’, a series of introductory level textbooks covering core topics of Applied Linguistics. The series is primarily aimed at “those beginning postgraduate studies or taking an introductory MA course, as well as advanced undergraduates” (p. i). This textbook is an introduction to the challenges and problems posed by Englishes in a globalized world, and how these problems are addressed. By adopting the plural noun, the author subscribes to the position that the English language should be seen “not as a single, monolithic entity, but as something that has multiple varieties and forms” (p. 1). The book follows a practice-to-theory approach by first discussing real-world problems caused by the forms and functions of World Englishes (WE) before relating these problems to the theoretical frameworks developed in academic discourse.


The book includes 14 chapters, a commentary section, a glossary, an annotated further reading section, a list of references, and an index. The book is divided into two parts: Part I, ‘English in the world today’, deals with the problems and practical issues connected with World Englishes; and Part II, ‘World Englishes as an academic discipline’, discusses theoretical issues that have emerged in academic discourse. Part I is comprised of sections A and B. The first four chapters (section A) introduce the reader to the history and current status of English in the world, and the problems it poses for language practitioners. Section B (chapters 5 to 8) presents strategies for dealing with these problems. Part II (Section C; chapters 9 to 14) relates the problems explored in the preceding sections to theoretical frameworks. Each chapter (except chapters 1, 5 and 9) includes study questions for which feedback is provided in a separate commentary section at the end of the book. In the following I will briefly review the chapters individually (chapters 1, 5 and 9 are not reviewed, as they simply act as short introductions to each of the three sections).

Chapter 2, ‘English in the world today’ is a concise introduction to the central terms and concepts necessary for the study of global English varieties. This is achieved by focusing on those aspects of linguistics and sociolinguistics that are immediately relevant for a basic understanding of variation in WE. Starting with a discussion of three authentic examples of English language usage in various contexts, the author illustrates how English interacts with or “rubs up” against other languages in order to meet the needs of its speakers. This is followed by a brief outline of the levels of linguistic description -- phonology, lexis, grammar, and orthography -- at which this interaction occurs. The author highlights that “these various differences are not, in themselves, a ‘problem’ -- they only become problematic when they occur within social situations which make them a problem” (p. 23). To support this, the reader is introduced to various sociolinguistic parameters, including standard language, register, intelligibility and cultural identity.

Chapter 3, “The context and history of World Englishes”, provides statistics on the use of English worldwide, and briefly summarizes the historical development of global English. Individual sections are devoted to colonialism and its linguistic outcomes, pidgins and creoles.

Chapter 4, “Problems for practitioners in World Englishes”, is a discussion of practical issues posed by Englishes in two social areas, language education and language policy. With regard to language teaching, a core problem lies in the decision to rely on an exonormative or an endonormative model, i.e. whether English language teaching is based on an external standard such as British or American English, or on a local variety. This choice has implications for the variety used in instruction and assessment, and, consequently, for teacher selection. The author stresses that the decision has to be made individually, and offers a neutral comparison of various factors involved to facilitate this decision. The same factors also play a role in language policy strategies on a national scale: Governmental language initiatives, particularly in post-colonial settings, often struggle to strike a balance between the external pressures of globalization while, at the same time, forming and maintaining a national identity.

Chapter 6, “The global language paradigm”, critically assesses the potential of English as a global lingua franca. Prior to the era of English as a global language, the idea of having a universal means of communication had been approached by devising artificial and auxiliary languages or by simplifying existing ones. Although these endeavors were never fully embraced by significant numbers of speakers, the ideas informing them are now being transferred to English; that is, to have a politically and culturally neutral, non-proprietorial language ensuring communication on a global scale. The author discusses whether English meets these expectations, and points out that the neutrality of English is not undisputed, given its past as the language of the British Empire and of American imperialism. Furthermore, the question remains how world-wide intelligibility can be achieved if even native speakers have difficulties understanding each other. As a result, the author recommends that the role of English as a global lingua franca be viewed as a state of mind, a willingness to adapt to one’s interlocutor, rather than a shared set of linguistic features.

Chapter 7, “Codification and legitimation”, contrasts with the preceding chapter by providing arguments for embracing the linguistic diversity of World Englishes, particularly in practical contexts. It starts off by presenting two contemporary methods of documenting and corroborating local varieties, namely the compilation of variety-specific corpora, and the creation of national dictionaries. Both are strongly tied to the idea of nation-building in that they codify a discrete national standard. This leads to localized teaching models which are no longer oriented towards external norms. The author considers this an important development, particularly as the demographics of English move from native-speaker to non-native speaker predominance. In other words, in the case of English, the typical lingua franca situation is no longer that of a non-native speaker communicating with a native speaker, but with another non-native speaker. The English used in such situations differs from exonormative standards; non-native speakers “naturally repair the irregularities and redundancies” (p. 101) of the native standards (e.g. the omission of ‘-s’ from third person singular present tense forms), and these regularizations should be considered part of the language system. Educators need to be able to distinguish between these innovations (which are shared among a larger speech community) and individual errors.

Chapter 8, “Policies and cultural practices”, looks at the role of English in national and institutional contexts. By discussing three case studies, the author illustrates how different agendas in language policy can lead to opposing dynamics in language use. The first case study is Singapore, in which a non-indigenized version of English is openly promoted, while the indigenized variety, Singlish, is campaigned against. The second case study is a critical discussion of programs promoting English language learning in developing countries as a bridge-builder to world economy. The third case study looks at the multilingual language policy of the European Union, showing that practical communicative needs often do not agree with idealistic conceptions about language.

Chapter 10, “World Englishes as an academic discipline”, assesses the status of World Englishes Studies (WES) as a discrete discipline drawing on linguistic, sociopolitical and cultural aspects. Following a short discussion of what makes an academic discipline, the author outlines the four major stages in which the WE paradigm developed, and which other disciplines and research traditions have influenced it. Of these, the sociolinguistic tradition receives prominent treatment with a summary of the Quirk-Kachru debate of the early 1990s.

Chapter 11, “English as an object of study” highlights one of the core problems of WES, namely to define what constitutes English. The author argues that English as analyzed by WES is a discursive construction; instead of presenting a clearly definable external object of study, it is academic research (and the researchers) shaping what we perceive as English. This is exemplified by pidgins and creoles, which may or may not be considered part of the larger English-language complex, depending on one’s perspective. The second part of the chapter discusses the two major language ideologies associated with WES. The ideology of authenticity holds that language is an identity marker of a particular speech community, while the ideology of anonymity stresses the neutrality of (the English) language and its potential to ensure barrier-free communication. The author attributes numerous of the conflicts presented in the book to this opposition, and points out that English -- as a single, monolithic entity -- can never fulfill both ideologies, while a varied and diversified, pluralized English can.

Chapter 12, “Models and theoretical frameworks”, provides concise overviews of some of the most influential models and theories of WES. The author compares Kachru’s Three Circles model (Kachru 1988) and Schneider’s Dynamic Model (Schneider 2007), summarizing advantages as well as major points of criticism. By doing this, the reader gains an understanding of how theoretical frameworks are adapted to meet the requirements of a shifting academic discipline. While the remainder of the book portrays the spread of English mainly as positive, this chapter includes theories which take a highly critical, politically motivated position, such as the theory of linguistic imperialism.

Chapter 13, “Naming and describing the English language”, looks at the multiple names that have been given to English in academic discourse. The chapter is based on Seargeant (2010), but is slightly rewritten to accommodate a beginner readership. The author offers a taxonomy of six categories into which different names of (varieties of) English can be grouped: On the basis of function, community, history, structure, ecology, and English as multiplex. Two trends are discernible: 1) the use of the plural noun ‘Englishes’ indicates the discipline’s interest to stress the diverse forms of English in use around the globe, and 2) political and social factors are more relevant in the coinage of names than linguistic ones. In all, the chapter cuts a way through the complex terminological situation in WES, while at the same time showcasing the wealth of research directions it offers.

Chapter 14, “Conclusion: The state of the discipline”, emphasizes the connection between WES and education which dominates a large portion of current research and debate. In addition, the author condenses the insights of the book to two central questions: How does human language express reality?, and what role does it play in our everyday lives? These, the author concludes, are questions that “go to the very heart of how human language operates” (p. 179).


This book is an excellent introduction to World Englishes. What distinguishes it from most introductory textbooks in this field is its applied approach. Instead of presenting the reader with the wealth of descriptive and sociolinguistic knowledge that has accumulated over the past 30 years, the author focuses on the problems World Englishes cause in the sectors of education and language policy, and how these problems have been approached. This secures ‘Exploring World Englishes’ a unique position in the selection of textbooks available in the World Englishes discipline.

A major advantage of the textbook is its suitability for both beginners and advanced readers. It is written in a clear and accessible style, and new terminology is defined in the text. In addition, the same terms and definitions are collected in a glossary in the back of the book. The study questions at the end of each chapter and the commentary section assist the reader in working out the key points. Finally, the annotated further reading section is a concise guide to influential works in WES.

Owing to these advantages, ‘Exploring World Englishes’ proves to be a valuable resource for instructors and students. It is suitable as primary reading in a course on World Englishes, particularly if the audience is comprised of students with basic or little linguistic background. It is valuable to students of linguistics, aspiring English-language educators, and students of communication studies. Individual chapters may be used as contributions to courses in applied linguistics and English language teaching.

A point of criticism concerns the study questions at the end of each chapter. Their main purpose is to support the reader in reflecting upon the chapter’s content. This being a textbook, the reader might have benefited from additional transfer tasks involving further examples and language data.

In conclusion, ‘Exploring World Englishes’ is an excellent resource for teachers, students and linguists wishing to gain a better understanding of the relations between education, politics and language in a globalized world.

Kachru, Braj B. 1988. The sacred cows of English. English Today 7: 3-13.

Seargeant, Philip. 2010. Naming and defining in World Englishes. World Englishes 29:1, pp. 99-115.

Schneider, Edgar W. 2007. Postcolonial English: Varieties Around the World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Steffen Schaub is a Research Assistant in the Department of English Linguistics at Philipps University of Marburg, Germany. He holds a degree in English Linguistics, Linguistic Engineering and American Studies, and is currently working on his PhD thesis on noun phrase variation in New Englishes. His research interests include variation in World Englishes, corpus linguistics and language typology.

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