English Varieties

English has many varieties emerging all over the world. The varieties can be modelled in the form of three outward expanding circles as proposed by Kachru.

The Inner circle refers to all native like uses of English, such as standard British or American English which are 'norm-providing'. These are societies where English is the primary language. The language use in the inner circle countries are used as the norm in countries where the English language does not have such an overwhelming presence in the society.

The second circle, known as the Outer circle comprises English second languages, which have their own spoken norms, and rely on the inner circle for models of formal written English. These forms of English are mainly found in postcolonial Anglophonic contexts, where English is but one community language in a multilingual society. English usually obtains an official, educational and legal status within the Outer circle.

Lastly, the Expanding circle refers to all non-native institutionalised varieties of English, where the process of nativisation and development is still in progress. English is mostly used as a foreign language, relying on external norms, since the development of internal norms is still in progress.

The Outer and Expanding Circles cannot be seen as clearly demarcated from each other, since both share certain characteristics. Furthermore the language policies of countries in these circles are prone to change, transforming English in a region from an English second language, to an English foreign language and/or vice versa.

South African English (SAE) as an example will fit into the Outer Circle of the Kachruvian model. The country has produced its own norms regarding the use of English, and does not conform to the norms of other varieties. English was introduced through colonialism, and enjoys a high status in society, including mandatory English in the education system. English is mainly used as a lingua franca due to the multilingual society in which it is found.

English has taken on many forms in different areas. English changes according to the context in which it is used. Thus when a heterogeneous community such as South Africa uses English it will most likely mean a whole different thing depending on the perspective taken on it. In other words, a language is acculturised according to its use in society. Thus each society will have its own understanding of the meaning of English, since it will be viewed differently due to its different uses. Therefore, it is difficult to formulate an opinion regarding the use of English in general (due to its many varieties), and as a result will be even more difficult to pinpoint the meaning of a specific variety of English (such as SAE) where the society's use itself varies.

If a language is distributed, it implies that no change takes place, and that it is fully adopted by the new country in the exact same form. On the other hand, when a language spreads, the use becomes adapted according to linguistic and cultural preferences of the country. As such, new varieties of English should be viewed as a spread of the language, not a distribution. Therefore, ownership of the original language should play no part regarding the appropriateness of new varieties springing up.

Furthermore, language plays a big role in determining a person’s self image. Many people are growing up with a new variety of English as their first language. If their home country has adapted the use of English to suit their needs, they are just as entitled to claim that language as their own. To have pride for your language is completely understandable. However, to discredit another’s due to an adaptation is unjustified. Once a language has been adapted by a new society, that society has as the right to call that language their own, regardless of where the language originated from.

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