English in the Global Context
Key sociolinguistic concepts
Native vs nativised vs lingua franca
Native speaker vs non-native speaker
The identity-communication continuum
Native varieties vs
nativised varieties vs lingua francas
The ‘traditional?varieties of British, American and Australian
English are said to be native varieties and spoken by native
Nativised varieties are newer varieties that have developed in
places where English was not originally spoken and which have been
influenced by local languages and cultures.
The two criteria often used for classifying a variety of English as
‘native?rather than ‘nativised?are a) that the native variety has
been around for a long time and b) that it has influenced younger
varieties of English in some way.
British English has been around longer and has influenced the
development of American English, does this mean that British English
is native and that American is nativised?
By ‘native English?people usually mean a variety of English spoken
by a native speaker of English and this speaker is usually thought
of as being white. It is quite obvious that many people who are not
white speak British and American English.
native variety of English is somehow superior to a nativised one.
Some people feel that the older a variety is, the better it is.
Native varieties are older and thought to be ‘purer?than nativised
varieties. Traditional English is not pure ?but is a truly mongrel
language being made up of a mixture of Latin, Greek, French,
Germanic and Anglo-Saxon forms.
nativised variety of English is a variety that has been influenced
by the local cultures and languages of the people who have developed
the particular variety. Other terms for this included acculturation
and indigenisation. By this definition all varieties of English that
are spoken by an identifiable speech community are nativised. So
varieties of British English are as nativised as varieties of
In the context of English language teaching, some people may argue
that British English provides a better model than, say, Malaysian
English because it represents ‘proper?English. But it is important
to remember that both these varieties are nativised in the sense
they reflect their own cultures.
There is no need to worry if you feel that you speak a nativised
variety and therefore the variety you speak is somehow worse and
less pure than the ‘native?variety someone else speaks. It isn’t.
All varieties are nativised. By the same token, there is no
justification in assuming that the ‘native?variety you speak is
somehow better and purer than the nativised variety that someone
else speaks. It isn’t. By the definition adopted here, you also
speak a nativised variety.
A lingua franca
is the common language used by people of different language
backgrounds to communicate with each other.
In Indonesia, the national language, Bahasa Indonesia, is
used as a national lingua franca to allow the many different peoples
of Indonesia a common language in which to communicate with each
In China, Mandarin or putonghua, the ‘common language? is
used as a lingua franca to allow speakers of different Chinese
dialects to communicate with each other.
In countries of East Africa, where many different languages are
spoken, Ki-Swahili is used as the lingua franca or common
People who are not born as English speakers have learned English in
order to be able to communicate with other people. In the ASEAN
community, therefore, a Thai and Indonesian may choose to
communicate with each other using English as their lingua franca or
The native speaker vs. the non-native speaker
Many scholars have
attempted to provide workable and rational distinctions between a
native speaker and non-native speaker over many years and many
others have argued that it is impossible to provide workable and
rational distinctions between these two terms
argues that it no longer makes any sense to differentiate between
the native and non-native speaker. White and Genesee (1996)
have provided evidence to show that the linguistic ability of the
near-native speaker is indistinguishable from the linguistic ability
of the native speaker. Medgyes, on the other hand, insists that
‘the native English speaker teacher and the non-native English
speaker are two different species?(1994:27).
The real problem is
caused by many people believing that native speakers are necessarily
better at speaking English than non-native speakers, and that native
speakers are necessarily better at teaching English than non-native
Neither of these
beliefs can be supported.
‘The first language a
human being learns to speak is his native language; he is a native
speaker of this language?(Bloomfield
This definition equates a native speaker with a mother tongue
speaker. Bloomfield’s definition also assumes that age is the
critical factor in language learning and that native speakers
provide the best models.
The assumptions behind
all these terms are that a person will speak the language they learn
first better than languages they learn later, and that a person who
learns a language later cannot speak it as well as a person who has
learned the language as their first language. But it is clearly not
necessarily true that the language a person learns first is the one
they will always be best at, as the examples below will show. The
names given are pseudonyms.
Claire was born in
Sicily and migrated to Australia when she was eight. As a child she
learned Sicilian as her first language/mother tongue and standard
Italian as a second language. When she arrived in Australia, she
started to learn English. She is now
and has been in Australia for more than thirty years. The language
that she learned third, from the age of
is the language that she is now best at. Her second best language is
Standard Italian and her third is Sicilian. In other words, what was
her first language and mother tongue is now a language that she does
not speak as well as the other languages she speaks. She is a
so-called native speaker of Sicilian but one who does not speak it
well. She is a so-called non-native speaker of English, but speaks
it fluently. The language she speaks best is a language that she
only started to learn once she was eight. Claire is by no means an
unusual example. There are many people who have what I shall call a
Indeed in immigrant communities it is common. It is also common in
multilingual societies, as this example from Nigeria shows.
A Nigerian couple are
both Yoruba speakers. They have two children, both of whom are first
language or mother tongue speakers of Yoruba. The family then moves
to Northern Nigeria where the dominant language is Hausa. Although
the parents speak Yoruba at home, the children refuse to speak it,
preferring to speak the Hausa that their school friends all speak.
Like many children everywhere, they do not want to appear to be
different, but want to fit in and identify with their peers at
school. In addition, they learn to speak English at school, the
language of education. The children then grow up speaking both Hausa
and English better than they speak Yoruba. In describing their
language level, does it make any sense to say that these children
are native speakers of Yoruba? Does it make any sense to say they
are non-native speakers of English?
Indonesia as an
example of a multilingual nation that has adopted the use of
Bahasa Indonesia as its national language and lingua franca.
There are literally millions of people in Indonesia who have grown
up with a particular mother tongue be it Bugis or Javanese
or Balinese and then learned Bahasa Indonesia at
school. They have then travelled from their home villages into towns
in different parts of Indonesia ?for education, for marriage or,
most commonly, in search of work ?and Bahasa Indonesia has
become the language that they are best at. They represent common
examples of people with shifting L1s.
A reason why all these
terms now appear unsatisfactory may be that they were coined by
linguists who grew up in monolingual societies where both parents
and the community as a whole all spoke the same language.
societies are less common than multilingual societies, where the
concepts ‘native?speaker and ‘mother tongue?speaker make little
sense as people find it very difficult to answer the apparently
simple question, ‘What is your mother tongue? A good example of
someone who found this question impossible to answer is Jane, who
grew up in Brunei, the daughter of two Chinese migrants. As a child
she learned two Chinese dialects (Hakka and
literally her mother tongue) from her parents, Mandarin from a
special Chinese school and family friends, and English and Malay at
school. She is now in her thirties and says that English is her
best language, with Malay and Mandarin vying for second place. She
has forgotten most of her
Another problem with
the term native speaker crops up with bilingual children. Can, for
example, a bilingual child be a native speaker of two languages?
In the context of
World Englishes, therefore, these terms should be avoided. Rampton (1990)
has suggested the term ‘expert user? This is a useful term in that
expertise can be assigned to distinct categories. A person might be
an expert speaker but a poor writer, for example. In the context of
language teaching, Cook (1999)
has proposed that we should use successful L2
learners rather than native speakers as models for the L2
learner. I will argue that we need to use bilinguals as models for
The functions of language and the ‘Identity-Communication Continuum?/span>
There are three major
functions of language. The first is communication. People use
language to communicate with one another. The second is identity.
People use language to signal to other people who they are and what
group(s) they belong to. The third, which is closely related to
identity, is culture. People use language to express their culture.
Each of these
functions may require a different variety or register and these
functions may, at Arial, be at odds with each other. For example,
the communicative function will often require the diminishing of the
identity function. Conversely, when identity is the primary function
of language use, the variety chosen by the speaker may not be
intelligible to speakers outside that particular group. As Crystal
has pointed out, ‘the two functions can be seen as complementary,
responding to different needs?(2003:22).
Let us imagine that an
Australian businessman travels to Hong Kong to talk to his
counterparts there. It is likely that the major function that he
will want his language to fulfil is the communicative function. He
will then take care to edit out specific Australianisms from his
speech and try to make his accent sound less ‘Australian? so that
his Singaporean colleagues can understand what he says. Now let us
imagine that the Australian’s mobile phone rings and it is his son
calling from their home in Australia. It is very likely that the
identity and cultural functions of language will become more
important. This will mean that, when speaking to his son, the
Australian will use far more Australian-specific vocabulary and
cultural references and that his accent will immediately sound more
It is important to
understand how these functions of language influence the type of
language we use. People who complain, for example, that, when
speaking Singlish, Singaporeans do not speak proper English, fail to
understand that language serves these different functions and that
the variety of language will differ depending on the function it is
serving. When Singaporeans are together and talking about something
local that is culturally important to them ?let’s say food, for
example ?it is only natural that the variety of English that they
choose will be a broad, informal variety as it is this variety that
is best at signifying identity and culture. This does not mean that
these Singaporeans can only speak in this way, any more than it
means an Australian or an American can only speak in a highly
localised variety of English. As soon as those Singaporeans travel
overseas or meet with people from different cultures in Singapore or
move into a more formal setting, they will need to use language for
its communicative function. Thus the variety of Singapore English
they speak will be of a more formal or educated variety.
Tommy Koh, a senior
figure on the Singaporean government (and one time Ambassador to the
UN) says ‘When I speak English I want the world to know that I am a
Gordon Wu, Chairman
of Hopewell Holdings says ‘English is no longer some colonial
language. It is the language we in Asia use to communicate with one
1: The Identity-Communication Continuum
broad / basilectal
educated / acrolectal
The fewer people involved in
an act of communication and the closer the social distance between
them, the greater the identity function of their speech will be. A
good example of this is families, as they often speak a sort of
special language that can only be understood by other family
On the other hand, the more
people involved and the greater the social distance between them,
the greater the intelligibility function of their speech will be in
any act of communication. An example of this might be an
To be successful, a
variety of English will need to be able to fulfil each of these
three functions. This means that any variety of English itself
comprises a number of varieties. This may seem confusing, but it is
important to understand that language variation is both normal and
natural. The idea that there is some form of fixed standard of a
language that everyone who speaks the language always uses in
exactly the same way leads people to misunderstand how language
works in real life.
varieties of a language have been classified in various ways. For
example, Australian English has been classified on a continuum with
a broad variety at one end of the continuum and an educated or
cultivated variety at the other.
Other languages ?
Singapore English is a good example ?have been similarly
classified, but using the terms ‘basilectal? ‘mesolectal?and
corresponding to broad, general and educated respectively.
However much we
may protest, we are all linguistically prejudiced in some way.
Giles and Powesland (1975)
reviewed research into linguistic prejudice
In the first study
Giles investigated reactions of British school children to a variety
of English accents. Children listened to a variety of accents and
made judgments about the speakers. These accents included the
educated accent known as Received Pronunciation or RP, and a number
of rural and urban accents, including the accent of Birmingham, a
city in the English Midlands. Giles discovered that people who spoke
with a standard British educated English RP accent were considered
to be the most intelligent or competent and that those who spoke
with a Birmingham accent were considered to be the least
intelligent. On the other hand, he discovered that that people
thought that those who had accents similar to their own, no matter
whether these were rural or urban speakers, and sounded more like
themselves were more honest and warmer.
A second piece of research studied people’s
responses to arguments given in different varieties of English.
Having ascertained the attitudes towards capital punishment of a
selection of seventeen years olds, arguments against capital
punishment were given to them. The arguments were given as a written
transcript and in four different accents. These varieties were: RP,
Welsh (the variety of English spoken in Wales); Somerset (a mainly
rural county ?province, state or prefecture - in the South West of
England); and the accent of Birmingham. As we saw above, earlier
research had shown that RP was considered the most prestigious of
these accents and Birmingham the least. In this study, the children
considered that the arguments given in RP were more intelligent than
the arguments given in the regional accents. However, they found the
arguments given in regional accents were more persuasive, as only
regional voices ‘were effective in producing a significant shift in
subjects?attitudes; the typescript and the RP guise did not?(1975:94).
This is a fascinating result because it
suggests that people can sound intelligent to other people but not
necessarily be effective or persuasive in their arguments. At the
same time, people who are not thought to be intelligent can be
persuasive. Not even the most famous are spared. Before Bill Clinton
became President of the United States and was Governor of the State
of Arkansas a reported asker him:
‘Governor Clinton, you attended
Oxford University in England and
Yale Law School in the Ivy League,
two of the finest institutions of learning in the world. So how come
you still talk like a hillbilly??(Lippi-Green
If we think that some one accent somehow
sounds more or less intelligent than others, it shows we are
linguistically prejudiced. And, I'm afraid to say, we all are.
Twenty years ago, British English was
considered the prestige accent in China and the model that most
students wanted to imitate. Today, American English is the variety
that the majority of students want to learn (Kirkpatrick and Xu
it may be a Chinese variety of English.
1 How are native
and nativised varieties of English normally distinguished?
2 Do you think this
distinction is valid?
Australian English Singaporean
English Indian English
4 Discuss these two
statements and decide and say why you think they are true or not
“You really have to
be white to be a native speaker of English?/font>
“British English is
a pure language
much purer and better than new varieties of English?/font>
5 How would you
define a native speaker of a language?
6 Do you think
native speakers are, by definition, better language teachers than
7 Who defines who
is a NS and NNS and why?
8 List the three
functions of language and give an example of each
9 Draw the
10 Summarise two
pieces of research that show linguistic prejudice
11 List the
following varieties of English in the order of their prestige in
Scottish Hong Kong Indian
12 Which accent in
Hong Kong do people think shows intelligence?
13 Are there some
people who speak with accents that are associated with a lack of
education or sophistication?
14 When you speak
English do you want people to know that you are form Hong Kong?