The latter half of the twentieth century had witnessed an unparallel historical shift – the appearance and acceptance of a single language as an effective means of communication, representation, reception and comprehension across the globe. English, undoubtedly by now, is the most widely taught, learnt and spoken language in the world. However, it needs to be stressed that globalization of English has fundamentally raised the questions of ‘legitimacy’ and ‘standardization’ of the language. It has been researched and debated over the last few decades whether English can be circumscribed within a singular, either the British or the American form since there are multiple varieties of English languages observable in various different cultural contexts. These are often caused by the constant and continuous language shifts through what the sociolinguists term the notion of acculturation, nativization and hybridization as these multiple cultural contexts feed back into the language. The paper investigates into the pluricentric position of English and further analyses the South Asian English as a unique variety.

Key Words: World English(es), South Asian English, Postcolonialism

World English and World Englishes

(T)he pluricentricity  of English is overwhelming, and unprecedented in linguistic history. It raises the issues of diversification, codification, identity, creativity, cross-cultural intelligibility and of power and ideology. The universalization of English and the power of the language have come at a price; for some, the implications are agonizing, while for others they are a matter of ecstasy.

Braj Kachru (1996 : 135)

The latter half of the twentieth century had witnessed an unparallel historical shift – the appearance and acceptance of a single language as an effective means of communication, representation, reception and comprehension across the globe. English, undoubtedly by now, is the most widely taught, learnt and spoken language in the world. It is used by over 300 million people as a first language in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the USA, and by over 700 million people as a second or additional language in the countries of Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America, and of the island nations of the world (Crystal, 1985; B. Kachru, 1999). The world-wide spread of English has been arguably considered in terms of two diasporas of the language (B. Kachru, 1982). The first originated as a consequence of the migration of English-speaking people from Great Britain to Australia, North America, and New Zealand. The second resulted primarily from the diffusion of English among speakers of diverse groups of peoples and languages across the world as a result of colonialism and other political and economic factors. The two diasporas have distinct historical, sociocultural, ideological, linguistic, and pedagogical contexts. These different contexts of diffusion have given rise to various aspects that need careful consideration.

However, it needs to be stressed that globalization of English has fundamentally raised the questions of ‘legitimacy’ and ‘standardization’ of the language. It has been researched and debated over the last few decades whether English can be circumscribed within a singular, either the British or the American form since there are multiple varieties of English languages observable in various different cultural contexts. These are often caused by the constant and continuous language shifts through what the sociolinguists term the notion of acculturation, nativization and hybridization as these multiple cultural contexts feed back into the language. The contemporary debates in the discipline consensually views English having more centres than just America and Britain by now, and as linguists and language scholars, it is important to study the nature of this ‘various’ language in their respective individualities. One useful way of conceptualizing this pluricentricity is to look at the English-using world in terms of three concentric circles, as B. Kachru (1985: 12–13) suggests. The Inner Circle comprises the ‘mother country’ – England and the British Isles – and the areas where the speakers from Britain took the language with them as they migrated – Australia, New Zealand and North America. The Outer Circle comprises the countries where the language was ‘transplanted’ by a few colonial administrators, businessmen, educators, and missionaries, and is now nurtured by the vast majority of indigenous multilingual users. They use English as an additional or supportive language for their own purposes, which include many national and international domains. The Expanding Circle represents the countries (e.g., People’s Republic of China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, countries of Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America) where the language is still dispersing widely, mainly for serving the need for an international medium in business and commerce, diplomacy, finance, and other such domains. English in this circle, however, is also finding increased use in internal domains of academia, creative writing, media and professions such as medicine, engineering, etc.

Kingsley Bolton (2002) discusses the underlying philosophy of pluricentricity in the works of Braj Kachru and states,

The Kachruvian approach has been characterized by an underlying philosophy that has argued for the importance of inclusivity and pluricentricity in approaches to the linguistics of English worldwide, and involves not merely the description of national and regional varieties, but many other related topics as well, including contact linguistics, creative writing, critical linguistics, discourse analysis, corpus linguistics, lexicography, pedagogy, pidgin and creole studies, and the sociology of language.

  1. Kachru and C. Nelson (2006) further support this stand and remark,

The term ‘world Englishes’ is inclusive and does not associate any privilege with English in any one circle or in any one of its specific varieties. It simply denotes the historical facts of origin and diffusion of English around the world.

It has correctly been pointed out that the term ‘World Englishes’ emphasizes the equality of all the varieties used in the Inner, Outer and Expanding Circles (McArthur, 1998) and focuses on inclusivity and pluricentricity in approaches to the study of English in its global contexts (Bolton, 2004). In this respect it is decidedly unlike the terms ‘World English’ (Brutt-Griffler, 2002), ‘English as an International Language’ (Jenkins, 2000) and ‘English as a Lingua Franca’ (Seidlhoffer, 2001; Graddol, 1997), all of which idealize a monolithic entity called ‘English’ and neglect the inclusive and plural character of the world-wide phenomenon.

However, it needs to be stressed that the differing approaches to the study of ‘World Englishes’ seem to have an evident concern with what could be termed as ‘Monocentrism’ versus ‘Pluricentrism’, i.e. one English, with all its geographical as well as social varieties, or multifarious Englishes, deserving consideration and recognition as autonomous or semi-autonomous varieties of the language. The term ‘Englishes’, Kingsley Bolton (2006) argues, “emphasizes the autonomy and plurality of English languages worldwide.” As opposed to this, “the phrase ‘varieties of English’ suggests heteronomy of such varieties to the common core of ‘English’.” Further he notes that the ‘double-voicedness’ of such nomenclature, for instance, ‘English vs Englishes’, “resonates within the much-cited Bakhtinian distinction between ‘centrifugal’ and ‘centripetal’ forces in language change”. This tension between the ‘centrifugal’ and ‘centripetal’ dynamics of international Englishes also finds expression in discussions of “world English” versus “world Englishes.” Butler (1997), for example, writing as lexicographer, claims that in most contexts where English is establishing itself as a ‘localized’ or ‘new’ English “[t]here two major forces operating at the moment . . . The first is an outside pressure – the sweep of American English through the English-speaking world,” which Butler regards as synonymous with world English, because “[t]his force provides the words which are present globally in international English and which are usually conveyed around the world by the media” (Butler, 1997:107). The other dynamic, at the level of world Englishes, is “the purely local – the wellspring of local culture and a sense of identity” (p. 109). Thus at the level of lexis, items like cable TV, cyberpunk, high five, and political correctness might be identified with “world English,” whereas items like bamboo snake, outstation, adobo, and sari-sari store, pandit would be items found in “world Englishes,” more specifically “Asian Englishes.”

It would be significant to note here that when Kachru and Smith took over the editorship of the journal World Language English in 1985, the journal was retitled to World Englishes, and Kachru and Smith’s elucidation for this was that World Englishes embodies “a new idea, a new credo,” for which the plural “Englishes” was more significant:

“Englishes” symbolizes the functional and formal variation in the language, and its international acculturation, for example, in West Africa, in Southern Africa, in East Africa, in South Asia, in Southeast Asia, in the West Indies, in the Philippines, and in the traditional English-using countries: the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. The language now belongs to those who use it as their first language, and to those who use it as an additional language, whether in its standard form or in its localized forms. (Kachru & Smith, 1985, p. 210)

In an early article on this topic, McArthur (1987) postulates a core variety of ‘World Standard English,’ which he then contrasts with the wide range of geographical Englishes used across the world. This contrast between a common core of international ‘English’ and geographically and culturally distinctive ‘Englishes’ is currently maintained by a number of other commentators notably Crystal (1997). In the last three decades, there has been a substantial change in approaches to English studies, a paradigm shift that began in the early 1980s. At that time, various branches of linguistics, including English studies, sociolinguistics, and applied linguistics, began to recognize and describe the remarkable spread of English worldwide which was then in progress. Early scholarship in this area included Kachru’s The Other Tongue (1982) and The Alchemy of English (1986), Pride’s New Englishes (1982), Noss’ Varieties of English in Southeast Asia (1983), and Platt, Weber, and Ho’s The New Englishes (1984). The volume edited by Noss included a number of position papers, including one by Llamzon on the “Essential features of new varieties of English.” According to Llamzon, new varieties of English are identifiable with reference to four essential sets of features: ecological, historical, sociolinguistic, and cultural (Llamzon, 1983 : 100-4). In the last context, Llamzon discusses cultural features with reference to creative writing and a local literature in English, arguing that “works by novelists, poets and playwrights have demonstrated that the English language can . . . be used as a vehicle for the transmission of the cultural heritage of Third World countries. The appearance of this body of literary works signals that the transplanted tree has finally reached maturity, and is now beginning to blossom and fructify” (104). The horticultural metaphor also finds expression in his conclusion, where he argues that a “new variety of English may likened . . . to a transplanted tree,” which, if properly nurtured “will grow into a healthy and vigorous plant and contribute to the beauty of the international landscape not only by virtue of its lush verdant branches and leaves, but more importantly by its fruits – the literary masterpieces of novels, short stories, poems, dramas and songs of its speakers and writers” (105-6).

Llamzon’s reference to the importance of creative writing and literatures in this context is not only significant but highly relevant. In many Asian societies, including India, Singapore, and the Philippines, there is a body of creative writing in English that reaches back to the colonial era, and since the early 1980s commonwealth and postcolonial writers from a range of developing societies have increasingly won acclaim from the international literary world. The emergence of ‘new Englishes’ in the early 1980s thus overlapped with and was influenced by the ‘new literatures’ that were then gaining recognition. In the 1980s, such postcolonial creative writing began to attract the interest of both the reading public and academics, and the end of the decade saw the publication of The Empire Writes Back (Ashcroft, Griffiths, & Tiffin, 1989). By 1993, the title of their book had been appropriated for a Time magazine cover story and feature article, which detailed the successes of the Booker nominees and prize-winners, such as Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth (both of Indian parentage), as well as Kazuo Ishiguro (of Japanese descent), Timothy Mo (Anglo-Chinese), Michael Ondaatje (Sri Lankan), Ben Okri (Nigerian), and Nobel prize-winner Derek Walcott (Caribbean). In this article Pico Iyer describes such writers as “transcultural,” because “they are addressing an audience as mixed up and eclectic and uprooted as themselves.” Iyer argues for “a new postimperial order in which English is the lingua franca,” and quotes Robert McCrum to the effect that “There is not one English language anymore, but there are many English languages. each of these Englishes is creating its own very special literature, which, because it doesn’t feel oppressed by the immensely influential literary tradition in England, is somehow freer” (Iyer, 1993:53).

The plethora of resources in terms of research studies is observable in the field of World Englishes. If studied closely, one would be able to observe the several types of publications in the associative areas of the world Englishes. Yamuna Kachru (2006) provides a summary of such resources. Some are broad generalizations about World Englishes (e.g., B. Kachru, 1982, 1986a; Kachru and Nelson, 1996; Platt, Weber and Ho, 1984; Schneider, 1997; among others), whereas others deal with issues raised in relation to specific regional or national varieties (e.g., Bell and Kuiper, 1999; Baumgardner, 1993, 1996; de Klerk, 1996; Collins and Blair, 1989; B. Kachru, 1983; 1994; Mesthrie, 1992; Rahman, 1990), or with detailed grammatical descriptions of national varieties (e.g., Bautista [1997] on Philippine English; Bolton [2003] on Chinese Englishes; Stanlaw [2004] on Japanese English; B. Kachru [1983] on Indian English; and Rahman [1990] on Pakistani English).

Each of the several strands that make up the total picture of research on world Englishes makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the phenomenon of Englishes around the globe.

South Asian Englishes : An Overview

Something of the unwashed odour of the Chamcha lingers around its (English language) cadences. The language like much else in the newly independent societies, needs to be decolonized, to be remade in other images, if those of us who use it from positions outside Anglo-Saxon culture are to be more than artistic Uncle Toms. And it’s this endevour that gives the new literatures of Africa, the Caribbean and India much of their present vitality and excitement.

Salman Rushdie (1982)

As B. Kachru (2005: 29) rightly says, “The history of English in South Asia is one of prolonged heated debates and controversies. The controversy about the legacy of English and desirability of its continued location in language policies and its cultural associations is the major pastime of politicians, academics and the media.” However, the political map of South Asia is absolutely different now from the way it used to be when the English language was first appeared to the subcontinent over couple of centuries ago. The profile of English in the subcontinent is also different from that in 1947 when the colonial period came to an end and the country was divided into India and Pakistan. Further, in 1972, an independent nation, Bangladesh was carved out of Pakistan after substantial enmity and violence. When we refer to the contemporary South Asia, we are talking of the following seven sovereign states: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives.

These political divisions, though meaningful at one level, are somewhat misleading at another level. This vast region gives an impression of immense diversity, linguistic and otherwise. B. Kachru (2005) in this regard says, “(H)owever, there are many underlying shared linguistic, literary and sociolinguistic characteristics that are shared by the South Asian states. In linguistic terms there are four major language families : Indo-Aryan, used by the majority of the population, Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman, and Munda.”

  1. Kachru further states, “It is not only that the language families are shared across the continent; there is also considerable linguistic convergence due to areal proximity and contact between typologically distinct languages, such as Dravidian and Indo-Aryan (Sprachbund).” This convergence is additionally the result of shared cultural and political history, shared literary and folk traditions, and all-pervasive substrata of Sanskrit, Persian and English, in that chronological order (Hock 1986: 494 – 512). All the major South Asian countries have a long tradition of societal multilingualism, and several language areas include Diglossic Situations : using a learned variety of language in formal contexts and its colloquial variety in non-formal contexts (e.g. Tamil in Sri Lanka and India, Bengali in Bangladesh and India, Telugu in India, Nepali in Nepal and India). It is for these reasons that South Asia has been considered a Linguistic Area and a Sociolinguistic Area. A number of these collective linguistic characteristics are transferred to South Asian English and resulted in the South Asianness in this variety of English.

South Asia is a linguistic area with one of the longest histories of contact, influence, use, and teaching and learning of English-in-diaspora in the world. As B. Kachru (1986a: 36) clarifies, “[the] use of the term South Asian English is not to be understood as indicative of linguistic homogeneity in this variety nor of a uniform linguistic competence. It refers to several broad regional varieties such as Indian English, Lankan English and Pakistani English.”

  1. Kachru defines modern South Asian English as ‘the educated variety of South Asian English’, with, of course, ‘varieties within this variety’ (1994:508). Yamuna Kachru (2006) explains this definition in the following way: “This definition is identical to that of any major variety of English: British English means the educated variety codified in grammars and dictionaries rather than the many geographical or social dialects. Similarly, American English as a label refers to the ‘educated’ or ‘standard’ variety rather than African-American or Chicano English.”

Through various ups and downs of policy and public sentiment, English has been able to retain and to strengthen its place in the South Asian linguistic map. Of the seven major uses of ‘superposed languages in South Asia, English is a significant participant in six, namely, as a lingua franca, in government, education, literature, influence, and development’ (Ferguson 1996: 32). The first four uses are transparent; by influence is meant its impact on the local languages in literary genres and linguistic structure and as the source for new vocabulary, and by development is meant its uses in areas such as management, technical access, governmental services, and so on. The only use in which it is not a participant is religion. Sanskrit is the language of religion for Hinduism and Arabic for Islam in South Asia, though other regional languages play a role as well.

Ferguson notes (p. 37) that this ‘relative lack of religious identification for South Asian English is clearly a regional advantage’, given the significant religious differences and tensions across the subcontinent. Though English originally had and still retains some identification with Christianity, it is more neutral in its affective associations than any other possible choice. Thus, one important aspect of the value of English in South Asia is its capacity to provide neutralization. Choosing a given code in a multilingual context asserts one or more identities, for example, of religion, caste, and educational attainment, in addition to signaling the message. Since English is outside the traditional indigenous array of codes, it is released from these responsibilities. The same consideration makes pan-regional news and commentary in English as workable and appealing as it apparently is, thereby explaining its wide use in the Indian media.

Similar to India, in modern Pakistan English continues to have a central position in the national life. The several evolutions of Pakistan’s constitution have indicated the desirability of getting rid of English in favour of Urdu, but proponents of this cause have yet to bring it to a successful conclusion (Rahman, 1990: 1-2). The position of English in science and technology, media, international communication and creative writing remains unquestionable in multilingual Pakistan as it is in India and Sri Lanka.

The subvarieties of South Asian English depend on the basic criteria of geography, proficiency, and ethnicity. B. Kachru (1994: 512-3) observes :

The recognition of varieties within (South Asian English) is a clear indicator of (its) institutionalisation, its range in terms of functional allocation, and its depth in terms of societal penetration … [The varieties’] shared comprehensibility and interpretability are markers of the acculturation in South Asia.

The development of a new variety of English in the South Asian context is in many regards a prototypical example of the emergence of what Kachru (1985a) has labelled ‘institutionalized second-language varieties’, i.e. varieties of English in postcolonial settings which are based on educated speakers’ use of English as an additional or supportive language for a wide range of institutionalized contexts (e.g. in administration, in the education system, in newspapers, cinema and literature). In the following, the process of institutionalization will therefore be described along the lines of Schneider’s (2003, 2007) dynamic model of the evolution of postcolonial Englishes – a model that is intended to capture the essentially uniform pattern of variety formation world-wide. The model is, in essence, based on two interrelated factors: (1) changing identity-constructions, and (2) changing interactions between two strands of population, namely the settlers and the indigenous population. The fundamental idea that combines the two factors is the following one : the more intense the contact and interaction between the local population and the colonizers becomes, the stronger is the effect on the sociocultural identity-construction of the two groups, which ultimately leads to the establishment of a new hybrid identity manifesting itself in a new variety of English : the indigenous and settlers ‘“strands” of development …are interwoven like twisted threads’ (Schneider 2003: 242). According to Schneider (2003), “The two factors are held responsible for a universal evolutionary pattern in the formation of New Englishes consisting of five identifiable, but overlapping, stages” :

Phase I Foundation: In this initial phase, the English language is transported to a new (colonial) territory.
Phase II Exonormative stabilization: There is a growing number of English settlers/speakers in the new territory, but the language standards and norms are still determined by the input variety and are, thus, usually oriented towards British English.
Phase III Nativization: The English language becomes an integral part of the local linguistic repertoire as there is a steady increase in the number of competent bilingual L2 speakers of English from the indigenous population.
Phase IV Endonormative stabilization: After independence, English may be retained as a/an (co-)official language and a medium of communication for a more or less wide range of intra-national contexts (e.g. administration and the press, academia and education); in this phase a new variety of English emerges with generally accepted local standards and norms.
Phase V Differentiation: Once a New English variety has become endonormatively stabilized, it may develop a wide range of regional and social dialects.

The term South Asian English is used as a cover term for the educated variety of South Asian English. There are, however, as we discussed earlier, several varieties within this variety. This situation, of course, is not different from the sociolinguistic context of any other institutionalized variety of English. The parameters determining variation include the following.

The first is the users’ proficiency in English in terms of language acquisition and years of instruction in the language. The second is the region of South Asia to which the user belongs and the impact of the dominant language of that region on English. The dominant language may reflect characteristics of a single language (e.g. for Hindustani English, see Pandey, 1980; Kannada English, Murthy, 1981; Maithili English, Sadanandan, 1981; Chaudhary, 1989; Marathi English, Rubdy, 1975; Gokhale, 1978; Pakistani English, Rahman, 1991a, 1991b; Punjabi English, Sethi, 1976, 1980; Rajasthani English, Dhamija, 1976; Tamil English, Vijayakrishnan, 1978; Upendran, 1980; Telugu English, Prabhakar Babu, 1974; Ramunny, 1976, for subjective reactions to regional and non-regional English accents in India) or shared characteristics of a language family (e.g. Dravidian English, Indo-Aryan English). The third variable is the ethnic background of the users. This variable has, for example, been used to describe Anglo Indian English (Spencer, 1966; Bayer, 1986) and Burgher English in Sri Lanka. The term Burgher ‘… now indicates any persons who claim to be of partly European descent and is used in the same sense as half-caste and Eurasian in India proper’ (Yule and Burnell, 1886 [1903]: 130; T. Fernando, 1972, 73–5). Thus there is a Cline of Proficiency in English. The two ends of the spectrum are marked by educated South Asian English at one end and by Broken English at the other. There are other functionally determined varieties of South Asian English which have acquired various labels indicative of their function and the interlocutors involved in an interactional context.


To conclude the debate, it could be aptly stated that the metanarrative of global language has been scholarly observed and consensually opined to have been fragmented into various local and disjunctional narratives. Even legitimizing the term ‘South Asian English’ is no longer an easy endeavour as it can generate many counter arguments. However, if studied closely, there are various identical features in the use of English language, which has been acculturated to suit the cultural functions of interaction.


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[1] Research Scholar, H M Patel Institute of English, Training and Research, Sardar Patel University, Vallabh Vidyanagar. Gujarat. INDIA.