♦ Reading Report 1 on: “Cultures, Contexts and World Englishes” by Yamuna Kachru and Larry E. Smith, 2008 (Introduction)

• The main idea of the introduction to this book is this: the many varieties of English spoken around the world are all equal to one another. In other words, the English spoken in Nigeria or India is just as good as the English spoken in England or the United States. One way of putting this is to say that, according to the authors, Kachru and Smith, the varieties of English are not arranged in a “hierarchy” in which higher, better versions dominate the lower, less good ones. Instead they form a “network” made up of “nodes” which are all on the same level. To make their position clearer, Kachru and Smith generally speak not of “varieties of English” but of “Englishes.” For example, from their point of view the English spoken in the Caribbean is “an English” and the English spoken in the United States is “another English.” This does not mean that Kachru and Smith are saying there is no such thing as English (as opposed to English-es). They do not believe that, and they often refer to “English” in a general way; but when they do so they are referring, as they see it, to an “abstraction,” not to a particular language system.

• To understand the importance of what Kachru and Smith are saying, it is necessary to keep in mind that their attitude is not a natural or common-sensical one. The idea that language varieties can be “ranked” according to their beauty, their ability to express ideas and emotions, or their association with wealth and power seems very natural; it is certainly very old, very common, and very widespread. Kachru and Smith are challenging this way of looking at things and they are doing it in a serious and reasoned manner; that fact alone, I think, makes what they are saying interesting and worthy of careful consideration.

• Perhaps because it would be an impossible task, Kachru and Smith do not attempt to attempt to prove that “Englishes” cannot be ranked hierarchically. They do, however, make clear their motives for adopting this position. They mention the fact that English has become a global language — around twenty-five percent of human beings speak the language for one reason or another — they stress however, that what is most important is not the mere globalization of English but the fact that in many parts of the world English has not only occupied new territory but has also “invaded” another culture; what happens in such a case is very different from what happens when people move to a new place and take their language and culture with them as when colonists from Great Britain first moved to North America in the seventeenth century.

• In describing how English has become a global language, Kachru and Smith speak of three “concentric circles,” the Inner Circle, the Outer Circle and the Expanding Circle. The Inner Circle contains Great Britain itself as well as its original colonies, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand where English has been spoken as a “primary” language for centuries. The Outer Circle contains countries that were at a later date controlled and administered by Great Britain or the United States, for example, India, Nigeria, Singapore, and the Philippines, where English has been adopted as a secondary language to be used for such purposes as administration, law, and education. In the Outer Circle are such countries as China, Korea, and Japan as well as others in Europe and the Middle East where English is used mainly for international communication.

• Whenever it moves to a new location, English will be “acculturated” to some extent. In other words, the language will change as it adapts to its new situation. This will happen even when English is brought to its new home by English-speaking colonists because, as time passes, their culture will change as it adapts to its new situation and their language will change with it. At least some acculturation will also take place when a non-English-speaking country adopts English for special purposes; there will be a tendency for meanings of words to change because the practices and institutions within which they are used will be different than those in which they were originally used. Acculturation will be most dramatic and important however in a multi-lingual society in the “Outer Circle” where English has been politically imposed. In such a situation, the various language groups will naturally tend to take advantage the new language to communicate with each other and, over time, this will have a profound effect on the language’s grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.

• Kachru and Smith believe that it is just as important to respect all the many Englishes of the world — as it is to respect the whole cultures where those Englishes are spoken. If some of the Englishes are looked down on by English speakers from the Inner Circle because they seem to be incomprehensible, or because they sound strange or comical, then this will received as an insult by their speakers — an insult to their whole culture. As a result, international communication will suffer and, as Kachru and Smith see things, that would be a very unfortunate development in a globalized world.