By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
Date: Mon, 23 Feb 2004 12:02:10 +0100 From: Cornelia Tschichold Subject: World Englishes
AUTHORS: Melchers, Gunnel; Shaw, Philip TITLE: World Englishes SERIES: The English Language Series PUBLISHER: Arnold YEAR: 2003
Cornelia Tschichold, Institute of English, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland
INTRODUCTION This book is a recent addition to the growing number of textbooks on varieties of English around the world. In the preface, the two authors, both from Stockholm University, describe the intended audience of the book as readers familiar with the basics of linguistics and phonetics, thus typically undergraduate students after their first year at a department of English, with English either as their native or a second or foreign language. The book has an accompanying CD, which is sold separately and therefore does not figure in this review.
SYNOPSIS Chapter 1 is a very short chapter on the history of English from 450 to the beginnings of Modern English. The development of the language is illustrated mainly through the most accessible aspect, its loanwords.
Chapter 2 covers the more recent history of English, when the language spread around the globe, first to the so- called 'inner circle' countries, later to the 'outer circle' and finally to the 'expanding circle'. This three- circle model by Kachru is adopted as the organizing principle for the book. The chapter also introduces the distinction often made between English as a second and English as a foreign language, while drawing attention to the problems of terminology and those of differing political viewpoints involved.
Chapter 3 discusses basic terms in language variation and provides the framework for the classification and description of the many varieties discussed in chapters 4 to 6. The authors divide variation into the areas of spelling, phonology, grammar and lexicon, and give a brief overview of the main types of variation in each area. For the description of phonology, Wells' standard lexical sets are introduced. The section on rhythm and intonation explains the concept of stress-times vs. syllable-timed rhythm and mentions high-rising terminals as the most striking phenomena in the area of intonation. The sections on lexis and on the historical origin of varieties introduce a large number of technical terms such as 'heteronymy' or 'substratum'. Other dimensions of classification mentioned include the political stance of some of the more prominent authors in the field, the degree of standardization for varieties and for texts, and the position of a country in the three-circle model.
Chapter 4 portrays the inner circle varieties of England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Liberia and the Caribbean. With some exceptions, each of these sections follows the pattern of first giving a brief overview of geography and population, then an account of the general linguistic situation, before the variety itself is described in terms of spelling, phonology, grammar and lexicon. Where appropriate, important internal varieties are briefly touched on as well, such as the main differences between Southern and Northern dialects in England, the two ethnic varieties African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and Chicano English in the USA, and Aboriginal English in Australia.
Chapter 5 opens with a discussion of the political questions of language prestige and then tries to identify some common linguistic features of the varieties spoken in these countries. Among the features mentioned are consonant cluster and vowel system simplifications, a trend away from clearly stress-timed rhythm, and more syntactic variety. The countries in this chapter are then discussed in geographical groups, following a similar pattern to that in chapter 4, but giving rather more historical background and extra sections on style and pragmatics. The first variety is South Asian English, with India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as its main countries. The second major variety is African English, with South Africa making a second appearance due to its higher number of speakers who have English as a second language. Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore are dealt with in the group of countries where South East Asian English is spoken. The last section in this chapter very briefly deals with a number of countries with a colonial past: Gibraltar, Malta, and Cyprus in the Mediterranean, Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, the Seychelles and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Guam in the Pacific, without however giving linguistic descriptions of the English spoken there.
Chapter 6 abandons the geographical perspective in favour of the functions English can be seen to have taken over in the expanding circle from the 18th century onwards. Among the domains where English is making inroads the authors mention global politics and economy, tourism, the education system, the mass media and popular culture, advertising and subcultures. On the more strictly linguistic level, the authors see no trend toward standardization, and argue instead that speakers of lingua franca English need a high communicative competence for dealing with the mixture of non-standard features and the large amount of pragmatic variation found in much intercultural communication. The authors then briefly consider the influence of English on the local languages and the choices involved in choosing a variety of English for education.
In Chapter 7, Melchers and Shaw take a look at the likely developments in the near future and identify US power, globalization and information technology as the most important factors favouring the further spread of English across the globe. They posit that the high visibility of unedited English found in computer-mediated communication could have a destandardizing effect on international English, but that the still considerable influence of the school systems might counterbalance this trend.
Finally, Appendix 1 gives a list of the speakers on the accompanying CD, and Appendix 2 contains a number of pre- and post-reading questions for each chapter.
CRITICAL EVALUATION Everyone teaching a course on the varieties of English around the world probably has their own idea of what the ideal textbook for such a course should cover. One of the authors has taught just such a course for many years, and the book under review is proof of this. Many sections read more like lightly edited lecture notes than a textbook meant to be studied by undergraduate students. The authors include a number of anecdotes in the text, a feature that often works well in class, but much less well in a textbook, and they have the rather irritating habit of writing one-sentence paragraphs, something which many university teachers try to eradicate from their students' essays.
It is clear that balancing the content of such a short book is a difficult task, and the authors should be praised for trying to combine most of the relevant sociolinguistic aspects with a large number of linguistic descriptions of individual varieties in a relatively small book. Apart from the style, most of my criticism therefore relates to details of content. A number of sections in the book seem to be the result of compromises of various kinds: One might argue, for example, about the usefulness of a very short chapter on the roots of English, or whether such a a book is the best place for contemplating the influence of English on other languages via borrowing. Possibly these pages might have been put to better use.
One of my quibbles concerns the notoriously difficult problem of the translations or glosses, which have not received the necessary attention to detail. Dialectal variation is illustrated with a Geordie poem ("A hev gorra bairn / an a hev gorra wife / an a cannit see me bairn or wife / workin in the night"), where the word 'gorra' is claimed to stand for the local pronunciation of 'got to' (p.13).
Generally, the maps in the book are often not very useful as they do not show all areas mentioned in the text and do not distinguish between cities and provinces. To give just one example, among the dialects of England discussed in the text are those of Leeds, Derby, West Wirral and Norwich, but only Leeds can be found on one of the maps. One might also wonder about the necessity of listing statistics on area, population and capital for the countries discussed, given that such data can easily be found elsewhere and is of questionable relevance in this context.
Within the descriptions of the individual varieties, spelling, a very accessible aspect, is not systematically commented on, e.g. South Asian English is said to be "spelt in the British style", but British English does not have a section on spelling. In the more extensive section on phonology most of the comparisons of the lexical sets are clearly useful and could have been extended, e.g. it would have been interesting to see the Australian vowels compared not just to RP, but also to American English vowels. In addition to the concept of lexical sets, much of the data used by the authors comes from Wells as well, which often seems a needless repetition, especially where even the examples are taken straight from Wells (1982), a study in three volumes based on data which is now more than a generation old. On the other hand, a number of sections (Liberian English and AAVE, Caribbean English) are so short, they seem more like appetizers than any kind of solid information. In the sections on the lexicon, the authors' use of the word 'tautonym' to refer to words having different meanings in different varieties seems somewhat idiosyncratic.
The references given in the book are not consistently placed in the further-reading sections, but appear either there (sometimes with comment, sometimes without; sometimes with full bibliographic details, sometimes as author plus year only) or embedded in the text. Sharp (2001) is referred to, but missing in the references. Appendix 2 contains a number of pre- and post-reading questions, which - according to the preface - are meant to remind readers of what they know and to check their new knowledge. This generally is a good idea, but one would expect the pre- reading questions to be clearly easier than the post- reading questions. Some questions sound more like activation questions for a seminar group than questions meant to check on the reader's knowledge.
Comparing the book under review to other books on the market that might be considered as textbooks for courses on world Englishes, one could mention Trudgill and Hannah (1994), a book that gives considerably more linguistic detail on the varieties discussed, but devotes only very little room to varieties in the expanding circle (an aspect which is of much interest to students in potentially expanding-circle countries in Europe) and does not cover the sociolinguistic and political perspectives. The latter aspect can be found in Crystal (1997) to a certain extent, or more thoroughly in Brutt-Griffler (2002). Crystal (1995) provides an widely available source for maps, statistics and historical background. Bauer (2002) is mostly limited to varieties of the inner circle. Jenkins (2003) is very useful as an overview for the debate on the sociolinguistic and political aspects, but does not give linguistic descriptions. Cheshire (1991) and Allerton et al (2002) finally are edited collections of papers that provide accessible further reading on a range of subtopics on world Englishes.
Writing a relatively short textbook of such a scope is a very big bite to chew, and while I would like to congratulate the authors on their choice of content, I wish they had chosen a different style for the book and spent more time on revision and ensuring internal consistency.
REFERENCES Allerton, D.J., Skandera, P. and Tschichold, C., eds. (2002). Perspectives on English as a World Language. Basel: Schwabe.
Bauer, L. (2002). An Introduction to International Varieties of English. Edinburgh University Press.
Brutt-Griffler, J. (2002). World English: A Study of its Development. Multilingual Matters.
Cheshire, J., ed. (1991). English around the world: Sociolinguistic perspectives. Cambridge UP.
Crystal, D. (1995). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge UP.
Crystal, D. (1997). English as a Global Language. Cambridge University Press.
Jenkins, J. (2003). World Englishes: A resource book for students. Routledge.
Trudgill, P. & J. Hannah (1994, 3rd ed.). International English: A guide to the varieties of standard English. Arnold.
Wells, J.C. (1982). Accents of English, vols I - III. Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Cornelia Tschichold teaches English linguistics at Neuchâtel University. While her research interests focus on English phraseology, computational lexicography and computer-assisted language learning, she teaches a wide range of courses in English linguistics, including courses on sociolinguistics, the history of English, and varieties of English around the world.