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Review of  World English

Reviewer: Elizabeth M. Erling
Book Title: World English
Book Author: Janina Brutt-Griffler
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 13.2165

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Brutt-Griffler, Janina (2002) World English: A Study of its Development.
Multilingual Matters, 215 pp, Hardback ISBN: 1853595780 GBP 49.95 US$74.95
CAN$99.95. Paperback ISBN 1853595772 GBP 16.95 US$24.95 CAN$29.95.
Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 34.

Announced at

Reviewed by Elizabeth J. Erling,
The University of Edinburgh/Freie Universitaet Berlin


Brutt-Griffler's new book, World English: A Study of its Development,
starts by presenting us with the many paradoxes of English in the
world today-- English functions as both a national and international
language, it was a major language of colonialism and is also a tool
for postcolonial resistance, and it is considered by some to be a
'neutral' lingua franca and by others a means of 'linguistic
imperialism'. In this book Brutt-Griffler puts forward a "unified
theory of world English" which addresses the complexity of English by
combining linguistic issues with a survey of historical and
sociopolitical factors that have contributed to its establishment as a
world language.


Chapter 1, Images of World English: Writing English as an
International Language, traces the routes of world English by
chronicling the history of English language spread from the 18th
century to the present day. Brutt-Griffler also reviews the previous
theories of English as an international language. In particular, she
questions the idea of linguistic imperialism (Phillipson, 1992) and
claims that colonial language policy was more complex than language
imposition on passive subjects. Brutt-Griffler's approach emphasizes
the agency of non-mother tongue English speakers in Asia and shows
that English is not a world language only because of imperialism but
also because of the struggle against imperialism. Her theory considers
the fact that there are more second and foreign language speakers of
English in the world today than native speakers, so the majority of
English speakers are multilingual. She thus creates a new approach to
SLA (second language acquisition) which considers multilingual speech
communities and coins a useful term for the study of multilingualism
and language spread, 'macroacquisition' or social SLA.

In Chapter 2, The Representation of the Social in a Social Science:
Methodology in Linguistics, Brutt-Griffler further examines some
methodological questions central to her analysis. She challenges
conventional linguistic notions to shift the focus of SLA from
isolated acquisition to societal acquisition (the type of acquisition
which results in new Englishes). To show that World English is not
necessarily a language that encroaches on others, she differentiates
between different types of language spread: when speakers migrate and
bring their language with them, the community becomes monolingual (as
in the migration of English to the US and Australia), but when the
language spreads but does not become the mother tongue of speakers (as
in India or Nigeria), the community becomes bilingual with English as
a second language existing alongside local languages.

In order to prove that English spread is not a result of linguistic
imperialism, Brutt-Griffler traces the history which formed British
colonial language policy in Chapters 3, 4, and 5. She finds that
British objectives, counter to common perception, were often to
prevent the spread of English. She uses specific examples from Ceylon,
Burma, and South Africa to show how language policy was created and

Chapter 3, Ideological and Economic Crosscurrents of Empire, examines
the historical contexts of English and empire to find that British
colonial policy was highly complex and has often been
misrepresented. Until now, the Macaulay Doctrine has been the only
cited imperialist ideology, but Brutt-Griffler uncovers several other
'Orientalist' policy measures and more influential policy makers (like
Cromer, Lugard, and Chirol) who did not share Macaulay's opinion about
educational policy. These colonialists were not pedagogues or
linguists, but soldiers concerned with the political and economic
status of empire. Her account shows that it was never their policy to
force English on the masses, as education in English was too expensive
and therefore confined to the number of civil servants needed.
Additionally, the British educational policy promoted bilingualism, as
civil servants were required to speak local languages. Brutt-Griffler
shows that the British attitude to local languages was more complex
than is often perceived: the British were aware of the importance of
knowing the languages of the people they ruled in order to maintain

Chapter 4, The Contested Terrain of Colonial Language Policy, shows
how colonial language policy was shaped by the colonized. It includes
accounts of British 'containment policy,' efforts to confine the
spread of English as a means of maintaining empire. As they noticed a
correlation between the demand for English and emergent liberation
movements, the British became more possessive of English language and
culture. In order to maintain an empire which survived on a
subordinate class of manual workers, it was deemed important to
curtail the spread of English. Brutt-Griffler presents accounts of
education policy in agricultural Ceylon and a mining community in
South Africa to show that the British language policy was reactive and
focused on limiting access to English, as a means of social control
over the working classes. She claims that English became an instrument
of liberation for the colonized and that "through appropriating the
language, they empowered themselves to resist colonialism" (65).

Chapter 5, Access Denied: Containing the Spread of English, continues
the analysis of British educational policy and concentrates on the
teaching of English in the later years of colonialism. At this stage,
colonial language policy concentrated on limiting the spread of
English to what was minimally necessary to run an
empire. Brutt-Griffler's empirical data shows that the overwhelming
majority of students received their schooling in local
languages. British policies promoted indigenous languages or even
local lingua francas (such as Shona or Kiswahili) over
English. English was taught more in the centers of commerce than in
rural areas and was limited to the wealthier classes. The lower
classes were restricted to vernacular schools, as the British wanted
to prevent them from getting further education so that they would be
satisfied with carrying out manual labour.

Chapter 6, The Becoming of a World Language, explores the question of
why, if not because of linguistic imperialism, English has become a
world language. To answer this, Brutt-Griffler scopes out four
features of a world language. The first is the econocultural function
of English (Quirk, 1988)-- economic and commercial dominance of
English and its cultural/intellectual role in the global
community. The second is stabilized bilingualism-- the establishment
of bi-/multi-lingual communities of English use. In the global
context, she claims that English performs important functions without
usurping the domain of other indigenous languages. The third is the
use of English as not only an elite lingua franca, but also as a means
of empowerment and resistance. The final feature is language change:
the spread of English has not been a one-sided process stemming from
the center, but has also been driven by African and Asian agency. Here
Brutt-Griffler presents her "unified theory of world English"
(represented in a diagram on 109).

Chapters 7, 8, and 9 deal with two central linguistic focuses of
Brutt-Griffler's world language theory. The first is the process of
divergence (the creation of new varieties of English as it spreads),
and the second is convergence (the maintenance of unity in English as
a world language).

Chapter 7, Macroacquisition: Bilingual Speech Communities and Language
Change, further develops the theory of macroacquisition (social SLA)
and language change to show that multilingual speech communities are a
central feature in shaping World English. Brutt-Griffler postulates
that there are two different types of bilingual speech
communities. The first are multilingual settings where English is used
as a lingua franca, so the primary input is not from native speakers,
the language becomes a unifying source, and users not only acquire the
language but also make it their own. In such settings New Englishes
(Platt et al., 1984) have emerged. The second type are settings where
there already exists a national language, so when English is
introduced the community becomes bilingual, and code-switching and
code-mixing are common. By viewing second-language speakers of English
as active participants in language change, she challenges established
linguistic notions about the native speaker, target language,
imperfect learning, errors, and deviation.

In Chapter 8, The Macroacquisition of English: New Representations in
the Language, Brutt-Griffler shows how new varieties of English are
tied to the expression of national identities. She discusses in detail
the process of nativization and the emergence of New Englishes. She
connects anti-imperialist movements to new varieties of English by
using as an example the link between the liberation movement in South
Africa and the establishment of Black South African English. She
carries out a close inspection of the South African case, where
opposition to apartheid included the demand for access to English.

In Chapter 9, (The) World (of) English: Englishes in Convergence,
Brutt-Griffler explains why English will maintain its essential unity
and not fragment into many mutually unintelligible forms despite the
emergence of new varieties. She claims that a 'world language speaking
community' has emerged. This community, because of globalization,
international organizations, technology, etc., shares a culture formed
by the new world econocultural system, and continuous interaction
ensures the comprehensibility of English. She explains that World
English constitutes a sort of center of gravity around which the
international varieties revolve (177) and she provides a model for
this theory of language convergence (178). Brutt-Griffler further
argues that the major legacy of colonial power relations remains not
in the English language, but in the ideology that privileges native
speakers of English and invests their varieties with the most
authority. She then appeals for an abandonment of the hierarchy among
speech communities on linguistic grounds and therewith the acceptance
of any native/national English as just one English among many.

Chapter 10, Decentering English Applied Linguistics, discusses the
pedagogical implications of the preceding nine
chapters. Brutt-Griffler connects the field of English applied
linguistics to the history of the language by showing that English
language teaching (ELT) has been an active participant in language
spread and change. The history of English language spread has
previously neglected the contribution and the agency of the nonnative
speaking teachers who have been doing the teaching of English in
second language contexts, so she emphasizes "the need to reclaim the
role and contributions of non-mother-tongue teachers of English within
the international history of English" (xii). She also stresses that
there is no reason to assume that native speakers are the best
teachers of the language. In the previous chapters, Brutt-Griffler has
shown that imperialist ideology was not involved in the spread of
English, but here, in accordance with Phillipson (1992), she shows
that it is involved in the attempt to exercise control of the ELT


I was excited and hopeful when Janina Brutt-Griffler's new book
appeared in print. Finally an author has attempted to provide a
unified theory of English language spread and change, and
Brutt-Griffler's account is certainly more comprehensive and balanced
than any work in this field so far. She presents us with a model of
English in the world, complete with sociopolitical, historical, and
linguistic considerations. By using meticulous data collection, she
presents thorough accounts of colonial policies. She convinces the
reader that there was no concerted and consistent effort to spread
English on a wide basis. She also provides an alternative history of
English by outlining the role of the 'colonized' in the spread and
change of English. In addition, her calls for a new approach to second
language acquisition, a more inclusive view of language spread and
change, and a bi-directional approach to language policy and planning
are timely.

Still, there are a few questions I have concerning some of her
ideas. For example, she argues that English in second language
contexts has not replaced local languages (unlike the case of Ireland
which became an almost entirely English-speaking community), and has
resulted in societal bilingualism (109). Is it really so that the
spread of English has not encroached on indigenous languages in such
contexts? In Sweden, which is starting to resemble a bilingual
community, English is being increasingly used for econocultural
functions. There is measurable concern that a diglossic situation will
evolve in which Swedish is no longer used for academic/professional
purposes. The government is making efforts to prevent the
deterioration of Swedish. I therefore cannot imagine that in some
Asian or African contexts, indigenous languages (which may not have as
many speakers or be as codified as Swedish) are not being pressured by
the increased use of English.

Secondly, I will be interested to see how Brutt-Griffler's theory of
world English applies to the European context. The European Union is
made up of so many identities (local, national, European, and global)
and has all types of English speakers (native speakers, bilinguals,
and second language users) who are acquiring and using English in
diverse ways. It remains to be seen if the EU will challenge or
strengthen her model.

Additionally, I was surprised that Brutt-Griffler writes off
anti-imperialist movements that were not united under English as "a
historical and artificial contrast that associates European languages
with oppression and non-European languages with liberation" (Mazrui
and Mazrui, 1998: 64 in Brutt-Griffler). The Kenyan writer Ngugi wa
Thiong'o (1986), who considers English in Africa as a "cultural bomb"
that erases memories of pre-colonial cultures and history, surely
deserves more consideration than that. I'm also not convinced by her
claim that colonial opposition included the demand for access to
English. Although she cites a case where English was used as a means
of resistance (Chapter 8), I suspect that the situation in South
Africa was unusual since English was seen in positive contrast to
Afrikaans. Therefore, I doubt that this example is representative of
most postcolonial contexts.

Furthermore, in Chapter 10 Brutt-Griffler criticizes that native
speakers of English have attempted to remain in control of the
teaching of English worldwide. However, I would argue, following her
own logic, that this process has also been two-sided. In addition to
native speaker possessiveness vis-^-vis English, there has also been
demand from outside for native speakers to remain in control of the
language. The Singaporean government, for example, still values native
British English over their own variety and they promote 'good English'
so that its people will continue to succeed in international business
and in teaching English in South Asia. European universities also
secure native speaker privileges: they require the employment of
native English speakers for language courses as nonnative speakers are
seen as unreliable. In many ways, native speakers are simply
responding to a global demand.

Finally, I had to struggle with the organization and coherence of the
book. In Chapter 3, for instance, a section on 'The World Market'
(48) seems to interrupt an account of the British policy in India, and
it is then briefly, and I feel insufficiently, defined. World Market
is not mentioned again until Chapter 6 and then brought up again in
Chapter 9. In this case, I found myself flipping back and forth
between chapters, trying to piece the ideas together. In general, the
book seems to lack crucial connectors that would emphasize the
relevance of each chapter to her thesis and clarify the unity of her
ideas. I am sure this occurs, in part, because the book attempts to
deal with such complex issues; a global theory is bound by definition
to be complicated. I just hope that its complexity does not prevent
the book from making the impact that is needed in the field of English
applied linguistics.


Mazrui, A. A. and Mazrui, A. M. 1998. The Power of Babel: Languages
and Governance in the African Experience. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.

Ngugi, Wa Thiong'o. 1986. Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of
Language in African Literature. London/Nairobi: James Currey

Phillipson, Robert. 1992. Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford: OUP.

Platt, J., Weber, H. and Ho, M.L. 1984. The New Englishes. London:

Quirk, Randolph. 1988. The question of standards in the international
use of English. Language Spread and Language Policy: Issues,
Implications and Case Studies, ed. by P. H. Lowenberg. Washington,
D.C: Georgetown University Press, 229-41.

Elizabeth J. Erling is completing her PhD at the University of Edinburgh's Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, writing her dissertation on Global English and the German University Classroom. She teaches full-time at the language center of the Freie Universitaet Berlin.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 1853595780
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 215
Prices: U.K. £ 49.95
U.S. $ 74.95

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1853595772
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 215
Prices: U.K. £ 16.95
U.S. $ 24.95