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World Englishes: Regional Examples

This resource describes the differences between a few regional varieties of English in order to illustrate the kinds of linguistic changes that can occur as new Englishes are born.

Note that the sources cited in this resource are catalogued on the World Englishes: Suggested Readings page.

British and American English

Trudgill (2004) provides five general reasons for the development of linguistic differences between American and British English.

  • American English has adapted to new topographical and biological features unknown in Britain. For example, the word robin in North America refers to a bird which is different from its referent in Britain, and the meaning of the word bluff, which means an act of deceiving someone as to one’s intentions, has been expanded to refer to a cliff or headland along a river.
  • Since the departure of English settlers for America, linguistic changes have occurred in Britain that have not occurred in America. For example, the glottalling of intervocalic and word-final /t/, as in better and bet, has become typical of British but not of American English (Wells, 1982).
  • Similarly, since the arrival of English from Britain, linguistic changes have taken place in America that have not occurred in Britain. For example, the voicing of intervocalic /t/ and the flapping of intervocalic /t/ and /d/ as in city, ready are typical of American and not of British English (Wells, 1982).
  • American English has experienced forms of language contact with indigenous languages that have not been experienced by British English. For example, American English has borrowed lexical items such as skunk and caucus from Native American languages (Romaine, 2001).
  • American English has experienced forms of language contact with other European languages in the colonial situation that have not been experienced by British English. For example, American English has borrowed lexical items such as cookie (“biscuit” in British English) from Dutch and key “islet” from Spanish. It is also thought that some unique grammatical constructions of American English such as are you coming with? And I like to skate (as opposed to I like skating) are the result of German and/or Yiddish influence (see Trudgill, 1986).

Consequently, there are myriad of differences between British and American English today in terms of vocabulary, grammar (collective nouns, auxiliary verbs, past tense verbs, tag questions), spelling, pronunciation, and so on. Below are several sets of examples that showcase these differences—these are not meant to be exhaustive. 

(Note: These lists, as well as the ones for the other regions that follow below, contain examples documented in the following sources: Trudgill, 2004; Melchers & Shaw, 2003; Kirkpatrick, 2007; Davies, 2005; Trudgill & Hannah, 2008; Filppula, et al. 2017)

Vocabulary

American British

Vacation

Holidays

Apartments

Flats

College

University

Chips

Crisps

Mailbox

Postbox

Soccer

Football

Cookie

Biscuit

Drugstore

Chemist’s

Band-aid

Plaster
Sweater Jumper

Auxiliary Verbs

American British

I will go home now.

I shall go home now. 

You do not need to come to work today.

You needn’t come to work today.

Past Tense Verbs

American British

Learn—Learned 

Learn—Learned or Learnt

Dream—Dreamed

Dream—Dreamed or Dreamt

I have never gotten caught.

I have never got caught.

Spelling

American British

Color

Colour

Theater

Theatre

Meter

Metre

Organize

Organise

Traveled

Travelled

South Asian English

After the US and UK, South Asia has the largest number of English users (Davies, 2005). Several distinct varieties of English coexist in this region, which comprises India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Bhutan. These varieties are now usually called collectively ‘South Asian English’.

The local languages of the region, such as Bengali in Bangladesh, Nepali in Nepal, and Sinhala in Sri Lanka, have an influence on English usage in terms of pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. However, there is still a degree of uniformity in South Asian English, the result of both similarities among South Asian languages, of British administrative, commercial, and educational influence, particularly the English-medium schools based on a British model of the language. The phonological characteristics of the variety include its rhoticity (/r/ is pronounced in words like part, flower and teacher), its tendency to use evenly-stressed vowels in words like open, and the “singsong” quality of its intonation. Common grammatical features include the use of Wh- questions without inversion of word order (as in Why he is going there?)and the use of emphasis in sentence-final position (They are coming once a weekonly, instead of They come only once a week.) 

Similarly, local words and expressions are commonly used in South Asian English, as in dhobi-wallah(laundryman), the numerical terms lakh(one hundred thousand) and crore(ten million), bandh (strike), and lathi(police truncheon).

Melchers & Shaw (2003, p.139) list the following five salient features of South Asian English:

  • The alveolar consonants tend to be replaced by the retroflex consonants as later is the important place for most of the consonants in the languages of this region. For example, retroflex stops for /d/ and /t/ in date, daunting, tight, and t
  • Some of the consonant clusters are not non-tolerant in South Asian English, as this pronunciation not found in the languages of this region. These include /sp/, /st/, and /sk/. This tends to create unique styles of articulation such as /ispikiŋ/, /istudent/, and /isku:l/.
  • Certain characteristic vocabulary borrowed from substrate languages: to gehraois to prevent someone from leaving his office as a protest; a lakhis a hundred thousand; a croreis 10 million.
  • Stylistic features which may strike inner-circle readers as mixture of level. There are multiple reasons for this. First, a small group of South Asians (100,000 or so) have English as their mother tongue and ethnic identity. Next, for other South Asians, proficiency in English varies widely because for them the main source of input for English language exposure is education (p. 138).
  • Intonation characterized by rather short intonation units (so that the placement of sentence stresses may seem unintuitive to speakers of other English varieties). This is because stress rules vary for different groups of speakers based on ethnic/regional factors. For Punjabi speakers from Pakistan, for example, there is no consistency in spoken stress patterns (Ganesh and Sailaja, 2017, p. 432).

South African English

In South Africa, English is not monolithic—it has a wide range of varieties, much as it does in any English-speaking country in the world. The emergence of distinctly South African qualities of English have been recognized in different domains, such as lexical variation, pronunciation variation, and grammatical variation.

Similarly, English has developed along a number of different trajectories in South Africa since its transplantation. English has gained significant numbers of speakers in the country since the 1820s and is currently spoken natively by about 2 million whites and nearly 1 million ‘non-whites’ (mixed race) including Indian-origin speakers (Trugill & Hahhah, 2008).Van Rooy (2017) mentions that recently English enjoys the highest status and widest range of uses in South Africa with its unique features (p. 513).

In Kachru’s framework, South Africa belongs simultaneously to two of the proposed three concentric circles of English: the Inner Circle on the one hand, and the Outer Circle on the other (Kamwangamalu, 2006). This is because English is used in South Africa as a native language by some (for instance, whites of British descent and the younger generations of South African Indians) and as a second language by others (namely, the black population, the older generations of South African Indians, and the whites of Dutch descent, the Afrikaners).

Some of the distinctive features of South African English are as follows:

Grammar

  • Phrasal and prepositional verbs are used differently, e.g., “I will pick you at 10 o’clock tonight.”
  • Articles and determiners are often omitted, e.g., I am going to post office.
  • There are invariant question tags, e.g., “isn’t it?” and “you wanted to leave for Cape town, not so?
  • There is freer word order, so phrases like “in my family, we are many” becomes common.
  • The use of plural is overgeneralized, e.g., luggages, advices, and so on.
  • Pronoun copying is common, e.g., “many of the fish, they have different colours.”
  • The use of verb+ingconstructions is extended to many additional verbs, e.g., “I am having your book” and “I was not liking the food in the hotel.”
  • “Is it?” is used as a kind of “all purpose response,” as in: “He’s left for St Helena.”Is it?” (Kirkpatrick, 2007, p. 110)
  • No-negative: ‘No’ is used as sentence-initiator, as in the following exchange:
    • “Can you deliver it?” “No, sure, we’ll send it this afternoon.”

Pronunciation

  • Fricatives tend to be avoided.
  • Length differences in vowels are levelled and not used to distinguish meaning.
  • The central vowels /ʌ/, /ɚ/ and /ə/ as in ‘but’, ‘bird’ and ‘about’ become more open as in /ɔ/, /ə/, and /a/.
  • Consonant clusters either drop consonants or insert vowels to split them (Kirkpatrick, 2007).

Vocabulary

Differences within formal English vocabulary are not especially numerous but include:

South African British

Bioscope

Cinema

Location

Ghetto

Reference book

Identity document

Robot

Traffic light