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A critical Evaluation of Braj Kachru’s Three Circle Model for Varieties of English
Around The World

Shivana Mohammed


Ling 6402: World Englishes

Jo-Anne Ferierra


In 1985, Braj Kachru first posited the term “World Englishes” this was hailed as a

valuable contribution to the understanding of the many varieties of English which

have arisen since the colonisation of many cultures by the British Raj. Pennycock

declares “Braj Kachrus development of the term World englishes, epitomises the

heterogeny position” (qtd Mair 2003) Salikoko Mufwene then applauded Kachru for

his terminology, which he then believed served as an ideal vessel for English as a

World Language; emerging as an international lingua franca. However Braj Kachru

warned then that the notion of “World Englishes” was independent of whether or

not English functioned as a world language.

Rather, “the concept was intended to capture the plurism and the regional and

cross cultural variation that obtains among English varieties throughout the world,

and the distinct identities of these varieties”. (Kachrus, 1985) By capturing this

plurism so succinctly, there is the forced recognition of other standard varieties of

English far from the normative British and American Varieties. None sharing the

same socio-politico-linguistic status as the “Native Englishes” from which all others

take pattern. Therefore the question that had arisen was one of, how were the

progeny of the English Raj to be classified?

The Gorilla protagonist and namesake of David Quinns’ novel Ishmael wisely

instructs his student that a precursory statement must be made of human

behaviour with respect to classification of their environment, before an explanation

of these classifications be made. That is,

“I’m going to call the people of your country Takers

and all the people of other countries Leavers.” [The

Student] Hmmm’d a bit before saying, “I have a


problem with that.” “Speak” [says Ishmael]. “I don’t

see how you can lump everyone else in the world

into one category like that” [says the student] “This

is the way it’s done in your culture, except that you

use*heavily loaded terms instead of these relatively

neutral terms. You call yourselves civilised and all

others primitive.” (Quinn)

Braj Kachru in 1985 thus proposed a globally accepted model of the spread of the

English language. He positions the world’s Englishes under three umbrellas labelled

the Inner circle, Outer circle and the Expanding circle. “The three circles

represent the types of spread, the patterns of acquisition and the functional

allocation of English in diverse cultural contexts.” (Jenkins 18) Kachrus concentric

model is built on the historical context of English, the status of the language, its

geographical distribution and its functions in various regions.

This three circle, model however, has been met with widespread criticism among

scholars of the field. It was argued that the circle is limited because of its focus on

historicity rather than actuality of the linguistic situation. That the circular model is

part of the climatic build to globalisation rather than existing in this, the globalised

era, where modern technology challenges many notions of linguistic ownership and

language spread. The model though useful for its contributions to an understanding

of the situation of the English language in the 1980’s is now archaic. The terms of

use and definitions from which the model springs all limit its possibilities so that

each category examines English language use in each country myopically and

assumes language homogeneity, ignoring the diversity of the language and its very

organic nature.


Kachru’s three circle model assumes linguistic homogeneity and “implies

uniformity” (Knuth). When in reality each circle contains a plethora of local and

regional variations. The umbrella headings of the model force the Englishes under

three vague delineations opening the door for scrutiny. One must question “the

descriptive adequacy of the three circles; the focus on varieties of English along

national lines; and the exclusionary divisions that discount ‘other Englishes’”

(Pennycook 518) Kachru acknowledges the existence of Varieties such as British

English, American English, Australian English and Canadian English while denying

the existence of Ulster Scots, Cockney, Midland, Southern, Gullah, Appalacian

English, Canadian English, Frenglish, Newfoundland English, Maorian English or Tok


This type of classification is what gives rise to challenges when choosing the

appropriate standard for English language learning in countries that are norm

dependent. The English language learner in these countries aspires to produce

internationally accepted English, but he has no real concept of what IAE or EIL is, he

thus aspires to produce the metropolitan standard be it British English or American

English. Choice is more a matter of prestige than functionality. This standard is

found in the Inner circle of Kachru’s model; The Inner circle referring to all settler

communities; the UK, The USA, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, “the

traditional cultural and linguistic bases of English”. These so called Norm providing

countries are those which house the English as a Native Language Speaker or the

English as a Mother-tongue speaker.

The speaker believes that any variety coming out of the English Language “Center”

is a valuable exemplar for EIl. Rather, the idea that that particular variety may

demonstrate forms that are NOT acceptable internationally or formally, and may


NOT be part of the countries institutionalised Standard English, does not enter his

psyche. Furthermore, it has been a common experience of many learners of English

that the variety they have learnt is specific to a particular region and therefore not

internationally accepted.

Kachru’s homogenous classifications of Englishes into the three headings may thus

be considered wholly misleading. Since the linguistic situation of no two countries is

the same. Thus the spread of English ought to be categorised in terms of individual

varieties of English and their degrees of standardisation rather than simple

geographical-historical distribution. By sorting English varieties in terms of

classification it becomes possible for the English language learner to gauge the

relevance of the variety he chooses to learn on a regional or international level.

The mere labelling of the norm providing bracket as an Inner Circle connotes a

certain level of acceptability and prestige. Though Kachru declares that this was not

the intention that he considers no variety as superior to another, as a linguist he

ought to have been aware of the impact that the terms we use to classify have on

the members of those classes. He means to provide a counter argument to

“centrist” ideas of English language spread, while his model (Mair 8) His

classifications and his theoretical declarations act contradictory to one another, as

he declares that he aims to recognise the existence of many Englishes rather than

one English, when his headings still act as blinders to the many varieties of English

that govern the daily lives of millions.

One would expect that after Quirks debate about the nature of the English

Language he would produce a model similar to this one, since he stressed “that

teachers of English advisedly uphold one common standard in the use of English not


only in inner circle countries but in others as well” (Kilickaya 36) This suggestion

was made based on the fear that english go the route of latin and fragment into a

series of unintelligible varieties, resulting in “the language losing the function of

international communication” (Kilickaya 36)

However Quirks assumption was not so, since outer circle and expanding circle

territories are using English as a means of transmitting their own local cultures,

forms of expression and traditions to the wider world. These cultures are veering

away from the inner circle and in a whorfian manner one may look at this adoption

of english, as, one language being modified to express the ethos of another

linguistic system. “To take three examples from the chinese culture; traditional

chinese medicine, the writings on the art of war by Sun Zi and the tenets of

confucianism are now much better known in the West than in the past.....because

these chinese ways of thinking have been diseminated in english.” (Unknown,

Models of World Englishes) Li Wenzhong has suggested that “China English be

defined as a variety of english whose vocabulary , sentences and discourse have

Chinese characteristics. It is based in English, and has been adapted to express

characteristics of Chinese Culture in terms of phonetic translation, borrowing and

meaning reproduction.” (Qiong) These discusssions and discussion along similar

veins are meant to present a case for movement of China from the Expanding circle

to the inner circle. This would mean the acknowledgement of China English as an

EIL similiar to British English and American English.

In doing so, one is also prompted to acknowledge other varieties of english which

meet Quirks’ three criteria for the declaration of an EIL: Similiarity,Adequacy and

Prestige. These are the other institutionalised varietires of english such as

Standard Indian English, Standard Nigerian English. Varieties such as these existing


outside the inner circle find difficult fitting into second language and foreign

language spheres, because they there run the risk of being considered

interlanguages. Indeed they cannot be considered interlanguages becasue as

Nelson (1988) points out “ (a) they do not have as a goal an ENL model; (b) they do

not have characteristic instability; (c) they do not fossilize at a functionally

unacceptable level; and (d) they do not have externally imposed functions” (qtd

Davies 450). In addition to this, other considerations when regarding an outer or

expanding circle vartiety as a potential constituent of the inner circle: does the

variety look inwardly for norm determination? Do they recognise the potential of

their own standard for norm provision?

That prestigous vestule of the inner circle varieties is now being comprimised as

“...the global diffusion of engliish has taken an interesting turn: the native speakers

of this language seem to have lost the exclusive perrogative to control its

standardisation; in fat if current stattistics are any indication, they have become a

minority” (Kilickaya 36)

“How english develops in the world is no

business whatsoever of the native speakers in
englnd, the united states, or anywhere else.
They have no say in the matter, no right to
intervene or pass judgement. They are
irreleveant. The very fact that English is an
international langugae means that no nation
can have custody over it. To grant custody of
the language is necessarily to arrest its
development and so to undermine its
international status.”


There is now the allowance for the outer and expanding englishes to regulate and

direct their own English development. One may go so far as stating that should

some major event happen in any one of the current inner circle territories it would

in no way hamper the development and use of English in the Outer-Expanding

circles. The Englishes have now acquired seperate lives some of which owe their

birth to that distant latin-celtic-welsh-norman-scandanavian ancestor, but which

now exist autonomously from their british cradle.

Outer circle speakers are no longer trying to identify with inner circle speakers,

since they are soon being relinquished to minority English speakers. Colonizers are

yet to realise that their language has been colonised and is out of their possession.

British english in itself has become a minority amoung Native englishes, losing its

norm providing competencies. One would soon believe that while English may not

die like latin did, British english would slowly become the dialect of solely speakers

on the british isle.

The Outer circle involves the earlier phases of the spread of English in non-native

settings where language has become a part of chief institutions. It represents “the

regions that have passed through extended periods of British Colonisation and have

subsequently institutionalised English varieties into systems of government, law,

education and literature.” (Jahan 2) The English language in this setting serves as

an additional language and not a mother tongue. It would be surprising to the

speakers that speak, think and exist within the realms of the English language that

the language they have known all their lives is not their mother tongue.


Gupta (1997) suggests a classification system that divides English into five different

categories: Monolingual ancestral such as Britain and the USA; Monolingual

contact such as Jamaica, Trinidad, Antigua, Barbados and other Anglophone

countries whose primary and only language is English; Monolingual scholastic

such as India, Japan, China and other countries whom are choosing to adopt English

because of its empowering capabilities and Multilingual Contact such as Singapore;

and Multilingual Ancestral such as South Africa.

To these five categories I propose the addition of a final category

Monolingual/Multilingual Technical which includes the English language variety

used in various linguistic settings for specific technical purposes. This category it is

hoped shall serve particularly useful to compensate for where Kachru fails to

account for those varieties of English which are not bound by geographical or ethnic

influences. Namely those relating to activities such as commerce, education,

technology, law, culture and social life e.g. legal English, airline English, medical

English, public

The classifications by Gupta are valuable, because they are realistic descriptors of

the language setting that the English variety is born out of. It is far more focused

than the inner/outer/expanding terms that kachru initiates. Gupta acknowledges the

true heterogeneity of the Englishes scattered across the globe, while conceding that

as distinct as some may be, others succumb to similar cycles of development.

Kachru also recognises the phases of the development that Englishes go through,

yet his model has no place for the distinct phases of different Englishes.

In the Kachruvian perspective “non-native institutionalised” Englishes go through

three stages of development “non-recognition” where the local speakers are


prejudiced against it and believe that some native speaker imported variety is

superior and should be the model for language learning in schools. The second

phase sees the existence of the non-native variety alongside the native standard

variety, where the local variety is being used in a broader range of situations. The

final phase sees the local variety being recognised as the norm and gaining social

acceptance. However, this understanding of the development of English in Outer

and Expanding Circle countries on Kachru’s part may have fuelled their failure as

models. Kachru’s developmental cycle may function as a descriptor for only Gupta’s

Monolingual scholastic grouping. Otherwise, Moag 1992, in his research on Fijiian

English, a Kachruvian expanding circle variety. Schneider declares that there is the

possibility that within Kachru’s Outer circle there is now the emergence of varieties

which have no history of contact or settlement, thus justifying Gupta’s Monolingual

Scholastic category.

Braj kachru’s Concentric Circle Model in 2010 has proven itself to be an archaic

representation of the spread and functions of English language globally. Built upon

weak definitions and historical categories that have long since broken; the model

failed to cater for the expansions that globalisations would force upon the English



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