The Colonial Expansion of English - English as a global language

Varieties of English

by Christina Boampong (Author) Gergana Penova (Author)

Seminar Paper 2005 20 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. American English (Christina Boampong)

3. Canadian English (Gergana Penova)

4. Black English (Christina Boampong)

5. Australian English (Gergana Penova)

6. New Zealand English (Christina Boampong)

7. South African English (Gergana Penova)

8. South Asian English (Christina Boampong)

9. Conclusion

10. References

11. Appendix

1. Introduction

English is the language of commerce and tourism, of international politics, of science, the official language of international and multinational companies and industries, the language of air traffic control, of international news agencies, of mass entertainment, of computers and of the internet. It is assumed that about a quarter of the world`s population is already fluent or competent in English (that means around 1,5 billion people) (Crystal 2003) and that there is a total of 75 territories where English has a special place in society (Fennell 2004) (see figure 1).

These regions can be divided according to the status they give English: Either they have English as a native language, as a second or official language or as a foreign language. This classification is visualized by the so-called Three-circle-model (Crystal 2003) (see figure 2): The inner cirle compromises those countries where English is the primary language of communication and is learnt as a native language by the majority of the population. It includes the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The outer or extended circle represents the countries where English plays an important role in a non-native setting. In many cases these are former British colonies where the English language is part of the countries leading institutions and of various other domains. This circle includes India, Malawi, Singapore and 50 other territories. The expanding circle involves those countries in which English is learnt as a lingua franca[1] by many people. These countries neither have a history of colonization nor have they given English any administrative status. Such countries are Germany, Japan, Israel and a growing number of other states.

Fennel (2004) divides the global spreading of English that has lead to its status as a world language into four phases:

I. British colonialism from the seventeenth to the twentieth century
II. British leadership in the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
III. American economic superiority and political leadership
IV. American technological domination

In what follows we will focus on the first phase: The colonial expansion of English, which also marks the beginning of the Modern English period. The main idea of this term paper is to introduce the most popular varieties of English around the world and to familiarize with the historical facts and development of these countries emphasizing on the specific linguistic characteristics.

2. American English (Christina Boampong)

Before the Europeans began to colonize North America, there was already a population of some four million Natives living there. European settlement in America only started after the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. He had intended to sail to India by going west and actually thought he had landed there; therefore he called the Native Americans Indians (Tottie 2002).

The first real attempt by the English to establish a settlement in the New World was made in 1584 when an expedition led by Sir Walter Raleigh landed on Roanoke Island in present-day North Carolina. Because of ongoing conflicts with the Natives they had to send ships back to England for help and supplies. When these ships returned in 1590, all the settlers had disappeared and could not be found again. The first successful permanent English settlement was established in 1607 and was called Jamestown after James I. It was situated in Chesapeake Bay and Virginia became the first English colony in 1609. In November 1620 a group of puritan settlers, the so-called Pilgrim Fathers, arrived on the Mayflower at Cape Cod Bay and established a settlement at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. They had fled from religious persecution in England and wanted to found a kingdom that they could run according to their own ideals and principles. This settlement was successful: by 1640 about 25 000 immigrants had come to the area (Crystal 2003) (see figure 3).

The settlers from the Southern settlement in Virginia came from several parts of England, but many of them were from the West Country, for example from the counties Somerset and Gloucestershire. Features of the accent characteristic for these areas are the pronunciation of [s] as [z]- the so called Zummerzet voicing of s sounds and the r strongly pronounced after vowels. In some isolated areas such as valleys and islands like Tangier Island in Chesapeake Bay, the language has not changed as much as elsewhere in the country over the past 300 years and therefore the so-called Tidewater accents spoken there still display traces of the features mentioned. The colonists from the Northern settlement in Plymouth, present-day Massachussets, were mainly from counties in the east of England such as Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Kent and London (some came from the Midlands and only a few from further afield). A typical feature of these eastern accents was the tendency not to pronounce the r after vowels; this non-rhoticness is still characteristic for the speech of people from New England (Crystal 2003).

In general, “several features of modern American speech go back to seventeenth-century England” (Jucker 2000, p.61). One example would be the American pronunciation of the short a-vowel, wich is pronounced as [æ] in words like dance and path, where in standard English it is pronounced as [a:]. Also, American English retained the earlier pronunciation [a:] of not, which in British English changed to [o]. In addition, the American variety of English retains some words or meanings from England 300 years ago: The word mad changed to angry in Brittain and instead of fall, autumn is used in modern British English. Besides, many words were coined on the basis of earlier English elements. Examples are bartender, cowboy, eggplant, steamboat, the expressions to bite the dust and to up the ante (Jucker 2000).

During the ensuing century, up to 1732, thirteen British colonies were established along the Atlantic Seaboard: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia. (Maine was part of Massachusetts until 1820; Vermont did not become a state until 1791, and West Virginia was part of Virginia until 1863.) (Tottie 2002). “The later population movements across America largely preserved the dialect distinctions which arose out of these early patterns of settlement. The New England people moved west into the region of the Great Lakes; the southeners moved along the Gulf Coast and into Texas: and the midlanders spread throughout the whole of the vast, mid western-area, across the Mississippi and ultimately into California” (Crystal 2003, p.33). As people moved westward, their different dialects tended to influence each other and merge (there were widespread north-south movements within the country), and as a result the sharp divisions between regional dialects in the eastern part of the country gradually began to blur. So the east has greater dialect differences than the west and the farther west you go, the more difficult it is to define and describe specific dialects (Tottie 2002). Thus, the main divisions of north, midland and south are still found throughout America today (Crystal 2003) (see figure 4).

Besides the English, there were also other European countries to explore and colonize America: The Spanish had occupied large parts of the west and south-west (Spanish was spoken in what is now Florida, Texas, New Mexico and California). The French were present in the northern territories, mostly in present-day Canada, but also throughout the middle regions as far as the Gulf of Mexico; today the state of Louisiana still has speakers of French. The Dutch were in New York (originally New Amsterdam) and the surrounding area (Crystal 2003). There was also a short-lived swedish Colony, New Sweden, founded in 1638, which was first taken over by the Dutch and then ceded to the English, in what is now Delaware (Tottie 2002). So with the westward expansion of the United States, large territories were incorporated where French and Spanish were spoken.

In the nineteenth century immigration into America increased massively: Large numbers of Irish and Scots Irish came in the 1830s and especially in the 1840s following the potatoe famine in Ireland. German immigrants had begun to come in the 1830s and until 1890 five million Germans had settled in the United States (Crystal 2003). At that time the proportion of German-speaking Americans was larger than that of Spanish-speakers today. There are still many German-speakers, especially in Pennsylvania; their language is called Pennsylvanian Dutch (Dutch being derived from Deutsch). Southern and and eastern Europeans followed afterwards: Five million Italians arrived between 1880 and 1920 and three million Jews, fleeing from the progroms in central and eastern Europe, between 1880 and 1910. Scandinavians also began to immigrate at the end of the nineteenth century (Tottie 2002). “In the first two decades of the twentieth century, immigrants were entering the USA at an average of three-quarters of a million a year. In 1900, the population was just over 75 million. This total had doubled by 1950” (Crystal 2003, p.35). The linguistic result of the multilingual origin of the population (German, Italian, Polish, Yiddish, Hungarian, Greek and Skandinavian languages were the languages spoken by the largest population groups) was a large number of loan words from European languages along with Native American languages (see table 1) (Jucker 2000). As the United States is still a country of immigration, there is a constant inflow of speakers of foreign languages other than English. Though immigration to the country had originally mostly been from Europe, since the 1970s the origin of the people immigrating to the USA, is mostly Asian and South or Central American (Hispanic). These groups are expected to constitute a quarter of the population by 2025. This influx of non-English-speakers undoubtedly will have significant consequences on the future development of American English (Tottie 2002).

3. Canadian English (Gergana Penova)

Seeking a new route to the rich markets of the Orient, French and British explorers plied the waters of North America. They constructed a number of posts - the French mostly along the St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River; the British around Hudson Bay and along the Atlantic coast. Although explorers such as Cabot, Cartier and Champlain never found a route to China and India, they found something just as valuable - rich fishing grounds and teeming populations of beaver, fox and bear, all of which were valued for their fur. Permanent French and British settlement began in the early 1600s and increased throughout the century. With settlement came economic activity, but the colonies of New France and New England remained economically dependent on the fur trade and politically and militarily dependent on their mother countries. Inevitably, North America became the focal point for the bitter rivalry between England and France. After the fall of Quebec City in 1759, the Treaty of Paris assigned all French territory east of the Mississippi to Britain, except for the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, off the island of Newfoundland. Under British rule, the 65 000 French-speaking inhabitants of Canada had a single aim - to retain their traditions, language and culture. After Canada became independent in 1867, provincial politics became another attractive sphere for the French which they came to dominate; the English were more concerned with federal politics.


[1] A lingua franca is a shared language of communication used by people whose main languages are different.


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University of Lüneburg – Anglistik/Amerikanistik
Colonial Expansion English Varieties



Title: The Colonial Expansion of English - English as a global language