English in Its Social Contexts: Essays in Historical Sociolinguistics

By Tim William MacHan; Charles T. Scott | Go to book overview

9
The Second Diaspora of English

BRAJ B. KACHRU

The preceding eight chapters of this volume have primarily discussed the sociolinguistic contexts of English in Britain, America, and Australia, traditionally termed the native varieties of the language. This chapter describes English in nonnative sociolinguistic contexts. 1 Let me begin with a question that relates to the speakers of the language, their relationship to the changing sociocultural context of English, and the development of world Englishes.

The question is, "How many people use English around the world?" We actually have no reliable figures in answer to this crucial question. Within the group of English users, moreover, we do not know how to distinguish an English "knower" from a "semiknower" of the language. If we accept the most conservative figures, there are now two nonnative speakers of English for every native speaker. And if we accept an extremely optimistic figure of 2 billion users of English out of the total world population of over 5 billion, roughly every third person is using some variety of English as a nonnative speaker. 2 Whether these statistics are exact or not is not vital. What is significant is that these figures, conservative or optimistic, are indicative of an unprecedented linguistic fact about the spread of the language. The spread involves practically every part of the world, every literate or oral culture, and almost every linguistic area. These figures are also staggering for another reason that I shall return to later.

The major characteristic of this spread is that it has taken place in what one might call diaspora, that is, in sociocultural and historical contexts traditionally not associated with the language. The word diaspora is somewhat tricky here, for it has generally been used for the dispersion of religious groups--particularly the Jews--and not often a language. The analogy is, however, applicable to the spread of several languages, especially English. It seems that the original meaning of diaspora, which comprises Greek dia ("through") and spora ("seed" in the sense of "spread seed"), certainly captures the diffusion of English in more senses than one, as I hope will become clearer in this chapter. The "seeds" of the language were "spread" in enormously diverse sociocultural environments, and the resultant varieties of the language show this diversity.

The major method of the diffusion of English has been to transplant it in "un-

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