New article: ‘Outer and expanding circle Englishes: The competing roles of norm orientation and proficiency levels’

A solid year and a bit after it was accepted, my article with Samantha Laporte from the Université catholique de Louvain is now out in the latest issue of English World-Wide. For a copy of the proofs, click here. Here’s the abstract:

The classification of English as a native (ENL), second (ESL) and foreign (EFL) language is traditionally mapped onto Kachru’s (1985) Inner, Outer and Expanding circles, respectively. This paper addresses the divide upheld between these different varietal types. We explore the preposition into using comparable corpora for all three varietal types: the International Corpus of English (ICE) for Inner and Outer Circle varieties, and a comparable Corpus of Dutch English to represent the Expanding Circle. Our results show that the least institutionalised varieties (Hong Kong and Dutch English) are the most dissimilar to the ENL varieties, and the most institutionalised variety (Singapore English) is the most similar. We also compare our results for the Corpus of Dutch English to the Dutch component of the International Corpus of Learner English. While the latter patterns with other learner varieties, the Dutch English corpus patterns with ESL varieties, suggesting that “Expanding Circle” and “EFL” are not synonymous.

Keywords: Expanding Circle, Outer Circle, ESL, ENL, EFL, Netherlands, norm orientation, prepositions

‘Expanding ICE to the Expanding Circle’, or: Conference, conference, boat, conference

Off tomorrow to the ICAME conference in Trier. ICAME stands for International Computer Archive of Modern and Medieval English and that odd title has very little to do with the conference. In my experience it mostly revolves around an annual boat trip. So I’m always pretty keen for this particular boat trip conference. Below, the abstract of the talk I’m giving.

Expanding ICE to the Expanding Circle: the Corpus of Dutch English

This talk aims to make a threefold contribution: conceptual, methodological and empirical. First, it demonstrates that the scope of the International Corpus of English (ICE; Greenbaum, 1991) can – indeed, should – be widened to the Expanding Circle. ICE expressly includes only ‘countries where [English] is either a majority first language … or an official additional language’ (Greenbaum, 1996: 3); i.e. Inner and Outer Circle countries. This reflects a now outdated conception of English in the world based on its spread by way of colonisation. Today, the forces of globalisation mean that many people in Expanding Circle countries are using English comfortably and confidently well beyond the confines of the foreign language classroom. New corpora ought to reflect this development.

This talk describes the compilation of the Corpus of Dutch English (Edwards, 2011, 2014a), based on the design of the ICE corpora. For practical reasons it is presently limited to a written component, with 200 texts in 8 genres, totalling approximately 400,000 words. I discuss the specific challenges involved in collecting text types such as English fiction, press news and social correspondence in the Netherlands, and the modifications to the ICE design required in such a setting. Further, I demonstrate how the Java-based platform Eclipse ( can be used to encode the corpus in XML and add metadata and textual markup in line with ICE (Nelson, 2002).

The talk then sums up the results of studies conducted with this corpus to date. The first is a study of the progressive aspect in the Corpus of Dutch English compared to the written components of four ICE corpora (Edwards, 2014b). No strict divide was found between the results for ICE-IND and ICE-SIN on the one hand and Dutch English on the other, suggesting that Outer and Expanding Circle varietal types should not be regarded as fundamentally different but as being on a continuum (see also Biewer, 2011: 28; Bongartz & Buschfeld, 2011: 48; Buschfeld, 2011: 219; Gilquin & Granger, 2011: 76).

This is supported by a second study (Edwards & Laporte, 2015) comparing preposition usage in Dutch English with five ICE corpora and four components of the International Corpus of Learner English (ICLE, Granger, 2003), including the ICLE component for the Netherlands (ICLE-NL). The Corpus of Dutch English and the ICE corpora clustered together, while, separately, the ICLE corpora (including ICLE-NL) clustered together. This suggests that (at least in terms of linguistic form), there is a false equivalence between ‘Expanding Circle variety’ and ‘learner variety’, and that users and learners can in fact co-exist in the Expanding Circle. It remains to be seen whether the Netherlands should be considered a special case, or whether it will be feasible to create comparable ICE-like corpora for other Expanding Circle countries to further test and extend these findings.


Biewer, C. (2011). Modal auxiliaries in second language varieties of English: A learner’s perspective. In J. Mukherjee & M. Hundt (Eds.), Exploring second-language varieties of English and learner Englishes: Bridging a paradigm gap (pp. 7–33). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Bongartz, C., & Buschfeld, S. (2011). English in Cyprus: Second language variety or learner English? In J. Mukherjee & M. Hundt (Eds.), Exploring second-language varieties of English and learner Englishes: Bridging a paradigm gap (pp. 35–54). Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Buschfeld, S. (2011). The English language in Cyprus: An empirical investigation of variety status. PhD dissertation, University of Cologne.

Edwards, A. (2011). Introducing the Corpus of Dutch English. English Today, 27(03), 10–14.

Edwards, A. (2014a). English in the Netherlands: Functions, forms and attitudes. PhD dissertation, University of Cambridge.

Edwards, A. (2014b). The progressive aspect in the Netherlands and the ESL/EFL continuum. World Englishes, 33(2), 173–194.

Edwards, A., & Laporte, S. (in press). Outer and Expanding Circle Englishes: The competing roles of norm orientation and proficiency levels. English World-Wide, 36.

Gilquin, G., & Granger, S. (2011). From EFL to ESL: Evidence from the International Corpus of Learner English. In J. Mukherjee & M. Hundt (Eds.), Exploring second-language varieties of English and learner Englishes: Bridging a paradigm gap (pp. 55–78). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Granger, S. (2003). The International Corpus of Learner English: A new resource for foreign language learning and teaching and second language acquisition research. Tesol Quarterly, 37(3), 538–546.

Greenbaum, S. (1991). ICE: The International Corpus of English. English Today, 7(4), 3–7.

Greenbaum, S. (1996). Comparing English worldwide: The International Corpus of English. Oxford: Clarendon.

Nelson, G. (2002). Markup manual for written texts. International Corpus of English. Retrieved from

English edition of ‘Dawn’, by Rik Smits

“Morgan Kavanagh was a man on a mission to whom nobody would listen. Yet he had solved one of the greatest mysteries in human history, or so he thought. Buried deep down in ancient myths, he had discovered the divine origins of human language and thought.”


This is the start of the book Dawn: How language made man. The book sets out to uncover what lies at the origins of human language. How did it come about in our brains in the first place?

Good question. Can’t wait to find out.

(If you’re wondering, shouldn’t I already know the answer to that, being a linguist and all? Nou … it’s not really a topic that comes up much in corpus studies.)

Anyway: the book is by the linguist and journalist Rik Smits. It was published in Dutch under the name Dageraad: Hoe taal de mens maakte, and I’m currently editing the English version. It’s rare that I’m dying to get to the end of an editing job just to find out what happens. Chapter 7 and counting …

The English edition will be out next year, then you can all find out too. In the meantime, here’s a teaser by the Dutch Foundation for Literature [spoiler alert]:

How did the human ability to communicate through language arise? Unlike insects and animals we all command one or more unique tongues, each with its own variants, adding up to billions of words worldwide. In Dawn Rik Smits presents a challenging vision of a subject that has not yet been fully researched.

Smits’ view is that language cannot initially have arisen as a system of communication. Indeed, from an evolutionary perspective, everything suggests otherwise. Language, he claims, is a product of the integration of capacities each of which evolved for its own reasons. Man is one of nature’s most vulnerable creatures, and the only substitute for strength is wisdom. We are unique in being able to aim and throw accurately. Our skills at calculation and estimation developed until they were sufficient to accommodate a system as complex as grammar.

Only after our linguistic ability emerged could we think logically and share our reasoning with others, at which point almost everything we now call culture took off at a great rate. Smits concludes that language cannot have long predated the invention of agriculture in the Middle East, some 14,000 years ago. This huge advance in civilization made abstract powers of reasoning indispensable for the first time, along with highly developed concepts of identity, past, present and future, all of which rely upon language.

Smits’ explanation of the origins of language throws new light on cave paintings by Cro-Magnon man, whose masterpieces of 40,000 to 15,000 years ago have been found at Altamira, Lascaux and elsewhere. Anatomically Cro-Magnons were modern humans, but they had no language in the modern sense. Their minds were so fundamentally different from ours that we would have had difficulty making ourselves understood to them. They certainly could not have conversed with us; they had no gods or religion comparable to ours and probably no real sense of eroticism. These things dawned later, as a result of the wonderful, accidental by-product of evolution known as language.

Book club: aliens and wankers

Observant, Maastricht, 21 May 2015

When you move someplace new in your twenties, you make friends by getting drunk. In your thirties, you join a book club.

The first book in my new Amsterdam group is called The Humans. It’s about a Cambridge maths professor whose body is possessed by an alien.

Now, usually I won’t read anything involving aliens, wizards, hobbits or any other form of supernatural being. So this doesn’t bode well. But I read the book anyway. My social calendar’s not exactly overflowing.

Then comes the get-together itself. Walking into the bar, I realise I’ve no clue what they look like. I sidle up to the first English-speaking table. They’re all seventy plus. Please don’t let it be them, I think, backing away slowly.

The next table’s full of Dutch people air-kissing one another. This can’t be them either. But I’m hovering, and they’re starting to notice. Again I back away, bumping into the waitress as I go. Fail, I think. I’m just going to leave.

Then I spot a long table at the back. A woman sees me peering quizzically and offers a little smile, as if to say it is we you seek. I’m filled with relief.

‘Here’s your seat!’, calls out a friendly Canadian as I approach. When are Canadians not friendly?

Afterwards, I head home in high spirits. Check me out, I think. I just totally made friends.

A week passes and there’s no word of the next gathering. They’re probably just getting organised, I think.

Maybe I spelled my email address wrong, I worry after two weeks.

Three weeks later, I still haven’t heard. I think back to the night. There was that one girl who found it unlikely the other characters wouldn’t have noticed the maths professor acting oddly, what with being possessed by an alien. ‘Knowing Cambridge mathematicians,’ I’d said, ‘that’s not at all unlikely.’ That must be it. I’m a Cambridge wanker.

At last, the email arrives. See, you’re not a wanker! I tell myself. But I’ve now six days to read all 448 pages of the next book.

‘Only 74 and a half pages a day’, says my husband, the Cambridge mathematician.