English for the 21st century

Just back from visiting the wonderful Mikko Laitinen and colleagues at Linnaeus University, Sweden, where I gave this talk:

English for the 21st century
Putting Continental Europe on the map of World Englishes

Since the latter decades of the 20th century, the field of World Englishes (WEs) has succeeded in drawing attention to the emergence of new varieties of English around the world. The focus is typically on Asian and African Englishes that have arisen in postcolonial societies such as India, Singapore and Kenya. Why has Continental Europe largely been ignored? In view of the vastly increased roles and uses of English in regions such as Scandinavia, I discuss the notion of European Englishes in the WEs paradigm. Drawing on research on the case of the Netherlands, I show how Continental Europeans, too, can be agentive shapers of English who reconstruct the language for their own ends. In addition, I shed light on how new methodological tools can facilitate investigation of such Englishes and thus complement our existing picture of English around the world.

Expanding Circle Englishes + Istanbul is lovely, I’m sure

Just back from the annual conference of the International Association of World Englishes (IAWE) in Istanbul. I would like to say I saw something of Istanbul. I did not. But I saw a lot of the truly lovely Boğaziçi University campus. My paper was part of a colloquium dedicated to English in the Expanding Circle organised by Prof. Suzanne Hilgendorf, together with Sarah Buschfeld, Sofia Ruediger and Bouchra Kachoub.

Agency and resistance in the Expanding Circle

English in the Netherlands

This contribution addresses the implications of recent research on English in the Netherlands. It shows that the existing models and assumptions in World Englishes studies do not do justice to the agency of English users in the Expanding Circle.

First, I show that a categorical approach seeking to distinguish neatly between English as a second-language (ESL) or learner (EFL) variety is insufficient. Findings indicate that functionally, English serves as a second language in Dutch society, yet ‘Dutch English’ is not seen as a target model. This makes it difficult to unequivocally label English in the Netherlands as either EFL or ESL.

Next, I consider a developmental, cyclical model: Schneider’s (2003, 2007) Dynamic Model of the Evolution of Postcolonial Englishes. Although the historical foundations of English in the Netherlands were different, parallels with the developmental trajectory of postcolonial Englishes can be found in sociolinguistic aspects, such as the emergence of an English-knowing identity.

These identity restructurings and other sociolinguistic developments therefore seem to be a common factor in the dynamics across the Outer Circle and certain Expanding Circle settings. And these developments can be trigged by postcolonial processes, but also by other processes, specifically the forces of globalisation.

In the Netherlands, this is resulting in a situation where speakers at times opt consciously for ‘Dutch’ pronunciation of English so as not to sound ‘affected’, insist on nonstandard usages that they feel better suit the local setting, and actively resist interventions by English-language gatekeepers.

This signals an emerging pattern of linguistic disruption; a way of reasserting the user’s own linguistic power and identity and subverting the dominance of English. It seems that in the Expanding Circle, too, people are willing to agentively adapt English to suit their own voices and context.

UniSIG: English in Dutch higher education

The philosopher Ad Verbrugge recently published a big spread in the NRC on the problems English is causing at Dutch universities. This could have been interesting, except that none of the problems he mentioned can really be attributed to English. Straw man number 1 is the issue of poor literacy in Dutch. If kids these days really do have dodgy Dutch, then that’s a problem with the way Dutch, not English, is being taught.

Anywho. I took the opportunity to have a little rant about this in eSense in my report following the inaugural meeting on 17 June of the SENSE UniSIG, a group for editors, translators and other language professionals involved with academia and academic English in the Netherlands. I gave a talk, or at least tried to; I made a point of encouraging audience interaction and as a result could barely get a word in edgewise.

Here we go:

eSENSE report UniSIG talk

‘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 (www.eclipse.org) 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 http://ice-corpora.net/ice/manuals.htm

‘There is not a lot of sympathy for Dunglish’

I gave a talk for Studium Generale at the University of Twente a few weeks back. In case you missed it (ha, ha), here’s a fairly accurate summary:

‘There is not a lot of sympathy for Dunglish’

11 March 2015, 13:11
Michaela Nesvarova, UT News

English has many varieties, but is Dutch English one of them? How do we decide what is a legitimate variety of a language? That was the main topic of a Studium Generale lecture, held on the 10th of March 2015 and presented by Alison Edwards, a researcher with a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Cambridge. 

Edwards specializes in sociolinguistics and her doctoral thesis focused on English in the Netherlands. She is interested in World Englishes, which is a term referring to localized varieties of English all over the world. ‘Wherever English goes, the locals mold it to fit their culture and way of life,’ explains Edwards.

Mistake or a local flavor?

If new varieties of English really emerge everywhere the language is used, how do we tell a difference between the local variety and a mistake? ‘There are many native and nonnative varieties of English. Native speakers are outnumbered by non-natives, who don’t try to mimic British or American English, but use English to represent their own environment,’ says Edwards. ‘Deviating from native English is not necessarily and error, but can be an appropriate innovation.’

Do people speak Dunglish in the Netherlands?

Does Dunglish exist? To answer that question, we first need to determine what constitutes a legitimate language variety. Edwards says: ‘The criteria of an English variety include widespread competence, expanded functions of the language, identity construction, linguistic innovation and finally local norm orientation towards the language.’ Let´s see if Dunglish fulfils all these criteria.

Widespread competence

It is said that almost everybody in the Netherlands speaks English. Indeed, 90% of Dutch people claim they can hold a conversation in English. ‘Competence in English is assumed and expected in the Netherlands,’ says Edwards. Dutch people often use English words while communicating among each other, and not only in spoken form but also in writing. English words or even entire sentences can be found in official texts, such as news announcements intended for Dutch readers.

English as a part of Dutch culture

English has become a typical feature of an everyday life in the Netherlands. ‘We can see ‘Englification’ of Dutch higher education, English commercials or conferences and work meetings held in English, even when all their participants are Dutch. English doesn’t have an instrumental function, but more of a signaling role – it represents a cosmopolitan and progressive group or culture,’ elaborates Edwards. Yes, English has become an element of the Dutch national culture and identity.

Linguistic innovations

As people accept this English-knowing identity, it gives them a sense of ownership over the language. That leads to linguistic innovations in English grammar, accents or vocabulary. Edwards herself has created a corpus of Dutch English and found some systematic innovations, that might suggest a new variety of English has emerged in the Netherlands.

Dutch don’t aim for Dunglish

Based on all of the above statements, it seems that Dunglish does exist. However, Edwards explains that Dutch English doesn’t fit the last of the mentioned criteria. Dutch people do not aim for a local variety of English. They do speak English and use many English words within Dutch sentences, but they generally aim for a neutral, international form of English, not for creating their own version of it.

‘There is not a lot of sympathy for Dunglish in the Netherlands,’ concludes Edwards. ‘Therefore it is difficult to say if Dunglish truly exists, but there certainly are a lot of interesting things happening with English in the Netherlands. It is not black and white.’

Dutch English: Death or the gladioli

I’m giving a talk on 12 December in Leiden for Ingrid Tieken-boon van Ostade’s research group. ‘Death or the gladioli’ is a reference to Louis van Gaal’s English, which I think is marvellous (seriously … stay tuned for a column to that effect). Admittedly Der Tod oder die Gladiolen is one of his German coinages, but I have a solid month to come up with its relevance for (Dutch) English …

Dutch English: Death or the gladioli

With native speakers of English today in the minority of the world’s English speakers, scholars de-emphasise normativity vis-à-vis Standard English and trumpet the rise of ‘new’ Englishes from Asia and Africa. Why has Europe been overlooked? Existing theories in the field of World Englishes suggest that (de)colonisation produced a fertile breeding ground for the specific identity developments that spawned new English varieties. In this talk I suggest that postcolonial processes are just one possible trigger for the identity reconstructions that give rise to new varieties, and that the forces of globalisation are another. Can we see these identity developments in the Netherlands, suggesting the dawn of ‘Dutch English’?