Debate on Whether Outer Circle Englishes Should Be Recognised as Standard English in Their Own Right

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The question on whether Outer Circle Englishes should be recognized as Standard varieties of English has been highly debated for years. In this essay, we will examine this issue by first defining ‘standard language’ and ‘interlanguage’, what constitutes as Standard language and distinguishing between an error and feature in evaluating variation across varieties of English. We will also discuss whether Outer Circle Englishes should be on par with the Inner Circle countries in terms of their ownership of English. We will use Singapore English (Outer Circle) as our point of reference to further elaborate on the points in this review.

Standard Language is the term used for that variety of a language which is considered a norm. It is the optimum for educational purposes and used as a yardstick against which other varieties of the language are measured. Being a prestige variety, a standard language is spoken by a minority of people within a society (Jenkins, 2009, pp. 33). Interlanguage, a term coined by Selinker, is defined during the language learning phase by its instability, in that a learner’s interlanguage passes through on their way to achieve full competence in the target language before reaching a point where it stabilizes and there is no more change (Jenkins, 2009, pp. 93).

The domain use of standard varieties of language is normally native speakers who use English to communicate at home. They used it in writing, for teaching in schools and universities and on radio and television. On the other hand, the non standard varieties are used as a medium of instruction in education, commerce and global communication. ‘Many of the characteristics of these dialects stem historically from the limited functions required of English in the early stages of contact between the indigenous and colonizing groups. The initial use of English would have been mainly in non-prestige domains, such as trading and these dialects are characterized by the same structural and morphological simplification observable in immigrant speech .The conditions for the generation of a pidgin or a non-standard form of English characterized by structural and morphological simplification and by communication and learning strategies and interference. As domain separation in language use gradually disappears, English becomes an alternative to the mother tongue, especially in family and friendship domains. The non-standard form of English now has functions related to intimacy, solidarity, spontaneity and informality. The standard language, encountered in the school and through contact with outsiders, has formal functions, thus the characteristics of a diglossic setting may obtain where complementary values low and high come to be realized in different varieties of English’ (TeachingOnline, 2010).

So when can a variety of language be considered a standard or norm? Bamgbose (1998) proposed five factors that can be used to determine when an innovation can be considered a standard or norm. They are ‘demographic (how many people using the language), geographical (how widely is the innovation used within the country), authoritative (who use the innovation), codification (what is the usage sanctioned) and acceptability (what is the attitude of users and non users toward the innovation)’ (Bamgbose, 1998, pp.3). However, he cited the most important factor in determining whether it’s a norm is codification and social acceptance. He highlights that codification in dictionary, textbooks and other courseware is a major factor to determine whether the particular variety can be widely accepted.

However, SLA (second language acquisition) researchers seem to perceive that the Outer Circle English or indigenised varieties of English (IVEs) are interlanguage and their purpose of learning is to integrate with the ‘target language culture’ (Jenkins, 2009, pp. 93). According to Quirk, he has deemed ‘non native Englishes as inadequately learned versions of correct...
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