Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Erasing the Expanding Circle

Well, I don't want to erase it, per se, but my main criticism of the 3-circles paradigm is the assumption that because postcolonial societies have taken on English for different reasons than those countries who use English as a Foreign Language, English cannot become institutionalized in the expanding circle, and expanding circle Englishes are necessarily "performance" varieties. English may be a much more prominent part of Singaporean or Nigerian social life than it is in China, but I don't see why this should mean that the unique way in which English has become deeply embedded in education and social status for the middle class in China ought to be dismissed as a "mere" performance variety.

While I agree that the acceptance of an endonormative model would follow Kachru's steps (non-recognition, expansion of bilingualism, gradual acceptance of local norm, recognition), and  is much less likely to happen in an EFL/EC context, or at least to happen more slowly, I also think that the criteria laid out for an institutional variety stacks the deck -- it only allows for a 'real' variety to have characteristics similar to the Inner Circle. (Maybe. I'm making this up.) I'm thinking here of Butler's (1997) making "a standard and recognizable pattern of pronunciation handed down from one generation to another” her #1 criteria, and Kachru's (1992) list of criteria ending with "a body of nativized English literature." I'm not convinced those things are better criteria for a 'real' variety of English than some other things -- for example, the internet wasn't really around when those taxonomies were developed, and clearly that's become one of the most important domains for English.

Anyway, more soon, probably.

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