Friday, August 05, 2011

McKay on variation in written corpora

"Many studies have been undertaken to determine the types of grammatical changes that are occurring in various multilingual contexts in which English plays a significant role (see, e.g., Kachru, 2005).

Frequently, researchers begin by examining a written corpus of English of a particular multilingual context to determine what kinds of grammatical innovations exist and how acceptable these structures are to both native speakers of English and local speakers of English. In general, when investigations of language change use a  written corpus of published English, only very minor grammatical differences are found (see, e.g., Parasher, 1994).

Often the kinds of grammatical changes that occur tend to be minor differences such as variation in what is considered to be a countable noun (e.g., the standard use of luggages in the use of English in the Philippines and the use of furnitures in Nigeria) and the creation of new phrasal verbs (e.g., the use of dismissing off in the use of English in India and discuss about in Nigeria). In contexts in which such features become codified and recognized as standard within that social context there arises what Kachru (1986) has termed a nativized variety of English.

What is perhaps most puzzling in the development of alternate grammatical standards in the use of English is the fact that whereas lexical innovation is often accepted as part of language change, this tolerance is generally not extended to grammatical innovation. In Widdowson’s (1994) view, the reason for this lack of tolerance for grammatical variation is because grammar takes on another value, namely that of expressing a social identity. Hence, when grammatical standards are challenged they challenge the security of the community and institutions that support these standards."

From the Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning

Kachru, B.B.: 2005, Asian Englishes: Beyond the Cannon, Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong.

Widdowson, H.G.: 1994, ‘The ownership of English’, TESOL Quarterly, 28, 377–388.