Three Circle Model of World Englishes English
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Published: Tue, 10 Jan 2017
The Three-circle Model of World Englishes was developed by Kachru in 1985 and it remains one of the most influential models for grouping the varieties of English in the world (Mollin, 2006, p.41). Kachru (1985) described the spread of English in terms of three concentric circles: the Inner Circle, the Outer Circle and the Expanding Circle. These circles represent “the type of spread, the patterns of acquisition and the functional domains in which English is used across cultures and languages” (Kachru, 1985, p.12). Although Kachru’s three-circle of English is still an important initial stepping stone for the division of Englishes, drawbacks and variations have been identified by several authors, including Kachru himself (Yoneoka, 2002). The Kachru’s Three-circle Model will be introduced and evaluated in this paper.
In the Kachru’s Three-circle Model, the Inner Circle Kachru’s model refers to the traditional bases of English, dominated by the mother-tongue varieties, where English acts as a first language (White, 1997). The countries involved in the Inner Circle include the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The varieties of English used here are said to be ‘norm providing’. The Outer Circle consists of the earlier phases of the spread of English in non-native settings, where the language has become part of a country’s chief institutions, and plays an important ‘second language’ role in a multilingual setting (Rajadurai, 2005). Most of the countries included in the Outer Circle are former colonies of the UK or the USA, such as Malaysia, Singapore, India, Ghana, Kenya and others (Rajadurai, 2005). The English used in the outer circle is considered as ‘norm-developing’. The Expanding Circle refers to the territories where English is learnt as a foreign language. The territories do not have a history of colonization by members of the Inner Circle and institutional or social role. English is taught asa ‘foreign’ language as the most useful vehicle of international communication (White, 1997). The countries in the Expanding Circle include China, Japan, Greece and Poland (Crsytal, 1997). The English used in the Expanding Circle is regarded as ‘norm dependent’.
The Kachru’s model is in a dynamic nature. According to Kachru (1985), dividing English speakers into Inner, Outer and Expanding circles is preferable to the traditional native, ESL and EFL labels which involve the dichotomy between native and nonnative speakers (Rajadurai, 2005). English native speakers are visually not privileged since they are not placed at the top of the Three-circle Model. However, the model is not sufficiently dynamic to reflect the reality of English use in the world. It still prefers the English native speakers in the inner circle. The limitations of the model will be discussed in the following.
According to Patil (2006), the model assumes that the three circles represent linguistic reality perfectly. Kachru (1985) himself has noted that the concentric circles may be oversimplified and fuzzy areas exist. Some special cases like South Africa and Jamaica are difficult to be classified. As Kachru himself has acknowledged, the fact is that the categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive and grey areas exist between the circles (Rajadurai, 2005). Apart from the fuzzy classification between circles, Tripathi (1998) points out that there are no mechanisms to differentiate varieties within a circle. Therefore, Crystal (1997) suggests not defining the boundaries of Kachru’s concentric circles in such absolute terms.
Kachru’s model describes the Inner Circle, Outer Circle and Expanding Circle as ‘norm-providing’, norm-developing’ and ‘norm-dependent’. However, Crystal (1995) comments that the model cannot represent the reality of international English use because the reality is often not so clear-cut. Crystal wonders it is difficult to distinguish whether the Outer Circle looks to Inner Circle norms or it creates its own norms. Norms development is also possible in the Expanding Circle.
The Three-circle Model fails to consider the growth of English in the world. It cannot
account for the growing use of English, namely English as a lingua franca between speakers who do not share a first language (Mollin, 2006, p.41-42). English is now overwhelmingly widespread in international settings. It is the language choice in international organizations, companies as well as academic world (Katzner, 2002, p.39). It is also commonly used in the domains of the internet, international mass media and entertainment (Phillipson 1992). Crystal (1997, p.22) states that “the speed with which a global language scenario has arisen is truly remarkable”. The so called “Expanding Circle” of foreign language speakers included more than 750 million EFL speakers in 1997, compared to 375 million first language speakers and 375 million second language speakers. It is important to point out that the number of English users is developing at a faster rate as a language of international communication than as a language of intranational communication (Thesis, 2009). International communication has become a common phenomenon between the circles and the increased mobility of people has made personal relationships across language borders (Thesis, 2009). Kachru’s concentric circles seem to acknowledge diversity but little commonality across Englishes, describing the English varieties as separate (Burt, 2005). Due to the increasing international communication, the distinction between the Outer Circle and the Expanding Circle becomes fuzzy and cannot account for the growing use of English in today’s world.
In the Kachru’s model, the Expanding Circle refers to the territories where English is learnt as a foreign language. However, because of the growth of English, the language has become a necessity in today’s world; English is not only learnt in the expanding circle, or even mostly, to enable communication with the Inner and Outer Circles (Patil, 2006). The importance of English is keep increasing in the world, especially in the Expanding Circle. As a result, learning English can no longer be seen as learning a foreign language in the traditional sense (Patil, 2006). Graddol (2006) has even argued that knowing English has become a basic skill in the global world. Nunan shares the same feeling with Graddol that knowing English makes more sense than simply “learning English” for EFL or ESL (Robertson, 2005).
The functions of English are highly restricted in the Expanding Circle which can not reflect the actual use of English. Englishes in the Expanding Circle are seen as far removed from the Inner Circle core and marginalized. As the description of the Expanding Circle mentioned in Kachru (1992), “The performance varieties of English have a highly restricted functional range in specific contexts; for example, those of tourism, commerce, and other international transactions”. In fact, the range of English use in the Expanding Circle has become much wider due to the increasing growth of English. “There is much more use of English nowadays in some countries of the expanding circle, where it is ‘only’ a foreign language …, than in some of the countries where it has traditionally held a special place” (Crystal, 1997, p. 56). For example, although Egyptian English is classified in the Expanding Circle, “there are a number of Egyptian contexts, such as medicine, higher education, the sciences, or in tourism, which extend limbs into the Outer circle as well.” (Yoneoka, 2002). The above example shows that the functions of Expanding Circle English today are not as restricted as Karchru mentioned. It can be observed that there is a merging of the Outer and Expanding Circles.
The Three-circle Model implies that the Outer Circle cannot merge into the Inner Circle (Patil, 2006). However, sometimes it is difficult to define which one owns English as the first language and which one knows English as a second language. “There are several countries where population movement, language loss, divergent language attitudes, and massive shifts in language use have made it difficult to answer the question: “What is your first language?”(Crystal, 1995, p. 363). Therefore, not only the classification between the Outer and Expanding Circles, that between Inner Circle and Outer Circles can also be tough.
Some researchers suggest that Kachru’s Three-circle Model should not base the classification of English speakers on national identity. “National identity should not be a basis of classification of speakers of an international language. The more English becomes an international language, the more the division of its speakers into ‘native’ and ‘nonnative’ becomes inconsistent.” (Brutt-Griffler and Samimy, 2001, p.104). Refer to this problem; Rajadurai (2005) has presented a different Three-Circle Model: “While acknowledging the fuzzy distinctions between circles, in principle, the inner circle could comprise all users who are proficient in English and able to instinctively codeswitch between international and national or regional varieties to communicate in the most appropriate way. The second circle could consist of speakers who are proficient only in regional varieties, i.e. native and nonnative speakers with restricted intranational proficiency, while the outer circle could be made up of learners of the language.”
Although English native speakers visually do not have higher hierarchy since they are not placed at the top of the Three-circle Model, it still prefers the English native speakers in the inner circle. As Burt (2005) comments, the Inner Circle clearly establishes at the top of the hierarchy. The idea that English is someone’s second language implies that it is someone else’s first language. It gives the impression that English belongs to the native speaker who owns it as his first language. Kachru has acknowledged that “it is almost unavoidable that anyone would take ‘second’ as less worthy” (Kachru and Nelson, 1996, p.79). In order to ease the problem, Yano (2001, p.122-123) has suggested that the ENL and ESL circles can merge into a single ENL circle with two sets of varieties: genetic and functional ENL.
To conclude, Kachru Three-Circle model has limitations to reflect the reality of English use. The model is oversimplified and the classification among the three circles is fuzzy. In fact, the three varieties are mutually inclusive and grey areas exist. Due to the rapid growth of English, English status has increased in the Expanding Circle. English is not only learnt but more widely used in different settings. The classification between the Outer Circle and the Expanding Circle becomes difficult. Therefore, the Three-circle Model should be modified to a more dynamic one to represent the actual use of English. Instead of categorizing the English speakers based on national identity, the revised model can be classified in terms of the English proficiency in international and regional varieties. More research related to World Englishes should also be conducted in the future to meet the rapid growth of English.
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