Decolonizing (world) Englishes

Mario Saraceni, Camille Jacob

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

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Even though decolonization was rarely mentioned explicitly, the academic field of world Englishes can be said to have been animated by a decolonizing ‘spirit’, especially in its early stages decades ago. In the 1980s the work of Braj Kachru, S. N. and Kamal Sridhar, Edwin Thumboo, Ayo Bamgbose, Larry Smith, Peter Strevens, Peter Lowenberg, and many others had the goal of redressing the inherent inequality that existed between varieties of English in the Inner Circle and those in the Outer Circle. Such inequality had its roots in empire and colonization, and so the ambition to achieve equal Englishes was also the ambition to decolonize the language and its varieties. Key to this was the recognition of the plurality and validity of the forms and functions of English in such postcolonial countries as India, Singapore, Nigeria, Kenya and so on, and the consequent claims of ‘ownership’ that people in those settings could make over the language. English, in all its localised forms, rightfully belonged to anybody who used it. This project, however, has received significant criticism over the years. On the one hand, those who see the expansion of English as a cause of linguistic imperialism have accused world Englishes scholars of providing a justification for the continuing dominance of English over other languages. On the other hand, a more recent critique has pointed out how the world Englishes egalitarian ethos actually reflects and is based on the aspirations of a rather restricted elite of creative writers and intellectuals who enjoyed the privilege not only of possessing a sophisticated mastery of the English language, but also of using that very mastery as the core of their profession. Consequently, the idea of world Englishes ends up being an illusion masking the reality that sees English very much entangled with severe forms of inequality that still exist in postcolonial societies. ‘Equal Englishes’ is then a mere beautiful facade of what is, in effect, ‘unequal Englishes’ (Tupas, 2015). In this chapter we argue that world Englishes needs to engage with decolonization more in depth and in more complex ways and examine its subject matter and its research paradigms by adopting a ‘de-colonial strategic framework’ (Rutazibwa, 2019) consisting of three aims: to de-mythologize (what is ‘English’?), to de-silence (which aspirations, struggles, lives are entangled with ‘English’?) and to de-colonize (how do we de-centralize the development of knowledge about ‘English’?).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearch Developments in World Englishes
EditorsAlexander Onysko
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherBloomsbury Publishing Company
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781350167087, 9781350167063
ISBN (Print)9781350167056, 9781350249592
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2021

Publication series

NameBloomsbury Advances in World Englishes


  • World Englishes
  • decolonization


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