Varieties of English and Kachru’s Expanding Circle

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In this overview article, we present the motivations for compiling this issue of RJL and summarize the major premises of the World Englishes (WE) Paradigm. The focus is on the relations between the WE school of thought and the paradigms that branched from it, i.e. English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) and English as an International Language (EIL). The statuses of Englishes in the Kachruvian Expanding Circle that function mainly as lingua francas in international communication is one of the most controversial issues in sociolinguistics. We discuss the misconceptions regarding the Expanding Circle Englishes. Finally, we give a brief survey of the articles contributed to this issue, which develop theoretical and empirical material for the WE paradigm.

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This journal issue is a collection of articles that ponder the status, functions, and features of Englishes that in their home settings are mostly known as a foreign language. They are normally used for intercultural communication with people of other countries and rarely for interpersonal communication within their own countries. These varieties of English belong to the third group of Englishes that are regularly named Expanding Circle Englishes in the famous Three Circles Theory of Braj B. Kachru (1985). The other two groups are termed Inner Circle Englishes, characterized as native (first) languages for the majority of their countries’ populations and serving almost all possible functions within their communities, and Outer Circle Englishes, institutionalized and serving as a second official (co-official) language in their country’s institutions. (Critiques of Kachru’s model and descriptions of other models are examined in Schneider 2017 and Berns 2019.)

According to the statistics provided by ThoughtCo1, English as a Second Language is learned by 375 million people, while English as a Foreign Language is learnt by 750 million (Beare 2020). Thus, there are twice as many users of English in the Expanding Circle as in the Outer Circle. In China only, in 2001 the number of English learners was 390 million (Wei & Su 2012: 11). Statistics provided by Levada-Center reveal that in 2014, 11% of Russians, about 16 million users, claimed good knowledge of English.

The quantitative research conducted by Margie Berns in 2005 and 2019 demonstrated steadily growing interest in Expanding Circle Englishes. Berns counted papers published in two scholarly journals, World Englishes and English Today, and found that within the period of 1998–2001 these journals published 47 articles on Expanding Circle Englishes. In 2001–2018, the number of papers on Expanding Circle Englishes was 318. The total number was 365 papers covering 79 countries and 11 regions, with the “lion’s share” (Berns 2019: 12) relating to East Asia, especially China (about 100 papers) and Japan (20 papers). Russian English was documented in 19 articles, the majority of which were published in a special issue of World Englishes (Proshina 2005). Berns stressed that these Expanding Circle Englishes “remain uncharted territory in many respects” (Berns 2019: 13).

In fact, the proof of her statement can be seen even in such encyclopedic reference works as handbooks. The first Handbook of World Englishes, published in 2006 (Kachru, Kachru & Nelson 2006), had only three chapters on Expanding Circle varieties – East Asian, South American, and European Englishes – of sixteen chapters describing localized world Englishes. The second edition of the Handbook of World Englishes (Nelson, Proshina & Davis 2020) has five chapters dealing specifically with South American, European, Russian, East Asian, and Chinese Englishes. Five chapters on East Asian, Chinese, Slavic, Colombian, and European Englishes are included in The Routledge Handbook of World Englishes (Kirkpatrick 2010). Only one region (Central America) of the Expanding Circle is covered in The Cambridge Handbook of World Englishes (Schreier, Hundt & Schneider 2020), and three in The Oxford Handbook of World Englishes (Filppula, Klemola & Sharma 2017). Seven regional varieties are discussed in The Routledge Handbook of English as a Lingua Franca (Jenkins, Baker & Dewey 2018). Though Thumboo’s volume titled The Three Circles of English (Thumboo 2001) is aimed at discussing various Englishes that are comprised in the Kachruvian model, only four chapters address the Expanding Circle proper. Very little information on the Expanding Circle can be found in A Dictionary of Varieties of English (Hickey 2014).

Special works on Expanding Circle Englishes are not numerous, either. European Englishes are examined in Cenoz & Jessner (2000), Görlach (2001, 2002), Berns, de Bot & Hasebrink (2007), Houwer & Wilton (2011), Edwards (2016), Borodina (2018). East Asian Englishes are researched in Proshina (2001, 2020); Bolton (2003), Stanlaw (2004), Bondarenko (2007), Bianko, Orton & Gao (2009), Ivankova (2009), Seargeant (2009, 2011), Xu (2010), Zavyalova (2011), Graddol (2013), Hadikin (2014), Cho (2017), and Jenks & Lee (2017).

Russian English, though a very debatable issue, has been a focus of the special volume Russian English: History, Functions, and Features (Proshina & Eddy 2016), as well as a number of articles (Gritsenko 2014, Proshina 2006, 2014b, Proshina & Rivlina 2018, 2020, Rivlina 2013, 2015a, 2015b, Ustinova 2005, 2006) and dissertations (Eddy 2007, Lawrick 2011, Lazaretnaya 2012). Some authors, though not using the term ‘Russian English’ have in fact contributed to the discussion of the variety, its cultural underpinning (Kabakchi 1998, 2002, 2015) and its linguistic features (Savitsky & Kurovskaya 2004, Schennikova 2017, Shishkina 1996).

Given what has been said and still is to be clarified, the motivation of this journal’s thematic issue is the need to discuss the nature of Expanding Circle Englishes and the factors that facilitate their development, different from each other and from other varieties in the Inner and Outer Circles, yet not recognized by many speakers of these varieties or even by linguistic scholars who, on the one hand, take Kachru’s division of world Englishes for granted, but on the other, argue against Expanding Circle Englishes having the right to be called a variety.

The WE paradigm and how it differs from other theories

Before we introduce the articles contributed to this issue, we would like to remind the reader of the major prerequisites and tenets of the Word Englishes (WE) paradigm, and its connection with other paradigms that have actually branched from it.

The WE paradigm, which emerged in the 1960s (Kachru 1961, Beliayeva & Potapova 1961) and has developed since, with its theoretical basis brought into focus especially in the 1980–1990s (Kachru 1986, Kachru & Smith 1985, Smith 1987, Smith & Forman 1997, see also Bolton 2020), is a revolutionary theory (Proshina 2014a), as it has radically challenged the traditional views on the Empire’s linguistic dominance, flipped sociolinguistic ideas, and drastically changed pedagogical beliefs that had found their way into English language teaching and learning. To summarize the major premises, the following arguments should be highlighted:

  • English is not a monolithic and homogeneous language anymore. Being pluricentric (which is due to historical, political, and economic, as well as cultural and informational reasons), it has differentiated into a great number of varieties – world Englishes.
  • Each variety is underpinned by its linguaculture, which means it is able to express the cultural identity of its users and has certain features transferred from their mother tongues and/or other languages that are in regular contact with this variety.
  • A variety is a sociolinguistic phenomenon. Therefore, it has features characteristic of a certain speech community on the average but not necessarily manifested in the speech of every member of this community, since each speaker’s usage depends on the level of language proficiency, sphere of use, style of communication, and individual preferences.
  • Due to the linguacultural underpinning that identifies each variety, world Englishes are all equally legitimate. In the very first issue of the World Englishes journal, its founding editors stated:

The editorial board considers the native and non-native users of English as equal partners in deliberations on users of English and its teaching internationally. WE is thus a vehicle which may be used to share the vast Western and non-Western expertise and experience for the benefit of all users of English.… The acronym WE, therefore aptly symbolizes the underlying philosophy of the journal and the aspirations of the Editorial Board (Kachru & Smith 1985: 211).

  • Varieties of the Outer and Expanding Circles are used as additional or auxiliary (Smith 1976) communicative tools. The functions of the burgeoning varieties might seem restricted, but the more a variety develops over time, the more functions it gains. Kachru (1986: 92) refers to the ranges of Englishes in “cultural, social, educational, and commercial contexts,” and to the depths of their social acceptance and use in “various strata of society.” This dynamic headway is nowadays obvious in all varieties.

These innovative features are salient for linguistics, especially sociolinguistics, literature studies, culture studies, and applied linguistics, by which we understand not only the domain of language teaching and learning as is normally meant “in the Anglophone literature” (Knapp & Antos 2009: vii), but also in the so-called “Practical Applied Linguistics” in Back’s sense of the term (Back 1970), as it is also used in Russia, i.e., “application of insights from linguistics in a practical field related to language, such as language teaching, translation, and the like” (Knapp & Antos 2009: vii). In a word, these features mark the interdisciplinarity of the new paradigm, which makes it much wider in its scope than the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) paradigm in English language teaching (ELT).

The WE paradigm has led to the emergence of other branches of research that are nowadays characterized as new paradigms – English as an International Language (EIL) and English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) – that are developing certain aspects related to world Englishes. Both these branches have ELT as their major focus. They stand in clear opposition to the pedagogy of EFL, which is based on teaching a monocentric or bicentric model of English, based on British English and British culture, or/and American English and the culture and values it serves.

Unlike the pedagogical concept of EFL, the idea that stands behind EIL, the term put forward by Larry Smith (1976) and further developed by Farzad Sharifian (2009) and many other scholars (Alsagoff 2012, Marlina & Giri 2014, Matsuda 2012, 2017, McKay 2002), focuses on the necessity of acquainting students with the language by exposing them to diverse world Englishes that might meet the needs of future communicators in real-life situations:

EIL in fact rejects the idea of any particular variety being selected as a lingua franca for intercultural communication. EIL emphasizes that English, with its many varieties, is a language of international, and therefore intercultural, communication. (Sharifian 2009: 2)

If the concept of EIL is grounded on the diversity of world Englishes, a similar term, International English, implies a controversial phenomenon. It is associated with an allegedly unified standard English that facilitates international communication (Todd & Hancock 1987, Trudgill & Hannah 1994) – similar to Quirk’s idea of “nuclear English” (Quirk 1982) – and is used in formal contexts (though, as we will discuss later, it is an abstract ideal implemented in real speech practice with at least a local accent, if not other context-specific features). This understanding of International English coincides with Peter Strevens’s definition: “a particular dialect of English, being the only non-localized dialect, of global currency without significant variation, universally accepted as the appropriate educational target in teaching English; which may be spoken with an unrestricted choice of accent” (Strevens 1983: 88). In fact, nowadays it is impossible to speak about one and the same standard of English for all varieties – they are changing dynamically and the process of standardization is observed in all of them (Hickey 2013). Judging by Strevens’s definition, EIL and International English prove to be antonymic concepts, with EIL oriented towards diversity and differentiation – i.e. varieties – and International English, towards unity and homogeneity, i.e. invariant.

The concept of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) was revived by Alan Firth (1990, 1996) to imply “the modus operandi” for interactants none of whom has this language as their mother tongue (Firth 1996: 255). As is clear from this definition, native speakers are excluded from this conceptualization, which can reasonably be questioned, since speakers of English as their first language have to adapt the way they speak in intercultural settings. Therefore, nowadays more commonly accepted is the definition given by Barbara Seidlhofer: ELF is “any use of English among speakers of different first languages for whom English is the communicative medium of choice, and often the only option” (Seidlhofer 2011: 7), which includes participants of the three circles (though still we can find associations of ELF mostly with varieties of the Expanding Circle). Seidlhofer’s explanation of ELF also prompts a very important conceptual idea: ELF is the use or function of any variety of English. It has no status as a variety, but is just a variety’s pragmatic facet. Any world English as a variety (including Inner Circle varieties) can be characterized by this function, which is implemented mostly in intercultural communication. But besides this function, world Englishes have many other functions as well.

It is no wonder that when teachers are talking about ELF, they concentrate mostly on three objects: strategies of communication, mutual understanding, and diversity awareness.

Firstly, strategies of communication are aimed at mutual accommodation of speakers via such adaptive processes as exploiting redundancy, regularization, added prominence, explication, adjustments, reformulations, repetition, code-switching, negotiation of meaning, and many others (Cogo & Dewey 2012, Mauranen & Ranta 2010, Meierkord 2012, Vettorel 2018). Research on these processes is mainly carried out by means of corpora; therefore, the contributions of these scholars to corpus linguistics is undeniable (e.g., VOICE, Vienna-Oxford International Corpus of English; ELFA, English as a Lingua Franca in Academic Settings; CASE, Corpus of Academic Spoken English; ACE, Asian Corpus of English; RACE, Russian-Asian Corpus of English; BELF, English as Business Lingua Franca).

Secondly, mutual understanding in international communication is a common problem for ELF, EIL, and WE researchers. In the early days of the WE paradigm, the problem was formulated as a three-facet phenomenon by Larry Smith and the scholars he was working with (Nelson 2011, Smith 1992, Smith & Bisazza 1982, Smith & Rafiqzad 1979, Smith and Nelson 2020). Mutual understanding comprises three facets: intelligibility, understanding spoken and written forms of speech production; comprehensibility, understanding the meaning of what is said and written; and interpretability, understanding the sense of what hides behind the text – a pragmatic component associated with the background knowledge of communicators which allows them to understand the purpose of the language in use.

The third challenge, diversity awareness, which is much discussed by ELF researchers (Bayyurt & Sifakis 2015, Lopriore & Vettorel 2015, Sifakis et al. 2018, Sung 2018, Wang 2015), is not an uncommon topic for EIL and WE scholars, as well. As was shown above, diversity has become a key word for talking about EIL. World Englishes are singled out based on different features and functions, and because of that, they are differentiated as varieties. From a pedagogical point of view, raising awareness of the diverse ways people speak English due to their different linguacultural grounds is to make “an informed choice” (Jenkins 2007: 22). which is necessary for effective intercultural communication.

An issue that seems to have been a stumbling block between ELF and WE supporters is the relation between ELF and a variety. Though it has been recognized that ELF “does not exist as a system” (Canagarajah 2007: 926) and “emerges out of and through interaction” (Meierkord 2004: 129, see also Kecskes 2019), and that it is an abstraction, a concept of a function but not a live variety per se (Berns 2009: 196), time and again we can find works (e.g., Breiteneder 2009, Mackenzie 2014, Jenkins 2017) that describe phonetic, syntactic, and other levels of ELF that demonstrate that the authors treat this concept as a structured variety (at least a generalized entity, which makes it an abstraction rather than a live phenomenon) instead of talking of world Englishes functioning as ELF.

Dispelling doubts about the Expanding Circle

While Inner Circle varieties, both old and new (like New Zealand, Australian, and Canadian Englishes), and many Outer Circle Englishes are well recognized and by now have been thoroughly described, the Expanding Circle Englishes have not yet been unanimously accepted, especially among their own users. Reasons for that are usually seen in these varieties not being codified, but if we have a deeper look into the problem, we can find that, in fact, the rationale for rejecting Expanding Circle varieties is lack of linguacultural acceptance.

Regarding codification, which is usually understood as the process resulting in standardization of the language, we can definitely argue that all varieties as language manifestations are standardized, though their spoken performance might be represented as either fitting norms or breaking them. Following Davis (2010), we use the term standardized English rather than standard English to emphasize the dynamic linguistic changes that take place in all world Englishes, including those that belong to the Inner Circle.

Speaking about types of language norms, Kachru (1985) subdivided them into three kinds according to the three circles: the Inner Circle comprises endonormative varieties that usually serve as norm-providing models for other Englishes; the Outer Circle varieties are in the most dynamic process of modifying the norms and, therefore, are considered as norm-developing Englishes; and the Expanding Circle varieties are norm-dependent and apply exonorms that have been developed and codified in other Englishes, not necessarily in the Inner Circle; if there is need, Expanding Circle users of English can employ standards of an Outer Circle English. The variability of exonorms, especially British and American, leads to their frequent mixture and results in a certain specificity in using the standardized variety.

As for speech production in Expanding Circle Englishes, Kachru’s theory again provides us with an explanation in the form of a bilingual cline model (Kachru 1983). Any variety produced by contact with an indigenous language results in bilinguality of its users, which can be represented as a continuum of use, depending on the language competence of users and functions and style of their discourse. Acrolectal speech characterizes formal discourse of very competent uses; mesolectal speech is mostly manifest in informal discourse of educated speakers or in formal and informal discourse typical of users with less proficiency; and basilectal speech as a hybrid and even pidginized type of discourse is characteristic of uneducated users (Proshina 2017: 150–152).

We see that standardization should not be regarded as a major argument for accepting a variety, which exists in both standardized and non-standardized forms and includes not only acrolect, but also mesolect and basilect. Acceptance of a variety is gained when its users recognize that their variety expresses their linguacultural identity, and it might be a primary or a secondary vehicle for this expression. The variety they speak and write expresses their culture, values, mindset, and world view. This conceptual cultural part of identity is revealed through lexis and syntax, first and foremost (culture-loaded words, collocations, and syntactic structures). Besides these means, the lingual part of one’s identity is also transferred via phonetic (phonetic accent) and grammatical levels (grammar categories, such as discretion in expressing plurality of nouns – equipments, furnituresas is observed in Asian Englishes). The linguistic features result from transfer from the users’ first language, as well as from verbalization of their mindset. For example, even in acrolectal Russian English one can hear Russian intonation, devoiced final consonants, frequent lack of aspiration, sometimes specific pronunciations of separate sounds (such as th, w, r), by all of which the Russian accent is easily identified. On the grammatical level, direct object fronting (This book I haven’t read yet.), lack or unusual use of articles (the complex ethnical structure of the population determines peculiarity of the gender interaction), avoidance of the Perfect tenses (I am living in this city since childhood), substitution of left-hand attributive clusters by postpositional attributes containing prepositions (Old English period > period of Old English), dominance of impersonal sentences with a dummy subject (It is expected that she will come will be preferred to She is supposed to come) are very typical. Many other features of Russian English discourse are described in Proshina & Eddy (2016).

This does not mean that absolutely all users of a variety will exhibit the full set of features typical of the variety. As has been mentioned, the number of the variety’s distinctive features in an individual’s spoken discourse will depend on the user’s language competence, context of situation, state of mind, and degree of desire to follow the educational model as an exonorm.

Acceptance of a variety is a long process – it takes time for an English in a certain location to become the local English. Even Inner Circle Englishes, for example, Australian English, had to make the transition from English in Australia to Australian English (Fritz 2007) that was fully recognized as a variety per se only in the 1970s when Australians overcame their cultural cringe, and their cultural nationalism paved the way to assert their linguistic and cultural identity.

Social and psychological awareness of linguacultural identity expressed through a variety, as well as its educational codification (Kachru 1985), lead to recognizing its distinctive features. Most of the Expanding Circle varieties are still on their way to this recognition.

This recognition will certainly come with a growing functional increase of Expanding Circle Englishes. Nowadays they serve not only intercultural functions as a lingua franca. They also have informative functions in business, advertising, mass media, and science. They implement an instrumental function in education, including English as a medium of instruction (EMI). Expanding Circle Englishes can also be found in their creative functions (in translingual or contact literatures, mass culture, and ludic uses in puns and so on; see, for example, Seidlhofer (2010) for the functions of English and domains of its use in Europe).

To conclude, we would like to emphasize that Expanding Circle varieties do exist in real life and no matter how closely their users might approach an educating exonormative model, varieties will still have their own distinctive features as they serve as secondary means of linguacultural identity. A variety is a typical collection of discourse events and products, distinctive in linguistic features and cultural underpinnings.

A variety is not a simulation of a codified education model, nor is it a collection of defective speech samples of interlanguage. Expanding Circle varieties, like all other world Englishes, are used by educated communicators with fluent performance and high competence – those whom Kachru (1998) described as functional native speakers of their varieties (see also Smith 2008).

World Englishes of the three circles should constitute part and parcel of EIL curricula. Raising awareness of the diversity of Englishes is of unquestionable value in language teaching and learning and in translation and interpretation. The domain of applied linguistics is yet to be enriched by WE research. Knowing distinctive features of other varieties, as well as specifics of their Romanization systems (such as Chinese Pinyin, for example) will make intervarietal communication, including intervarietal translation, easier.

Recognizing one’s own variety as a vehicle to express one’s mindset and culture. and being aware of its place among other world Englishes provides psychological comfort in intercultural communication due to the principles of inclusiveness and equality of varieties. Knowing typical features of one’s own variety is important for improving one’s language competence.

Brief description of this issue

Berns (2005: 92) spoke about the “dawning age of the Expanding Circle Englishes.” The publication of this issue of the Russian Journal of Linguistics shows that the dawn has gradually grown into late morning, though the primetime noon is still ahead.

Having described the motives that pushed us to collect this issue and the major premises of the WE paradigm and its branches, such as EIL and ELF, we would like to express our gratitude to the authors who contributed their works to make this publication interesting and insightful.

As readers can see from the Table of Contents, the articles presented in this journal deal with Asian (Japanese and Chinese), European (German), and Russian Englishes. They cover general issues of the Expanding Circle Englishes, their statuses, features, and functions (A. Kirkpatrick, V. Zavyalova, Zh. Xu & D. Zhang, A. Rivlina, E. Gritsenko & A. Alikina, and Yu. Davydova). Some of the articles discuss pedagogical challenges related to teaching global and local Englishes (J. D’Angelo & S. Ike, N. Hino, and I. Lebedeva). One article (G. Lovtsevich & A. Sokolov) examines the lexicographic aspect of WE as viewed from the Expanding Circle.

Besides the research articles, this issue also includes two reviews related directly to the theme of World Englishes (E. Marinina and E. Lebedeva).

All the problems are discussed from international perspectives, as the authors have worked in different parts of the world and synthesized their empirical research with in-depth theoretical foundations. We hope that readers will find the issues raised in these papers to be useful and stimulating food for thought, further research, and practical activities.


1 ThoughtCo is a premier reference education site, whose content is created by high-grading experts in a field. See (accessed: 16.07.2020).


About the authors

Zoya G. Proshina

Lomonosov Moscow State University

Author for correspondence.

Professor in the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Area Studies, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Russia, and Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Intercultural Communication Studies, Far Eastern Federal University, Vladivostok, Russia

Lomonosov Moscow State University, 1, bld. 13, Leninskiye Gory, Moscow, 119991, Russia

Cecil L. Nelson

Indiana State University


Professor Emeritus of Linguistics in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics

Indiana State University, Terre Haute, United States


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