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  • The three circles of English: Language specialists talk about the English language ed. by Edwin Thumboo
  • David Deterding
The three circles of English: Language specialists talk about the English language. Ed. by Edwin Thumboo. Singapore: UniPress, 2001. Pp. xxxvii, 446. ISBN 9810425635. $32.93.

This book arose out of a conference in honor of Braj Kachru held in Singapore in 1997; the title alludes to Kachru’s well-known model classifying the [End Page 224] various English-using countries in the world as belonging to the inner circle, the outer circle, and the expanding circle.

A few of the papers focus on theoretical matters concerning the global status of English, including Rakesh Bhatt’s adoption of economic concepts such as ‘cultural capital’ to represent problems of standardization in English. One or two papers offer strongly negative characterizations of world English, as in the suggestion by Thiru Kandiah that the issue of intelligibility is just ‘an expedient hegemonistic ploy to secure and maintain the status of standard English across the world’ and that ‘English has a vitiating and subversive hegemonic potential’ to dominate countries (104). Other papers take a more positive, optimistic viewpoint, including the observation by Anne Pakir that the emergent New Englishes enable a range of different voices to be heard, making English neither truly global nor local, but instead a blend of the two, a ‘glocal’ language.

The majority of the contributions present interesting and valuable new data in a wide range of different areas. Some consider aspects of the phonology, lexis, and syntax of the various New Englishes found in places such as Singapore, India, Nigeria, and Japan, while others investigate the ways that English is influencing other languages; Jia-Ling Hsu reports on the extent to which various features of English syntax and morphology are nowadays deemed acceptable in sentences of the Mandarin Chinese used in Taiwan, and Martin Jonghak Baik describes English influences on Korean including the increased use of the plural morpheme dul and the indefinite determiner han.

A number of papers describing the influences of English on other languages consider how English is found extensively in advertisements in France, Germany, Japan, and Korea. The common finding is that English provides eye-catching text to represent concepts that are modern and trendy. In two papers on the issue of code mixing, Anita Pandey provides an overview of the phenomenon in a range of cultures, and Rajeshwari Pandharipande considers how different scholars incorporate Sanskrit words when translating a tract from the Bhagavadgita.

Finally, some of the papers investigate the intelligibility of English in different cultures. Larry Smith and Elizabeth Christopher consider the levels of (mis)understanding that can exist, and Susan Frenck and Su Jung Min compare notes on their reading of American and Asian fiction to see where they derived different understandings of the issues underlying the stories even when they had an equal comprehension of the words and sentences.

As a result of the wide range of topics, the book lacks a clear focus, but it does include plenty of interesting and useful materialdescribing and (mostly) celebrating the role of English in various parts of the world and showing how English increasingly affects the lives of so many different people.

David Deterding
National Institute of Education, Singapore


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pp. 224-225
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