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A Q & A on English and all its varieties [interactive map]

With the rise of English as the world’s lingua franca, countries have adopted English in their own unique and fascinating ways. It is therefore more important than ever to record these words and phrases. We decided to talk to Dr Danica Salazar, the World English Editor for the Oxford English Dictionary, who takes care of projects relating to the varieties of English around the world.

What are World Englishes?

World Englishes are localized or indigenized varieties of English spoken throughout the world by people of diverse cultural backgrounds in a wide range of sociolinguistic contexts.

What is the World English programme and its importance?

One of the most interesting developments in the recent history of English is its rise as a global lingua franca. English is now used by billions of people in many different places on earth, and this is reflected by the many new words that make it into English from this amazing variety of people and places. Oxford Languages’ World English Programme aims to accurately and authentically document as many of these words as possible in our dictionaries and lexical datasets, including the historical Oxford English Dictionary and our dictionaries of current English.

Can you tell us about some of the different Englishes spoken across the world?

The World English programme covers a wide range of varieties of English. We document the vocabulary of countries where English is spoken as a majority first language, such as Canada, New Zealand, and Ireland, but also that of postcolonial nations where English is generally spoken as a second language and/or has some official status, like Nigeria, Singapore, and Sri Lanka. We look at varieties that characterize specific countries, but also wider regions such as the Caribbean and East Africa. We record words used by large English-speaking populations, such as those in India and South Africa, but also words used by much smaller Anglophone communities, such as that in Bermuda. We work on dialects determined by geographical boundaries, but also on sociolects spoken by different linguistic communities such as African American English and Hispanic Englishes spoken in the United States. We also include words from non-English-speaking countries, such as Japan and South Korea, which nonetheless have had a significant influence on the English lexicon.

There are a few exciting projects in the works at the moment. Could you tell us about the Oxford Dictionary of African American English?

The Oxford Dictionary of African American English (ODAAE) is a dictionary based on historical principles documenting the lexicon of African American English (AAE). The dictionary will be based on examples of African American speech and writing spanning the whole documented history of AAE. A team of lexicographers based in different parts of the United States are currently working on this landmark scholarly initiative, with input from an Advisory Board composed of renowned experts on African American language, history, and culture.

The ODAAE is a collaborative project between Oxford University Press and the Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, funded by the Mellon Foundation.

What resources are available on the OED’s dedicated World English Hub?

The OED’s World English Hub is a section of the dictionary’s website that is dedicated to different varieties of English spoken around the world. It is publicly accessible and serves as a central repository for the content and resources related to varieties of English in the OED. There, one can find free articles, videos, teaching resources, pronunciation information, and more. There are also links to academic publications and news features, as well as a submissions form that people can use to suggest World English terms for inclusion in the OED.

The Hub features individual pages for most of the varieties covered by the OED, which contain even more information and resources specific to each variety.

What have you loved most about working on the World English programme?

I love working on the World English programme because, whatever variety we’re doing—whether it’s words from India, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Africa, the Caribbean, or the United States—I feel that I learn something new every day, not only about the words themselves, but also about the language, culture, and history of the people who use them. Each word I work on is like a little window into the everyday realities of English speakers all over the world, who adapt English vocabulary to accommodate their own traditions and values.

I also love that my work gives me the opportunity to travel and to work with experts from around the English-speaking world. I find it very rewarding working with people on documenting the varieties they speak natively or do research on, as this enables me to see the English language from different perspectives and opens my mind to new ideas. I find that this enriches not only my work but my life in general. 

For more information about different Englishes spoken across the world, check out these titles:

Featured image by CHUTTERSNAP via Unsplash.

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