What are the AABC’s of English? Basically, and with a bit of creative license (or licence), I mean American, Australian, British and Canadian English, in alphabetical order. Of course. As an American I have to be impartial. Notice that I said American not US English, since it wouldn’t have been as catchy. We have touched on this topic before, but it is worthy of further discussion as we move about the world and incorporate more varieties of English including Chinglish and Hinglish. Then there are also their cousins Franglais and Spanglish. But these are not particularly official languages, albeit widely spoken in Canada, the Cameroons, the US, Mexico, among other places.
If we only consider the official varieties, we still have a fair chunk to digest. Currently there are well over 75 countries and about half as many non-sovereign areas where English has an official or special status.
While English is only the third largest language relative to native speakers, following Chinese and Spanish, it is the world’s largest language given the total number of speakers. Most estimates put the total number of English speakers in the world at 1.5 billion. If you are interested, the British Council discusses additional facts here about the de facto use of English throughout the world today. And the Internet is fast affecting the situation.
The 2010 version of the world’s most used word-processing program lists 18 versions of English. But those aside, we have plenty of grist with just the Big 4 – the AABC’s of English.
We call these varieties dialects of English, not affording them full language status. But is our perception changing? I see as many indices for pulling apart as for coalescing into one variety. What often happens in language contact situations is a clear division in speaking one variety in public and the other at home. Many of my fellow native English speakers admit that they speak a broad form of English in mixed international crowds, slipping into their own dialect among family and friends. And I swear that when I watch the BBC or euronews many of the UK politicians sound far less British than before – sort of “New England American” with flourishes of Oxfordian.
And although English began in England, hence the obvious name, beyond a doubt English now belongs to the world. In fact, there are rumblings of many competing new monikers including Globish, World English, International English, Global English, etc. It appears that Wenglish (which could have been an abbreviated form of World English) is already taken by Welsh English. And Globish is increasingly referred to as the English spoken by non-native speakers to communicate on a global basis. But no worries. I suspect that we English speakers will have as much difficulty agreeing upon a new name for an international variety of English as we do in trying to agree on the spelling of English.
At Tansa we are busy monitoring the changes and have to maintain these differences for our users including spelling, grammar, morphology, punctuation and style. Nor can we ignore the social and cultural differences that exist. I think it was best said by Mark Twain and sums up some of the positions we need to acknowledge:
An Englishman is a person who does things because they have been done before. An American is a person who does things because they haven’t been done before.
Still I am always taken aback when I hear my children declare that they “speak American.” But I guess they do.