Kachru's 3 Concentric Circles

With over 1.35 billion speakers, including 350 million native speakers, English is a truly global language. It is used worldwide as the means of communication in business, science and technology, social interaction, and many more areas. However, this wasn’t always the case. It took centuries for English to spread around the world, influenced by various events and contact with different groups of people.

Kachru's 3 Concentric Circles Kachru's 3 Concentric Circles

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Table of contents

    Kachru's three concentric circles: the expansion of English

    Kachru’s three concentric circles model provides a way of looking at the expansion and use of the English language as a second language (ESL) and as a foreign language (EFL). Kachru's Three Circles of English is a model that categorizes the use and spread of the English language into three concentric circles. English has different uses in different countries and each ‘circle’ refers to a group of countries in which English has a similar level of importance.

    We can group the way in which people use the English language into three distinct categories:

    • English as a native language (English is spoken as the mother tongue by the majority)
    • English as a second language (People speak a different native language, but English is used in the country and internationally)
    • English as a foreign language (English is only used for international communication)

    The importance of English in both official contexts and everyday life differs for countries in each category. This depends on a variety of factors including historical factors such as British colonial relations and the development of technology during the Industrial Revolution.

    Plenty of other factors, such as the emergence of the USA as an economic, political, and cultural power, have also had a significant impact on the spread of English.

    Kachru's 3 concentric circles globe countries StudySmarterFig. 1 - English is recognised as an official language in 67 countries and is used in different capacities in many more.

    Kachru's three concentric circles: world Englishes

    The global spread of English has led to the development of many different varieties of English, such as ‘Canadian English’ and ‘Indian English’, which have developed to meet the linguistic needs of those populations. These varieties of English (called World Englishes) are slightly different from each other in word choice, grammar, semantics etc. yet they can all be understood by English speakers.

    Examples of World Englishes include:

    • American English
    • 'Singlish' (Singaporean English)
    • British English
    • Caribbean English
    • 'Hinglish' (Hindi English)
    • Irish English

    There may be hundreds of World Englishes; however, as there is no set definition for what constitutes an official variety of a language it is not possible to state how many.

    Braj Kachru (1932-2016) coined the term ‘World Englishes’ to refer to varieties of 'global' English. His ‘Three Concentric Circles model’ presents a way of viewing the spread of World Englishes.

    The global spread of English

    The global spread of English is often seen in two parts or ‘diasporas’ (ie. movement of a population).

    The first English diaspora involved migration from English speakers from the UK to the ‘new world’ ie. present-day English speaking countries such as Canada, the USA, Australia, etc.

    • English adapted in response to these new settings, influenced by factors such as contact with indigenous populations, which led to language change.
    • These countries are now native speakers of English and make up the ‘inner circle’ of Kachru’s model (we’ll look at this further in a minute).

    The second diaspora was the result of British colonisation, which brought English to parts of Africa, The Caribbean, Asia, and the South Pacific Islands.

    • English was used in these territories for trade (including the slave trade) which led to the development of New Englishes (ie. varieties of English that are influenced by British/American English).
    • British influence meant that English is still used in these places in social contexts, in education, and in official/legal contexts, to varying degrees.

    Even more recently, English has continued to spread throughout world, becoming a key language in science, the economy, and popular culture. This is mainly due to the emergence of the USA as a political and economic power. English is also prevalent on the internet, with the majority of users using English online.

    Kachru’s three concentric circles: the model of World Englishes

    Take a look at a diagram of Kachru's three concentric circles below:

    Kachru's Three Concentric Circles Model Diagram StudySmarterFig. 2 - Kachru's Three Concentric Circles Model.

    As you can see, Kachru’s Three Concentric Circles diagram shows the three circles: the Inner Circle, the Outer Circle, and the Expanding Circle. Kahcru's three circles of English emphasise the dynamic nature of English and its varying roles in different parts of the world.

    The Inner Circle represents countries where English is the primary language, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. The Outer Circle represents countries where English serves as a second language or has significant historical importance, such as India, Nigeria, and Singapore. The Expanding Circle represents countries where English is learned as a foreign language, like China, Japan, and Brazil.

    Braj Kachru's model helps us understand the global variations and functions of English as a language.

    Features of Kachru's concentric circles

    Using the diagram above for reference, we'll now look at each circle in more depth:

    Inner circle

    The inner circle consists of countries that are traditional bases of English. This includes the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, and Anglophone Canada. These are countries that adopted English in the first diaspora and now use English as their official language. In these countries, English is the most dominant language and most of the population are native English-speakers.

    These countries are considered to be ‘norm-providing’, meaning that they set the standards and traditions for the English language.

    Outer circle

    The Outer Circle consists of countries that have their own native language but English still holds importance in certain domains eg. in business, trade, or in social contexts. The outer circle consists of countries that adopted English in the second diaspora (ie. are former colonies of the British Empire). They include: India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Egypt, and a number of others.

    These countries are considered to be ‘norm-developing’, meaning that they develop the norms set by inner circle countries even further.

    Expanding Circle

    The Expanding Circle consists of all the other countries in the world! Countries in the Expanding Circle speak their own native language and English does not hold that much importance in social, historical, or official contexts. Examples of countries in the outer circle include: China, Brazil, Russia, Japan, and many more.

    In these countries, English is classed as a foreign language or ‘Lingua Franca’ (common language between non-native speakers). It is often learned in schools for communicating with countries in the inner and outer circles.

    These countries are considered to be ‘norm-dependent’, meaning that they rely on the inner and outer circle to provide the norms for the English language. These countries generally do not develop their own forms of English.

    Kachru’s three concentric circles of English summary

    In summary, Kachru’s Three Concentric Circles model represents 'the types of spread, patterns of acquisition, and the functional domains in which English is used across cultures and languages' (Kachru 1985). The three concentric circles consist of: the Inner Circle, the Outer Circle, and the Expanding Circle.

    The Inner Circle consists of countries where English is traditionally the native language (eg. the UK, USA, Australia, etc). The Outer Circle consists of countries that have their own native language but English holds importance in certain contexts. These often have historical colonial relations with the British Empire (eg. India, Singapore, Pakistan). Finally, the Expanding Circle consists of countries where English does not hold much importance and is often learned as a foreign language (eg. China, Russia, Brazil).

    Limitations of Kachru’s three concentric circle model

    Kachru’s model is a great way of understanding the global spread of English and has been influential among linguists. However, critics have identified several limitations.

    It can be too simplistic

    We live in a globalised world, meaning we can interact with people from different cultures who speak many different languages. People are no longer bound to the countries that they are born in or to the languages that they speak.

    A limitation of Kachru’s model is that it classifies people solely by where they live and historical factors, rather than the ways in which they use English. The model may therefore be too simplistic.

    The status of English is changing in the 'Outer Circle'

    English has been spoken by people in Outer Circle countries for almost 200 years, and some of these people even speak a variety of English as their first language in all areas of life.

    It can therefore be argued that these people are native speakers of English, despite living in an Outer Circle country. The model, therefore, doesn’t recognise the changing status of English in the Outer Circle.

    The status of English is changing in the 'Expanding Circle'

    The global status of the English language is changing as hundreds of varieties of English are emerging across the globe, some of which are now spoken as a first language.

    These varieties include the likes of ‘Chinglish’ (Chinese English) or 'Konglish' (Korean English) which has emerged from the expanding circle.

    These new varieties have their own characteristics and are constantly developing their own norms and standards. This suggests that these countries can no longer be seen by linguists as ‘norm-dependent’ and that the model is not as relevant in our modern world.

    Kachru's 3 Concentric Circles - Key takeaways

    • The global spread of English has led to the development of many different varieties of English.
    • Kachru's ‘Three Concentric Circles model’ presents a way of viewing the spread of English across the world.
    • The global spread of English is often seen in 2 parts or diasporas
    • The model consists of three circles; the Inner Circle (native English speakers), the Outer Circle (English not native but holds importance), and the Expanding Circle (English does not hold importance and is learned as a foreign language).
    • Limitations of the model include; it can be too simplistic, the status of English is changing in the Outer Circle, and the status of English is changing in the Expanding Circle.

    References

    1. Kachru, B. B. 'Standard, Codification and Sociolinguistic Realism: The English Language in the Outer Circle', English in the world: Teaching and learning the Language and Literatures, eds R. Quirk & H. G. Widdowson (1985)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Kachru's 3 Concentric Circles

    What is Kachru's three concentric circles model?

    Kachru’s three concentric circles model represents 'the types of spread, patterns of acquisition, and the functional domains in which English is used across cultures and languages' (Kachru 1985). 

    What are Braj Kachru's three concentric circles?

    Braj Kachru’s three concentric circles model consists of: the Inner Circle, the Outer Circle, and the Expanding Circle.

    Why are there three circles of World Englishes?

    Each circle represents a different level of importance that English holds within certain countries. The inner circle is where English holds the most importance and the expanding circle is where English holds the least importance. 

    What is the expanding circle in English?

    The Expanding Circle consists of countries that speak their own native language. English does not hold that much importance in social, historical, or official contexts but may be learned as a foreign language. Examples include China, Brazil, Russia, Japan, and many more. These countries are considered to be ‘norm-dependent’, meaning that they rely on the inner and outer circle to provide the norms for the English language.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Braj Kachru coined the term ‘World Englishes’ to refer to these many varieties of English. True or false?

    The second English diaspora was the result of __________, bringing English to countries such as Africa, and South/South-East Asia, and was used particularly for trade.

    Countries in the Inner circle are considered to be ___________. Fill in the blanks. 

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