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  • standard Englishes andWorld Englishes:Living with a PolymorphBusiness Language

    Jeanette GiisdorfCalifornia State University-Long Beach

    Many who teach husiness communication observe gradual changesin Standard English. As do other languages, English changesthrough contact with other languages and through several otherwell-understood avenues of language evolution, such as compounding,adding affixes, functional shift, coinage, and so on. As the third millen-nium begins, new factors are converging to influence Standard English:U.S. work environments are becoming more richly intercultural, newcom-ers to the United States are increasing their fluency in English, and inter-national business is using English increasingly as a global language ofbusiness. (Throughout these remarks, my perspective is that of a native-born Anglo-American speaker of English. Speakers of other Englishes willhave different but comparable perspectives.)

    Helping my English as Second Language (L2) students gradually masterEnglish, I've seen my practical vmderstanding of L2 learning grow, alongwith my respect for the major language task these students have taken on.I've also sensed Americans' unmerited good luck that English has becomethe language of international business. Yet the internationality of Englishis to us a mixed blessing because of our presumptions about what comeswith it. As Dennett says, "English may be the language of the global vil-lage but the villagers are far from agreement on what is good use of thelanguage" (1992, p. 13). Many communicators mistakenly assume a com-monality of understanding when both speakers use the same Englishwords. We know that even two speakers born to the same language expe-rience only approximate commonality of meaning; yet we routinely forgetto compensate for that fact and end up with cases of bjrpassiag. Interna-tionally, the commonality of understanding can be far more sketchy, andthe contextual issues much more complex, than most of us realize.

    A truism says that stajring with good Standtird English will hold prob-lems to a minimum. But what is Standard English, and what is the place

    Jenny Giisdorf (Ph.D., University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1974), is Professor in theDepartment of Information Systems at The College of Business Administration atCalifornia State University-Long Beach. Correspondence concerning this articleshould be addressed to Dr. Jeanette Giisdorf, CoUege of Business Administration,California State University-Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd, Long Beach, CA90840; e-mail:

    The Journai of Business Communication. Volume 39. Number 3, July 2002, pages 364-378 2002 by Che Association for Business Communication

  • standard Englishes and World Englishes / Giisdorf 3 6 5

    of Standard English in teaching business communication in contexts thatare more and more international? How, as teachers, do we make our peacewith the multiple, competing standards and valirns affecting what is "accept-able English"? These questions trouble us in part because business per-sons approve of others' use of Englishor disparage it-depending on theirview of what English is and what it's supposed to be used for. Most persons say that they expect people who work for them to behighly competent in Standard English. It seems a simple issue to thesebusiness persons. To teachers it is far from simple.

    This brief treatment cannot hope to show teachers how to satisfy allbusiness persons' expectations but will explore some dimensions of ourchallenge. Some help is to be found in the works of the Association forBusiness Communication's (ABC) many scholars, both domestic andinternational, who have published important books and articles on inter-national and intercultural communication for decades. They make increas-ing contributions to what we know of international business communica-tion. The field is huge, containing a multiplicity of perspectives fromwhich English for business can be studied. Some include descriptive lin-guistics, pragmatics, contrastive rhetorical analysis, sociolinguistics, psy-cholinguistics, social psychology of language, linguistic anthropology,speech act theory, and politics and activism. Psycholinguistics, for exam-ple, is the study of how languages are learned, remembered, and used,and of how linguistic variables influence human behavior. Pragmatics andspeech act theory, especially politeness theory, are important lenses forstudying English for business. Politics and activism need also to be keptin mind. The spread of English was contemporary with colonialism anddomination, and not everyone's feelings toward it are neutral, let alonesupportive. (See Pennycook, 1994; Phillipson, 1992).

    Many Users "Own" EnglishEnglish is alive, healthy, and "morphing" in many ways, and what we

    cail Standard English is a moving target. Language change carries withit some discomfort. Even where English is spoken as a first language,purists in grammar and usage find much to offend them. Business per-sons, like many others, tend to take a purist's attitude when they perceivelanguage errors. They are usually not pleased to notice ways in which theEnglish of their younger employees and new hires differs from their own.If variation occurs in domestic workplaces, even more variation occurswhere English is used as a second or a common language. But Englishserves a multitude of different purposes now, for unprecedented numbersof different "owners" of it. Like any other language, English is used forart, for play, for venting of emotion, for philosophical abstraction, and soon. Tc> be sure, the pragmatic purposes of English in international busi-ness do not typically call for the same breadth of lexicon and grammar as

  • 3 6 6 The Journal of Business Communication 39:3 Ju/y2002

    some of these other activities. Where English has come to helong to anation, though, that English has adapted to the culture of the nation, andthe fluent and educated users of that English use it very well indeed, forall those purposes. Those nations' Englishes have given rise to differentregisters and dialects, just as U.S. English has.

    Nigeria makes a good illustration of a nation with its own English. Incolonialist times Britain, in control of that part of West Africa, arbitrar-ily drew a line on a map around several very different peoplesthe Iho,the Yoruha, the Hausa, the Fulani, and several othersand designated theresult a nation. Nigerians didn't especially want English, but, onceimposed, English hecame the second language of most because it was ameans of communicating with the other peoples. When Nigeria declaredindependence in 1960, English had become basic to its unity. The Con-stitution is written in English. Government and the professions operatein English. Nigeria made English its own, giving rise to Standard Niger-ian English hut also to various dialects and registersand a lot of special-purpose English. A teacher in Lagos says, "Without English, this societywouldn't function. It is what makes Nigeria Nigeria" (Anthony, 2001). Forthe most part, Nigerians like English. It's theirs. They don't ask otherEnglish-speaking nations what Standard English is, any more than U.S.speakers ask Great Britain.

    As Englishes evolve, skilled users of each English search for solutionsto the prohlem of using the full richness of the new, evolved English whilestill keeping their utterances comprehensihle to users of other Englishes.A comment hy Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe expresses this challengewell and is applicahle to most of the world's Englishes:

    The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to manydifferent kinds of use. The African writer should aim to use English in away that brings out his message best without altering the language to theextent that its value as a medimn of international exchange wiU be lost. Heshould aim at fashioning out an English which is at once universal and ableto carry his peculiar experience. . . . I feel that English will be able to carrythe weight of my African experience. But it will have to be a new English,still in full communion with its ancestral home but altered to suit its newAfrican surroundings (1975, pp. 100-103).

    For business and other international purposes, a core of English hasto remain understandahle to all English users. But England, the U.S., andAustralia do not own English. No one nation or culture is in charge ofEnglish now.

    English a Genuinely Global LanguageEnglish continues to spread. Here are some "markers" of its global-


  • Standard Englishes and World Englishes / Giisdorf 3 6 7

    "Of the top 50 schools in the Financial Times MBA 2001 rankings, 43are located where English is the mother tongue. Of the remainingseven-INSEAD [Fontainebleau], IMD [Lausanne], lESE [Barcelonal,Rotterdam School of Management, Instituto de Empresa [Madrid],SDA Bocconi [Milan], and Hong Kong University of Science and Tech-nology," all except IESE "either teach their full-time MBA in Englishor offer the opportunity for some elements of the programme to betaught in the school's native language" (Anderson, 2001).

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    Indian EnglishIrish EnglishMalaysian EnglishNew Zealand EnglishNigerian EnglishPhilippine EnglishScots EnglishSingaporean EnglishSouth African EnglishU.S. EnglishZambian English

    In the process of formation is the Euro-English that is increasinglybecoming the language of business among members of the Eurozone.There are still other Englishes, and also other languages built on Englishthat have not been codified as English, including pidgins and Creoles.

    Kachru (1992) diagrammed the spread of English as a series of inter-linked circles. The Firstor InnerCircle nations are those for which Eng-lish has been strongly Ll (i.e