How English Changes in Different Countries

We tend to think of the majority of people speaking US or UK English. The truth is, with so many people speaking it in so many diverse countries the influence of local cultures change how the language is spoken

Image of a street in a city.
Image of a street in a city.

Author: Joshua Burns

With roughly 1.5 billion speakers, English is one of the most spoken languages in the world. However, when we hear this, we tend to* think of the majority of people speaking US or UK English. The truth is, with so many people speaking it in so many diverse countries, the influence of local cultures and languages change how the language is spoken.

Some of these changes are so strong the line begins to get blurred* between what is a dialect and what is a whole new language.

India

India has a number of official languages, with Hindi, Tamil and Telugu being among the most common. However, years of British colonisation left a mark on the country and English is still spoken by approximately 86 million people as a second language.

As the majority of Indians don’t speak English as their first language, the influence of their native tongue* is very strong on how they speak English. This has resulted in a number of hybrid languages called Hinglish, Tenglish and Tanglish.

These languages use elements of the original indigenous language, mixed with English, including direct translations, loanwords and adapting certain words. It would also be common for these speakers to change from one language to the other mid sentence. The result is that the languages have taken on a life of their own, and an English speaker from outside India would have great difficulty understanding them.

Scotland

Scotland is different from India in that for the majority of the population, English seems to be their only language. Scottish people are all native English speakers, and, while there are those who speak the ancient celtic Gaelic language called Gàidhlig, there is also another language.

Scots – as the language is known – appears to be very close to Standard English in many ways, however it can be prove difficult to understand for anyone who is not from a Scots-speaking area. The language has been around for hundreds of years, with the most modern version beginning in the 1700’s.

The grammar of Scots is different to Standard English in places, with the word order occasionally changing in sentences like He turnt oot the licht, which would be ‘He turned the light out’ in Standard English. There are also differences to do with articles, plurals and past tenses, among others.

South Africa

South Africa is another country where English has mixed with other languages due to colonisation, immigration and the influence of native languages. The English as spoken in South Africa can be separated into four broad* categories, with the two most common being White South African English and Black South African English. The other two are Indian South African English, which originates from Indian immigrants and and Cape Flats English from a certain area in South Africa.

As you might expect, the characteristics of the languages spoken reflect the difficult racial tensions that have plagued* the country. The White South African English has a few varieties. There is one that is similar to the Received Pronunciation you would find among the upper classes in English, and is often associated with wealth in the country. However, this class of language also encompasses a lower socioeconomic type of dialect and the Afrikaans-influenced English.

Black South African English generally has elements of native African languages in with the English, and is considered quite a new language. In 1953 only indigenous languages were allowed in the schools among the black community. This limited the children’s exposure to Standard English and their dialect developed different patterns of pronunciation and syntax.

When most people hear of English they usually think of the United States, the UK or other common English-speaking countries. However English really is a global language, used by so many people with vastly different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The way many people speak English can give us a fascinating insight into who they are and their history.


Glossary
Tend to: Usually/generally
Blurred: Out of focus
Tongue: Language
Broad: Wide
Plagued the country: Have had a bad, persistent effect on the country

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