British Colonialism and Its Linguistic Consequences

British Colonialism and Its Linguistic Consequences

Walid M Rihane

Arab Open University

has resulted in the creation of new varieties of English which were influenced by the aboriginal languages of the colonised countries. English became the most dominant and most powerful language in the world that motivated many linguists and language researchers. South Asia. David Crystal (1992) argues that more than two-thirds of English speakers are non-natives. The British colonial activity. in addition for spreading the English language all over the globe. West Africa. . linguistic imperialism is the "dominance asserted and retained by the establishment and continuous reconstitution of structural and cultural inequalities between English and other languages" (1992). According to David Crystal (1988). The expansion of English has been labelled by linguist Robert Phillipson as "linguistic imperialism". the number of English speakers during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I ranged between five and seven million while in 1952. As a result. and South America. According to Phillipson. British Colonialism and Its Linguistic Consequences 1 I. The status of English as an International language is the result of the British colonial expansion during the last two centuries in North America. the number reached 250 million. This huge increase in the number of English speakers in the world is the result of the expansion of the English language from the British Isles to different areas and continents in the world. Oceania. Introduction The number of people who speak English has gradually increased all over the world since the mid-16th century. during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The term "International Language" has been used after English became the mother tongue and the second language spoken by non-native English speakers from different areas in the world. as Braj Kachru (1983) to call it an "International Language".

III. . Jamaica. Defining Colonialism Historian Jürgen Osterhammel defines the term "colonialism" as a "relationship between an indigenous majority and a minority of foreign invaders" (2005). in 1607. as Sri Lanka. there are countries called "settler countries" where colonisers settle there. it will be clear that Britain. the Bahamas. British Colonialism and Its Linguistic Consequences 2 II. After the establishment of the United Kingdom between the years 1603 and 1707 that led to the expansion of the English language within the British Isles. has been able to colonise different nations. According to Professor Raja Sekhar (2012). and Barbados in South America that were previously reigned by the Spanish. At the same time. Sekhar (2012) says that "[In]Caribbean Islands and South American colonies [. etc". as Australia. The British navy defeated France and its allies in the Seven-years war (1756-1763) which was considered as a big jump in the British colonial enterprise. and countries. British Colonialism in the Americas The British colonial activity began in North America where the British. administration. cultures. 2002). the British Empire began to expand to other geographic regions that are far from the United Kingdom. Later on. . India. The significance of this war is that the British military forces were able to neglect any French effect in the North American region. and there are "non-settler countries" that were not fully settled. and were politically administered by Britain.] English language was introduced in education. and Canada. United States. . the British were also able to take control over Jamaica. "established the colony of Jamestown in Virginia" (Leith. South Africa. In the year 1776. being the foreign invader. Nigeria. thirteen American colonies announced the Declaration of Independence from the British Empire. and other landscapes. In applying this definition to the British colonial activity.

British colonies in the Americas witnessed an increasing movement in slave trade from West Africa. British Colonialism in West and South Africa Dick Leith says that " [. Later on. they settled there. and continued to expand.] British colonies were established in Africa after 1880" (2002). Leith (2002) says that Africa was the main source for slaves that were transported to the British colonies in America and the Caribbean. North America and the Caribbean isles were inhabited by native aboriginal Indian tribes. the British settlement started to take place in Australia that was also inhabited by aboriginal tribes. British colonies in West Africa were ruled by a small . 1996). Similar to the slave trade in North America. Australia was considered as the shelter for British convicts who spoke Cockney dialect of English. and after the loss of the American colonies in the America Revolution. In that era. The colonies in Australia and America are the examples of what was earlier mentioned as settler countries where colonisers replaced the aboriginals. British Colonialism in Australia Two hundred years later. . such as The Caribs of the Lesser Antilles (Carton. Unlike Australia and America. British Colonialism and Its Linguistic Consequences 3 Prior to the European colonial activity. and neglected their existence. British convicts were sent to Australia to work as labourers. European and migrants began to travel to America. . IV. V.

The inhabitants of Western African countries. that was ruled by the Indian Emperor (Moore. segregation. 2009). education. as Leith argues. Linguists Robert Brock Le Page and Andrée Tabouret-Keller (1985) talk about the phenomenon of focusing a language. the British colonies were smaller than those in West Africa. The English language was taught in Indian schools and institutes and was an official language in the country. trade. Raja Sekhar argues that the colonisation in Africa led to violence. The British were able to focus the English languages in non-settler countries through daily interaction. VII. In South Africa. The British had a control on the economy. British Colonialism and Its Linguistic Consequences 4 number of British official employees rather than being a migration point for British settlers. 2001). like Nigeria and Sierra-Leone. power. British Colonialism in South Asia Between the years 1858 and 1947. which was directly ruled by the British and the Native State. which is known today as the city of Cape Town which witnessed the "arrival of the first [British] settlers in 1820" (Esteves & Hurst. After . were given English education by missionaries. The colonisation of India split the country into two: British India. and prestige. Focusing Agencies and British Colonialism In their book. Acts of Identity: Creole-based Approaches to Language and Ethnicity. VI. The English language has been perceived by the natives of the British colonies as the language of elite and power. British colonisation occurred mainly in Cape Colony. Britain ruled the Indian subcontinent. and oppression. and education in India. politics.

such as Australian English. in addition to the formation of new "Englishes" with their own standards and codes. Pidgins and Creoles Thomason (p. and Solomon Islands adopted English in schools. Trinidad and Tobago. British Colonialism and Its Linguistic Consequences 5 their independence from the British Empire. 159) identifies pidgins as the language that results from the language contact of two linguistic groups that have no language in common. or America. Asia. Based on the two definition above. 2001). Australia. . countries as Jamaica. VIII. Guyana. In sociolinguistics. whether in Africa.] They are learned by children as their first language and used in a wide range of domains". . new dialects of the English Language. Papua Guinea. Salikoko S. as South African English 1. native languages came in contact with the English language. . in addition to the regular interaction between the people. In British colonies. [. leads to the formation of new languages. it can be concluded that an English creole is a pidgin English that is used and treated as a first language. Janet Holmes (2000) defines a creole language as a "pidgin which has acquired native speakers. that can be either labelled as either Pidgins or Creoles. "language contact" is " the use of more than one language in the same place at the same time" (Thomason. Language Contact and Linguistic consequences of Colonialism The British colonial activity resulted in what is linguistically labelled as "Language contact". Mufwene (2002) says that the variety in the populations of colonies.

colonialism resulted in the creation of new varieties of English. In addition. One of those varieties are the South African English and Nigerian English. and Africa. . North America. British Colonialism and Its Linguistic Consequences 6 There are several English-based creole languages. plosives. The South African English also differs from the British English in the pronunciation of the /r/ in the last position in a sentence. and "vled" which means open country. such as Jamaican Creole. 2009). in addition to vowels. New Varieties of English: South African English and Nigerian English As it was mentioned. Trinbagonian in Trinidad and Tobago. however. such as "kloof" that means valley. another linguistic effect of contact between English and other languages is when pidgin and creole languages use English lexis with a totally different grammatical system. and affricative consonants (Esteves & Hurst. and many others in Oceania. Afrikaans words which are associated with the South African culture and heritage found their way into the South African English variety. It can be said that slave trade is one of the main reasons for the formation of new pidgins and creoles in English. is highly affected by the native languages spoken in South Africa. there is no syntactic distinction in the statements and the questions of a creole language. Tom McArthur (2001) says that the South African English is now becoming more and more independent from British English and American English which is leading to the development of South African English dictionary. fricative. South African English. Suzanne Romaine (1992) says that European-based creoles use Subject-Verb-Object word order. 2. According to Dick Leith. Elmes (2001) discusses that more than half the lexis are Afrikaans. Bislama in Vanuatu. the Caribbean. Miskito Coast Creole in Nicaragua. Another feature that Romaine discusses is the tendency of Creole languages is that "adjectives may function as a verb". Asia.

. such as "go-slow" for traffic jam. Most of the Indian words used in the American English are words that had no equivalence in the British English. Bamgbose talks about words either coined or borrowed from different Nigerian languages or by translating the words. English in British India Because English was "imposed" by the British authorities in India. Aboriginal Indian Lexis in American English Another result of language contact was the adoption and the borrowing of new aboriginal vocabulary in the English language itself. The word was originally spelled ārā'kun in the aboriginal Indian language. British Colonialism and Its Linguistic Consequences 7 Similar to the South African English. Also. Nigerian English also has its own pronunciation features. It can be discussed that India was the most affected British colony by the expansion of the English language. 4. 3. "most speakers of English from the eastern part of Nigeria pronounce the possessive 'you' as [jua] or [ja]". A good example here is the Indian lexis that are used in American English. Carver (1992) provides an example of the word "Raccoon" that is an animal that exclusively North America. According to Ayo Bamgbose (1982). and were connected with the aboriginal Indians lifestyle and culture. the British colonialism left an impact on the Indian culture. such as Narayan. in Lexis. English Literature witnessed the beginning of Indian novelists and poets.

as in the cases of India and the case of North America's aboriginal lexis. reaching North America. South Asia. yet they are clearly the linguistic result of centuries of British colonial activities. and South African English. As a result of slave trade from West Africa. Conclusion The British colonisation proves that number is not a condition to impose a language on a certain population. The cultural contact and the literary effect of English resulted in lexical exchange from English and to English. Australian English. to the Caribbean and North America. British Colonialism and Its Linguistic Consequences 8 IX. New Varieties of English are now present as the American English. British colonialism activity. and Oceania. and to leave their effect on language that is still taking place up to day. Sekhar states that English is "now the dominant or official language in over 60 countries". West and South Africa. . the British succeeded in ruling almost quarter of the globe. The Roman Empire was able to expand Latin to every culture it conquered even though they were less in population that others. From the Kingdom of England. Although not all the "Englishes" in those 60 countries or more are the same as the Standard English spoken in Britain today. In other cases. The case is similar to the British Empire. passing through the British Isles. and the contact that English had with other European and pre- colonial languages have remarkably influenced the linguistic structure of many nations. The remarks that the English language left in non-native societies explains the current status of English as an "International Language" as discussed in the introduction. Creole languages emerged.

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