English in the Commonwealth of Nations

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The use of the English language in most member countries of the Commonwealth of Nations was inherited from British colonisation. English is spoken as a first or second language in most of the Commonwealth. In a few countries, such as Cyprus and Malaysia, it does not have official status, but is widely used as a lingua franca. Mozambique is an exception – although English is widely spoken there, it is a former Portuguese colony which joined the Commonwealth in 1996.

Many regions, notably Canada, Australia, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the Caribbean, have developed their own native varieties of the language.

Written English as used in the Commonwealth generally favours British spelling as opposed to American spelling, with some exceptions in Canada, where there is also a strong influence from neighbouring American English (North American English).

The report of the Inter-Governmental Group on Criteria for Commonwealth Membership states that English is a symbol of Commonwealth heritage and unity.[1][citation needed]

Native varieties

Southern Hemisphere native varieties of English began to develop during the 18th century, with the colonisation of Australasia and South Africa. Australian English and New Zealand English are closely related to each other, and share some similarities with South African English. The vocabularies of these dialects draw from both British and American English as well as numerous native peculiarities.

Canadian English contains elements of British English and American English, as well as many Canadianisms. It is the product of several waves of immigration and settlement, from the United States, Britain, Ireland, and around the world, over a period of almost two centuries. Modern Canadian English has taken significant vocabulary and spelling from the shared political and social institutions of Commonwealth countries.

The Caribbean

Caribbean English is influenced by the English-based Creole varieties spoken, but they are not one and the same. There is a great deal of variation in the way English is spoken, with a "Standard English" at one end of a bipolar linguistic continuum and Creole languages at the other. These dialects have roots in 17th-century English and African languages; unlike most native varieties of English, West Indian dialects often tend to be syllable-timed rather than stress-timed.

Non-native varieties

Second language varieties of English in Africa and Asia have often undergone "indigenisation"; that is, each English-speaking community has developed (or is in the process of developing) its own standards of usage, often under the influence of local languages. These dialects are sometimes referred to as New Englishes (McArthur, p. 36); most of them inherited non-rhoticity from Southern British English.


Several dialects of West African English exist, with a lot of regional variation and some influence from indigenous languages. West African English tends to be syllable-timed, and its phoneme inventory is much simpler than that of Received Pronunciation; this sometimes affects mutual intelligibility with native varieties of English. A distinctive East African English is spoken in countries such as Kenya or Tanzania.

Small communities of native English speakers can be found in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia; the dialects spoken are similar to South African English.

In countries such as Kenya - particularly in Nairobi and other cities where there is an expanding middle class - English is increasingly being used in the home as the first language, albeit often with significant influences from Bantu languages such as Swahili.


India has the largest English-speaking population in the Commonwealth, although comparatively few speakers of Indian English are first language speakers (indeed, the same is true of English spoken in other parts of South Asia e.g. Pakistani English, Bangladeshi English). South Asian English phonology is highly variable; stress, rhythm and intonation are generally different from those of native varieties. There are also several peculiarities at the levels of morphology, syntax and usage, some of which can also be found among educated speakers.

Southeast Asian English comprises Singapore English, Malaysian English and Brunei English; it features some influence from Malay and Chinese languages, as well as Indian English.

Hong Kong ceased to be part of the Commonwealth in 1997. Nonetheless, the English language still enjoys status as an official language, alongside Chinese (See Hong Kong English).

See also

Other languages:


  • McArthur, Tom (2002). The Oxford Guide to World English. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-866248-3.
  • Peters, Pam (2004). The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-62181-X.
  • Trudgill, Peter and Jean Hannah (2002). International English: A Guide to the Varieties of Standard English, 4th ed. London: Arnold. ISBN 0-340-80834-9.
  1. ^ (http://www.hydrant.co.uk), Site designed and built by Hydrant. "New criteria for Commonwealth membership | The Commonwealth". thecommonwealth.org. Retrieved 2018-03-15.
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