Countability in world Englishes

Abstract

In this study we explored variation in the countability of nouns in Outer Circle, Expanding Circle and lingua franca Englishes, a phenomenon which is frequently cited as a marker of Inner Circle norms in TESOL and of endonormative and emerging varieties in the Outer and Expanding Circles. We inspected a set of mass nouns like information and equipment in the VOICE corpus and websites from Outer and Expanding Circle country domains. We also evaluated potential causes of variation, investigating differences between Outer and Expanding Circles and the contribution of substrate influence. Our data show notable and widespread countable use of nouns that are generally non-count in Inner Circle Englishes, but such usage is highly infrequent overall. There appears to be greater variation in the Outer than the Expanding Circle, but little evidence of a determining role for substrate influence. We conclude that the prominence given to countability as a marker of ‘nativeness’ and ‘non-nativeness’ is unhelpful, in both the prescriptive context of TESOL and the descriptive contexts of World Englishes and English as a Lingua Franca. We advocate the use of web-based corpora to investigate lexico-grammatical variation in lingua franca usage and to reveal the ‘plurilithic’ nature of English.

Publication
In World Englishes, (32)1, 1-22.