LOWENBERG, PETER, Visiting Professor, Department of Linguistics, "Linguistic Competence, Language Pragmatics, and Testing World Englishes", 3 April 1997.
According to the British Council, of the more than 700 million people around the world who currently use English on a daily basis, by far the majority are multilingual, non-native speakers of English who use English primarily with other multilingual, non-native speakers of English. However, in contemporary approaches to English language teaching and testing, an implicit (and frequently explicit) assumption continues to be that the norms for Standard English which are followed around the world are limited to those which are accepted and used by educated native speakers of English. This paper challenges that assumption on the basis of data from domains of Standard English in the "non-native" varieties of English, which have developed in many countries formerly colonized by Britain or the United States, including Nigeria, Kenya, India, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines. In these countries, English is used daily as a second language in a broad range of official and professional domains of Standard English, including government, the legal system, business, the mass media, and as a medium of instruction in education. Analysis of these data from non-native varieties reveals systematic divergences in these varieties from features in the predominantly monolingual "native-speaker" varieties of English, such as British, American, and Australian English. These divergences occur at all linguistic levels. At the levels of morphology and syntax, many features in non-native varieties differ from the native-speaker varieties in the same ways that divergences occur across the native-speaker varieties (e.g., count/ non-count distinctions in nouns, prepositional collocations, and phrasal verbs). At the levels of pragmatics, style, and discourse, many strategies and conventions in non-native varieties are transferred from their multilingual users' other languages. Attitudinal research and frequency of use indicate that many of these features are so widespread and stable that they can be considered to be de facto norms for Standard English usage in one or more non-native varieties. In light of this evidence, norms of Standard English can be seen to vary between native-speaker and non-native norms, depending primarily on the usage of educated English speakers in each speech community where English is used for official and professional purposes. A major implication of this research for language testing is illustrated by examining selected items from high stakes tests which claim to assess multilinguals' proficiency in Standard English as a world language, such as those developed by the Educational Testing Service. The correct answers to these test items, though in accord with norms of the native-speaker varieties, violate norms for Standard English in one or more non-native varieties which have been described to date. These items are thus invalid as measures of proficiency in English as a world language, and the overall validity of the tests in which they appear must therefore be questioned.