What does Commonwealth English mean?
Before even trying to begin an article of this kind, I think we need to discuss what it is, and even whether it's appropriate to refer to varieties of English in this way at all. There seems to be several potential meanings:
- Standard written British English, as exported to current and former nations of the British Empire (often 'Commonwealth English' seems to be discussed in terms of spellings);
- As above but including standard varieties of spoken English too, e.g. Standard Jamaican English, Standard South African English and Standard British English would all fall into this group;
- All varieties, both standard and non-standard, of English outside the U.S. sphere of linguistic influence, including what are occasionally called 'nativised' varieties, where communities initially learned English as a second or foreign language, but over the generations developed it as a first language, influenced by the local languages: e.g. non-standard forms of Singapore English, Indian English, Chinese English and so on;
- All varieties of what is sometimes called 'native' English but excluding 'nativised' forms, i.e. the language of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, the UK and other countries colonised by people who spoke English as a first language from the outset.
There are problems, of course. British and Irish English generally are similar - even the non-standard dialects share much in common. The written forms are virtually identical. Yet I would squirm at referring to Irish English as 'Commonwealth English' because Ireland left the Commonwealth many years ago and there are some historical issues there over terms related to the Empire, colonialism etc. Another example: Mozambique had few historic ties to the UK, but a few years ago joined the Commonwealth. Must we say that the English learnt and spoken there before this wasn't Commonwealth English, but now it is?
Additionally, this term is little-used. No-one in the UK thinks they're speaking 'Commonwealth English': I suspect this term has been developed for academic convenience, often to refer to British rather than American spelling. John Stephenson 02:46, 16 October 2007 (CDT)
I created this before reading the above; anyway I was going to put here: stub - hack it around. Ro Thorpe 18:20, 29 March 2008 (CDT)
Indeed, wise observations from John. My model seems to be his third suggestion. Ro Thorpe 18:23, 29 March 2008 (CDT)
And as he also says, the term is little used; but there are a lot of links here, rather like a disambiguation page. Ro Thorpe 18:39, 29 March 2008 (CDT)
Links to varieties of English?
At present they are links to the countries, but a true disambiguator would have the variants. Ro Thorpe 18:57, 29 March 2008 (CDT)
In or out of the C this week? Ro Thorpe 19:08, 29 March 2008 (CDT)
Commonwealth English and Ireland
Also, I would question the wisdom of excluding English as spoken in the Republic of Ireland (in the form of 'Hiberno-English') from 'Commonwealth English'. Hiberno-English continues to be spoken in Northern Ireland and one part of Ireland simply leaving the political institution of the Commonwealth does not render its influence and similarities invalid, or make Hiberno-English suddenly have no influence from or connection with Commonwealth English.
Hiberno-English cannot be considered, in one political jurisdiction, part of Commonwealth English while the very same dialect, as spoken in another political jurisdiction, not part of Commonwealth English. Of course, I understand that there may be some people who might not like to be associated with the Commonwealth, but that is not necessarily this encyclopaedia's concern.
- We can't label English in the Republic of Ireland as 'Commonwealth English' because the term is basically political, covering many varieties of English that are used in the countries of the Commonwealth. The fact that varieties of English either side of the border are near-identical merely reflects the fact that what linguistically would be the same language or dialect is often labelled differently by different groups (e.g. Norwegian and Swedish are largely mutually intelligible, but are regarded as different languages through having different cultures and histories). Another example: there are U.S. English dialects which are much closer to British and Irish English than the mainstream (especially in New England and, believe it or not, African-American Vernacular English or 'Ebonics'), but we would never label them 'Commonwealth English' or 'British English'. The article does point out that the UK and Ireland share spellings, for example, and that 'Commonwealth English' is an inadequate term in this respect. John Stephenson 16:07, 9 January 2011 (UTC)
- I agree with John here. I point out that I have sensibilities in this regard; I was raised to speak and write British English and am now proudly and happily married to an Irishman.
- I am also one of very few Citizens who is bilingual in Commonwealth and American English. Many people here feel that they have the ability to write in both, but actually do not. Any perceived snobbery is, I'm afraid, intentional, my English language skill is one of the few things I am (justifiably) vain about, and I stand by it. We had very long discussions about language use here years ago, and it became clear that many people who thought they understood the differences, didn't. Let me be clear, however, that I say these things not as a linguist, but as someone experienced in several English dialects who therefore knows how difficult it can be to 'code-switch' and how glaring--or how subtle--the differences can be. As an expert user of English rather than an expert student of the ins and outs of language, I'm quite willing to bow to expert academic knowledge as we wrestle with how best to write about these issues.
- I do find that the writing of an article on 'Commonwealth English' has merit, and I agree with John's comments from 2007, above, that we need to define exactly what we mean when we use the term. It seems to me less a matter of right and wrong than a matter of making an informed judgement and being clear about it so that all coming to assist on the article are clear about what is being discussed.
- It seems to me that all the issues here can and should be discussed within the scope of this article, and our challenge is to do so without chauvinism, with mature judgement, and with sensitivity .
- Aleta Curry 21:49, 9 January 2011 (UTC)