Real World English – World English

Welcome to the eleventh and final post in this series on Real World English by Ed Pegg. In this series of videos and blog posts we have been looking at how words are used in context around the world and how differences in usage in different countries and cultural contexts can cause misunderstanding. We have looked at differences between US and British English, some common expressions in other English speaking countries and also tried to give you an understanding of the complex topic of pragmatics – how language is used in context. In the eleventh video Ed looks at some of the many different varieties of English that are used across the world.

If you regularly attend meetings, you’re probably used to them being postponed. But why is there no opposite? Why do you postpone a meeting if you want to delay it but ‘bring it forward’ if you want to have the meeting earlier? It doesn’t make any sense. Fortunately, Indian English has given us a better word. In Indian English, you can ‘prepone’ something, which means to do it earlier. This word is so useful that it probably won’t be long before it’s used all over the English-speaking world.

Although it’s not common to use ‘prepone’ in places traditionally viewed as ‘English native speaking’, such as the US or UK, it’s a legitimate word and it’s fine to use it. In this way, it’s better to not think of one standard ‘English’ but a whole world of ‘Englishes’.

Some varieties of English create whole new words but it’s also common just to shorten or adapt existing ones. This is very common in Australian English. Here, ‘arvo’ means afternoon, ‘sunnies’ means sunglasses and a ‘tinnie’ is a can (or tin) of beer.

There’s also great variety in the way people greet each other across ‘Englishes’. In British English, when you want to ask someone to give another person your greeting, you might say ‘send them my regards,’ but in Nigerian English you would say ‘Say me well to them.’ Again, this isn’t incorrect, it’s just another style of English.

In other countries, such as Singapore, words from other languages are commonly used in English sentences. One example is ‘belanja’, which means ‘treat’. So, if you say ‘Let’s have lunch, my belanja’, you mean ‘I’ll buy you lunch.’

Finally, in some styles of English, common words have changed their meaning. As we’ve mentioned before, if a South African tells you ‘Turn right at the robots’, they don’t mean an autonomous machine but the traffic lights.

As with any situation, you need to be careful about the meaning of these words if you haven’t encountered them before. But remember, these varieties are not wrong, just different.

I hope you have enjoyed following this series about how English is used in the real world. Don’t forget you can catch up on the previous videos and posts, and you can find all my blog posts on this topic using the tag realworldenglish.

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Ed Pegg

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