Postcolonial English. Varieties around the world (first edition)

Edgar W. Schneider. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007 (reprinted 2009). Pp. xvi + 367.

Reviewed by Silvia Bruti
Department of English Studies, University of Pisa
Pisa, Italy

This monograph offers a complete and up-to-date account of postcolonial varieties of English, providing the socio-historical background for their development. Although the topic of language spread and evolution is thoroughly tackled, the book is not necessarily destined for an audience of specialists, as it also provides extensive information and definitions of basic sociolinguistic concepts.

The book is organized in seven chapters which describe Postcolonial Englishes (PCEs) in sixteen different countries (plus American English that is treated separately) and include tables and maps to help readers better visualize and summarize the overall picture.

In the Introduction (chapter 1), the author lays out the rationale for the book and proposes a unified evolutionary model (called the Dynamic Model ) that can be applied to any of the varieties under consideration, irrespective of their different socio-historical contexts. The most influential methodologies and the most illuminating approaches to the study of PCEs are detailed and commented upon in chapter 2.

In chapter 3, the author reviews different types of contact situations and colonization modes and then illustrates the PCE model s five stages (i.e. foundation, exonormative stabilization, nativization, endonormative stabilization and differentiation) and two distinct yet complementary communicative perspectives, i.e. that of the settlers and indigenous language users.

Chapter 4 is devoted to the linguistic aspects of nativization with the aim of pinpointing the regular features shared by PCEs on different   language levels as well as their most outstanding qualities. The junction between lexis, usually the most innovative and permeable level, and grammar, typically more stable and resistant to change, is the place where most changes occur in PCEs.

In chapter 5 the Dynamic Model is applied to sixteen postcolonial countries from all continents. For each case study, an evolutionary profile is traced which pays attention to both the typical features of the nativization process and to the specific developing paths it followed in each country.

American English is considered a PCE that has concluded its evolutionary trajectory and is therefore treated separately in chapter 6, where equal importance is attached to both its peculiar colonial history and its worldwide spread and influence nowadays. The approach proposed in the book is quite innovative and necessarily general in order to account for the discrepancies among the varieties. The description of PCEs is particularly rich in linguistic features, a quality that is not always to be observed in similar accounts of postcolonial varieties. Yet, as Wong (2008) notices when evaluating the applicability of the model to Singapore English, Schneider gives little recognition to cultural aspects in comparison with formal ones, however elusive they might be to investigate. Finally, the conspicuous space granted to describing the single PCEs slightly diverts the reader’s attention from the general features that are shared by all varieties. To conclude, despite these minor drawbacks, the book is a precious read for the completeness of the picture that is offered, the clarity with which complex historical, ideological and linguistic events across the world are described, and the richness of data that is presented.

Wong, J. (2008). Review of E.W. Schneider, Postcolonial English: Varieties around the world. Language in Society, 37(5), 756-759.