Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • This chapter is unavailable for purchase
  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

3 - Historical background


In this chapter …

World Englishes are mostly products of colonialism, so in this chapter we will get familiarized with the history of European colonization and, in a brief survey, the expansion of the British Empire and the role of the United States in the globalization of English. In particular, we'll look at the social conditions and the linguistic consequences generated by specific types of colonies, the outcomes of varying motives for colonial expansion. We'll learn that, surprisingly, the global growth of English gained even more momentum after the end of the colonial period. To confirm this point, we will get exposed to some numbers, of users of English and of countries where it is in use, and some typologies of kinds of Englishes produced by these historical conditions will be introduced.

European colonization: a few introductory observations

At the dawn of the modern age, late in the fifteenth century, European powers set out to conquer the world. From the early explorers of that time to the Berlin Conference of 1884, they entered the race for colonies, for various motives, but essentially to increase their economic and political strength and power. Several reasons combined to drive this development:

social ones, like the decline of the feudal system and the nobility (so that some landowners were forced to seek their fortune in adventures abroad) and a population surplus in some countries;

technological ones, like new shipbuilding and navigation techniques, which made longer overseas journeys possible;