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English in the Commonwealth of Nations

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Current Commonwealth members (dark blue), former members (orange), and British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies (light blue)
English and Kinyarwanda text in Kigali, Rwanda. Rwanda, a Commonwealth country, was never part of the British Empire.

The use of the English language in current and former member countries of the Commonwealth of Nations was largely inherited from British colonisation, with some exceptions. English serves as the medium of inter-Commonwealth relations and the language forms part of the common culture of Commonwealth countries.[1][2]

Commonwealth English is how English as practised in the Commonwealth is sometimes referred to, most typically interchangeably with British English (but also to distinguish between British English and that in the rest of the Commonwealth).[3] English in the Commonwealth is diverse, and many regions have developed their own local varieties of the language. In Cyprus, it does not have official status but is widely used as a lingua franca.[4] English is spoken as a first or second language in most of the Commonwealth.

Written English in the current and former Commonwealth generally favours British English spelling as opposed to American English,[5] with some exceptions, particularly in Canada, where there are strong influences from neighbouring American English.[6] Few Commonwealth countries besides Australia, Canada, South Africa, and the United Kingdom have produced their own English dictionaries and style guides, and may rely on those produced in other countries.

Native varieties[edit]

Southern Hemisphere native varieties of English began to develop during the 18th century, with the colonisation of Australasia and South Africa. Australian English and New Zealand English are closely related to each other, and share some similarities with South African English (though it has unique influences from indigenous African languages, and Dutch influences it inherited along with the development of Afrikaans from Dutch).[7][8]

Canadian English contains elements of British English and American English, as well as many Canadianisms and some French influences. It is the product of several waves of immigration and settlement, from Britain, Ireland, France, the United States, and around the world, over a period of more than two centuries. Modern Canadian English has taken significant vocabulary and spelling from the shared political and social institutions of Commonwealth countries.


Caribbean English is influenced by the English-based Creole varieties spoken, but they are not one and the same. There is a great deal of variation in the way English is spoken, with a "Standard English" at one end of a bipolar linguistic continuum and Creole languages at the other. These dialects have roots in 17th-century British and Irish English, and African languages, plus localised influences from other colonial languages including French, Spanish, and Dutch; unlike most native varieties of English, West Indian dialects often tend to be syllable-timed rather than stress-timed.

Non-native varieties[edit]

Second-language varieties of English in Africa and Asia have often undergone "indigenisation"; that is, each English-speaking community has developed (or is in the process of developing) its own standards of usage, often under the influence of local languages. These dialects are sometimes referred to as New Englishes (McArthur, p. 36); most of them inherited non-rhoticity from Southern British English.


Several dialects of West African English exist, with a lot of regional variation and some influence from indigenous languages. West African English tends to be syllable-timed, and its phoneme inventory is much simpler than that of Received Pronunciation; this sometimes affects mutual intelligibility with native varieties of English. A distinctive North African English, often with significant influences from Bantu languages such as Swahili, is spoken in countries such as Kenya or Tanzania, particularly in Nairobi and other cities where there is an expanding middle class, for whom English is increasingly being used in the home as the first language.

Small communities of native English speakers can be found in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia; the dialects spoken are similar to native South African English.

Prior to Togo's admission at the 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Togolese Foreign Minister Robert Dussey said that he expected Commonwealth membership to provide opportunities for Togolese citizens to learn English, and remarked that the country sought closer ties with the Anglophone world.[9]


Indian subcontinent[edit]

English was introduced into the subcontinent by the British Raj. Among the partitioned post-independent countries, India has the largest English-speaking population in the Commonwealth, although comparatively very few speakers of Indian English are first-language speakers. The same is true of English spoken in other parts of South Asia, e.g. Pakistani English, Sri Lankan English, Bangladeshi English and Myanmar English. South Asian English phonology is highly variable; stress, rhythm and intonation are generally different from those of native varieties. There are also several peculiarities at the levels of morphology, syntax and usage, some of which can also be found among educated speakers.

Malay Archipelago[edit]

Southeast Asian English comprises Singapore English, Malaysian English, and Brunei English; it features some influence from Malay and Chinese languages, as well as Indian English.

Hong Kong ceased to be part of the Commonwealth (by virtue of being a British territory) in 1997. Nonetheless, the English language there still enjoys status as an official language.[10]

See also[edit]

Other languages:


  1. ^ "Joining the Commonwealth". Commonwealth. Archived from the original on 7 March 2022. Retrieved 27 March 2022.
  2. ^ "The Commonwealth". New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Retrieved 8 January 2024.
  3. ^ "Commonwealth English". Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved 7 May 2024.
  4. ^ Ammon, Ulrich; Dittmar, Norbert; Mattheier, Klaus J.; Trudgill, Peter, eds. (2006). "Greece and Cyprus". Sociolinguistics: an international handbook of the science of language and society / Soziolinguistik: ein internationales Handbuch zur Wissenschaft von Sprache und Gesellschaft. Handbooks of linguistics and communication science / Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft. Vol. 3 (2nd ed.). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. p. 1888. ISBN 9783110184181.
  5. ^ New Oxford Style Manual. Oxford University Press. 2016.
  6. ^ Boberg, Charles (2004) Standard Canadian English Archived 11 April 2023 at the Wayback Machine." In Raymond Hickey. Standards of English: Codified Varieties Around the World. Cambridge University Press. p. 159.
  7. ^ Bayard, Donn (2000). "New Zealand English: Origins, Relationships, and Prospects" (PDF). Moderna Språk. 94 (1). Sweden: Linnaeus University: 8–14. doi:10.58221/mosp.v94i1.9625. ISSN 2000-3560. S2CID 254175799. Retrieved 24 July 2010.
  8. ^ Wells, J. C., ed. (1982), "The southern hemisphere", Accents of English: Beyond the British Isles, vol. 3, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 592–622, doi:10.1017/cbo9780511611766.006, ISBN 978-0-521-28541-4, retrieved 17 June 2024
  9. ^ Lawson, Alice (24 June 2022). "Togo sees Commonwealth entry as pivot to English-speaking world". Reuters. Retrieved 1 July 2022.
  10. ^ Eoyang, Eugene Chen (2000). "From the Imperial to the Empirical: Teaching English in Hong Kong". Profession: 62–74. JSTOR 25595704.