From World Englishes to Learner Englishes: bridging the gap


Up until recently, the field of variationist/contact linguistics and that of Second Language Acquisition have followed largely separate paths, with World Englishes (i.e. indigenized L2 varieties of English) and Learner Englishes (i.e. English as a foreign language) being viewed as distinct varieties of the language. Yet, a close examination of the literature in the two fields reveals interesting similarities, both in terms of theoretical considerations (though terminologies may differ) and in terms of the non-standard features displayed by the varieties.

This project explores a possible rapprochement between the two fields, by first bringing to light any linguistic similarities that may exist between World Englishes and Learner Englishes, and then trying to explain these by means of fundamental cognitive principles such as simplification or analogy. A number of variables that may have an impact on the characteristics of the varieties will also be examined, most notably the influence of the mother tongue or substrate language and the amount (and type) of exposure to the English language.

The basis for the comparison is empirical, relying as it does on corpus data and elicitation data. The corpus data will come (among others) from the International Corpus of English (ICE) for World Englishes, and the International Corpus of Learner English (ICLE) and the Louvain International Database of Spoken English Interlanguage (LINDSEI) for Learner Englishes. Data from native corpora will be used as a baseline against which the two types of L2 varieties will be compared. Particular attention will be paid to spoken genres, as innovative uses are expected to first appear in speech, before making their way into writing. The elicitation data will consist in two types of tests: grammaticality judgments, whose results will reflect subjects’ tolerance for certain forms as well as their linguistic insecurities, and fill-in exercises, which will reveal their preferences but also bring to light any possible prototypicality effects, according to a methodology described in Gilquin (2008). The linguistic phenomena investigated will range from syntactic structures such as embedded inversion to phraseological patterns (word clusters) through items like phrasal verbs (see Gilquin 2011) or discourse markers. The approach will not only be quantitative, focusing on cases of over- and/or underuse, but also qualitative, seeking for instance to highlight more creative uses of the language.

It is hoped that the rapprochement between World Englishes and Learner Englishes will benefit both variationist/contact linguistics and Second Language Acquisition, showing how the two can enrich each other and resulting in a unified and integrated model that describes the nature of acquisitional processes, no matter whether these take place essentially through interactions in a naturalistic environment (World Englishes) or through formal instruction in a classroom setting (Learner Englishes).

This project is funded by the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research (FNRS).


  • Gilquin, Gaëtanelle. 2011. Corpus linguistics to bridge the gap between World Englishes and Learner Englishes. In L. Ruiz Miyares & M.R. Álvarez Silva (eds) Comunicación Social en el siglo XXI, Vol. II (pp. 638-642). Santiago de Cuba: Centro de Lingüística Aplicada.
  • Gilquin, Gaëtanelle. 2015. At the interface of contact linguistics and second language acquisition research: New Englishes and Learner Englishes compared. English World-Wide 36(1): 91-124.