When does an unconventional form become an innovation?

Research output: Chapter in book / Conference proceedingChapter in an edited book (as author)Academic researchpeer-review


The line between error and innovation in English is fuzzy. Much of that fuzziness is rooted in linguistic inconsistency of Standard English as a semiotic system, as reflected in tremendous phonetic and lexico-grammatical variations, making it very untidy and learner unfriendly. So-called ‘native speakers’ are now outnumbered by learners of English as an additional language (EAL) by a wide margin. To make meaning locally, naturally EAL learners and users have no choice but to indigenize English to meet their locally relevant lingua-cultural needs. Apparent deviations from Standard English norms can no longer be held as a dictum for dismissing EAL meaning-making acts indiscriminately as ‘errors’. On the contrary, such deviations must be seen as a legitimate voice, or ‘innovations’ in short. De-stigmatization of errors or legitimation of innovations, however, tends to meet with resistance not only from ‘native speakers’ but also educated EAL users themselves. Why? Bamgbose (1998) discusses five factors: ‘demographic’ (percentage of acrolectal users vis-à-vis mesolectal and basilectal users), ‘geographical’, ‘authoritative’, ‘codification’, and ‘acceptability’ (attitudes). Following rapid advances in Internet communication since the late 1990s, Bamgbose’s factors must be complemented with a sixth: the popular choice of acrolectal, educated users of English on the Internet, whatever their first language.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of World Englishes
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages640
ISBN (Print)9781003128755
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2020


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