The contemporary visibility and importance of English throughout the Asian region coupled with the emergence and development of distinct varieties of Asian Englishes have played an important part in the global story of English in recent years. Across Asia, the numbers of people having at least a functional command of the language have grown exponentially over the last four decades, and current changes in the sociolinguistic realities of the region are often so rapid that it is difficult for academic commentators to keep pace. One basic issue in the telling of this story is the question of what it is we mean by the term ‘Asia’, itself a word of contested etymology, whose geographical reference has ranged in application from the Middle East to Central Asia, and from the Indian sub-continent to Japan and Korea. In this article, my discussion will focus on the countries of South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia, as it is in these regions that we find not only the greatest concentration of ‘outer-circle’ English-using societies but also a number of the most populous English-learning and English-knowing nations in the world.
Kingsley Bolton is Professor of English Linguistics at Stockholm University, Sweden.