The evolution of English(es)

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Many of the central tenets of modern linguistics – and thus also of the study of World Englishes – have a history which goes back to the nineteenth century. This article focuses on the idea of the evolution of language(s). I will employ a discourse-historical approach to show that evolution was generally taken to imply not only progress but also hierarchization, and that English and its standard variety – as well as their speakers – were inevitably seen as the most progressive and placed at the top of any linguistic hierarchy. Of course, crude nationalist and racist thinking are no longer current in academic linguistics today; nevertheless, this article will claim that in order to fully comprehend contemporary ideologies of language, we need to understand the historical origins of the assumptions and beliefs upon which they rest.


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