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World Englishes, Vol. 33, No. 1, pp. 5059, 2014.


Philippine English revisited


ABSTRACT: In this paper, I argue that the Three Circles Model of Kachru, a profoundly influential and
instructive model for approaching the varieties of Englishes across the world, might be re-examined in the
context of the Philippines, in order to better capture the sociolinguistic realities of Outer Circle speakers of
English. Using the Philippines as an example, I hope to demonstrate that within the Outer Circle that is the
Philippines, there are circles of English as well. While some educated Filipino scholars have rejected the
dominance of American English in the Philippines, others remain ambivalent about the place of Philippine
English in such domains such as English language teaching. And for a majority of the Filipinos, to whom
English of whatever variety remains elusive and inaccessible, English is irrelevant. Thus, the situation for
the Philippines is that there is an Inner Circle, an Outer Circle, and an Expanding circle of English. By
presenting the Philippine experience of English through this framework of circles within circles, I hope
to offer a more nuanced position on the acceptability of Philippine English among Filipino users of the

Kachrus Three Circles model is believed to be the most influential model on the spread
of English in the world. The value of the Three Circles model lies in its outright rejection
of the mindset that the English-speaking world may be neatly divided into two groups,
which Kachru (2005:213) describes as the distance-marking concepts of native speakers
and non-native speakers of English. In contrast, the Three Circles model, by taking a
geographical and historical approach to describing the spread of English, presents the
language as diverse, its ownership shared, having a plurality of centers residing in each
of the circles, and not exclusively among the Inner Circle countries. The Three Circles
model enjoys an authoritative position in world Englishes research and scholarship today.
However, there have been questions about its capacity to capture the unique sociolinguistic
realities of the nations in each of the circles. Jenkins (2003), for example, argues that the
model, by focusing more on geographical and historical issues, fails to account for the
way speakers identify with and use the language. In addition, she finds the demarcations
between the circles to be increasingly grey (2003: 20), an observation shared by Bruthiaux
(2003:172) who argues that the model draws on historical events which only partially
correlate with current sociolinguistic data. For Bruthiaux (2003:161), Kachrus Three
Circles model is a 20th century construct that has outlived its usefulness.
Canagarajah (2006:199) observes that Kachrus Three Circles have now started leaking
outside their borders. Canagarajah was specifically referring to Outer Circle varieties,
which Inner Circle speakers have begun to negotiate with in everyday communication.
That the circles do not have clear-cut demarcations and distinguishing features may also be

Ateneo de Manila University English; Katipunan Ave, Loyola Heights Quezon City, Quezon City, 1108, Philippines.
E-mail: mmartin@ateneo.edu

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Philippine English revisited 51

inferred from Seidlhofers (2010:355) assertion that Kachrus model does not adequately
describe the unique sociolinguistic situation of continental Europe, where countries are
assigned to the Expanding Circle, even if for many of these countries, English is a sec-
ond language. A similar observation is made for South Africa with Kamwangamalus
(2006:162) claim that the country belongs to both the Inner and Outer Circles because
of the presence of the minority white South Africans on the one hand, and the majority
black population on the other. Michieka (2009) also argues that Kenyas Outer Circle clas-
sification may not be completely accurate as there is an EFL/Expanding Circle context in
some areas of the country, specifically rural Kisii, because of the areas limited access to
English. Bruthiaux (2003) provides a comprehensive discussion of specific contexts where
the Three Circles model of Kachru may not apply.
To be sure, it is impossible for any model to accurately depict the complex dynamics
of history, politics, and culture as these weave into the development and spread of the
English language in any given nation-state. Kachrus Three Circles model, despite the
weaknesses pointed out by its critics, remains a valuable tool in understanding the spread
of English throughout the world, especially in its rejection of the dominant status of
Inner Circle varieties. The model, according to Kachru and Nelson (2006:27), is an
interpretation that rests not only on a valid historical view of the spread of English, but
also on sociolinguistically viable interpretations of the status and functions of English in
its many contexts.
What I wish to accomplish in this paper is not to offer another model, but to build
on Kachrus Three Circles model by taking a developmental stance, as called for by
Bolton et al. (2011), which is to investigate English in developmental contexts such as the
Philippiness. At the same time, in re-presenting the Three Circles of Kachru as having
circles within circles, I hope to explore a question about Philippine English that concerns
the acceptability of this variety. The notion of acceptability is a complex one that involves
considerations beyond language. Certainly, it is impossible to present in absolute terms
the acceptability of a new variety of English. What is acceptable to one group of people is
almost always not acceptable to another group. How then does one determine acceptability
of a new variety? In this paper, I do not attempt to establish the acceptability or non-
acceptability of Philippine English among particular groups of users of the language.
Instead, I hope to look into the issue of acceptability by investigating the discourse of
English in the Philippines from both the scholarly and non-scholarly perspective.


The question of the acceptability of Philippine English among Filipino users of the
language seems odd at this point when the variety has reached an age of maturity.
(Bolton 2011) Much has already been written about the language since this was first
described in 1969 by Llamzon in his book Standard Filipino English. In the late 1990s,
interest in the promotion of Philippine English surged after the 1996 Manila conference
on English as an Asian Language, where Kachru first presented his world Englishes
framework to Filipino scholars and teachers of the language. During this time, Philippine
English (had become) as worthy of study as any other global variety of English (Bolton
2011:xi). In 2000, Bautista published the landmark study Defining standard Philippine
English. Since then, studies about the variety have emerged and peaked at the publication
of Bautista and Boltons Philippine English: Linguistic and literary perspectives (2008).

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52 Isabel Pefianco Martin

However, even with two decades of scholarly work that describe and promote Philippine
English, questions arise on whether this discourse on Philippine English presents the
language as empowering to its users or as what Tupas (2004:54) describes as a reified
sociolinguistic abstraction which does not have much to do with the lives of its speakers.
Tupas (2006:169), in response to Filipino poet Abad and colleagues (1997) now famous
line English is ours. We have colonized it too, asks, But who are the we who have
colonized English?
Tupas (2006:169) argues that in the case of the Philippines, Kachrus Inner Circle and
Outer Circle categorization is a sociolinguistic configuration (that) essentially ignores
an important social reality. He is referring to the reality that the power to (re)create
English ascribed to the Outer Circle is mainly reserved only for those who have been
invested with such power in the first place (the educated/the rich/the creative writers,
etc.). (Tupas 2006:169) Thus, by assigning Philippine English the status of standard and
therefore legitimate variety, an Inner Circle, which comprises the minority educated elite,
is created. There becomes a circle within the Outer Circle that is Philippine English. But
Tupas also puts together all the other members of the Outer Circle of Philippine English into
another Outer Circle. He talks about Outer Circles everywhere, whose speakers, because
of positions of relative powerlessness, are largely unable to gain access to such standards
(Tupas 2006:170). I wish to propose that for the Philippines, what exists are three circles
within this Outer Circle. There is an Inner Circle of educated, elite Filipinos who have
embraced the English language (whether standard American or Philippine English) and
actively promote and protect it. There is an Outer Circle of Filipinos who may be aware
of Philippine English as a distinct and legitimate variety, but who are either powerless to
support it and/or ambivalent about its promotion. And there is an Expanding Circle of
users of English in the Philippines to whom the language, of whatever variety, remains
a requisite to upward mobility but is also largely inaccessible. These three circles co-
exist within the Outer Circle that is the Philippines. And like Kachrus Three Circles
model, the demarcations and distinguishing features between the circles may not be clear-
cut or perfect. However, by presenting the Philippine experience of English through the
framework of circles within circles, I hope to offer a more nuanced position on the
acceptability of Philippine English among Filipino users of the language.

The Inner Circle of English in the Philippines

Thompson (2003:4) begins his book entitled Filipino English and Taglish with the

Three questions immediately come to mind when English speakers arrive in Manila. Why are Filipinos
so attached to English? If they like English so much, why do they sometimes speak English, sometimes
Tagalog, and sometimes mix the two?

Although the above quote is from a visitor to the Philippines, it exposes a mindset that is
shared by Filipinos. This is the mindset that equates the megalopolis Manila (also known
as Metro Manila, the political and economic center) with the country, Philippines. This
mindset is often referred to as Manila imperialism.
Certainly, exposure to Manila realities alone cannot reveal the true state of affairs in
other parts of the Philippines. Likewise, the attitudes and beliefs of students and teachers

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Philippine English revisited 53

from universities in Metro Manila (or the neighboring Luzon province) will only reveal the
attitudes and beliefs of the educated class. Bautista (2001a; 2001b) documents a growing
acceptance of Philippine English among university students and professors. Similarly,
Borlongan (2009) finds from a survey of 50 private university students in Manila that
(1) English continues to dominate numerous domains, including intimate contexts of the
home, thus maintaining the status of the language as functionally native; and that (2)
there is growing awareness of Philippine English as a language that is not deficient and
may represent Filipino identity. Among the educated class, it is understood that Philippine
English has found its place. For some, Philippine English is pushed as a language that
must be taught in the classroom. Borlongan (2011), for example, argues for the re-training
of teachers, the development of new instructional materials based on the existing corpora
of Philippine English, and the re-envisioning of instructional leadership in managing
innovations in English language teaching in the country. He goes on to say that these
are so little sacrifices that are not to be held back so as to finally put Philippine English
on the pedestal of established Englishes, together with American, British, and Australian
Englishes. (Borlongan 2011:121)
There is a preponderance of publications about the features of Philippine English, which
are drawn from the Philippine International Corpus of English (known as ICE-PHI) corpus
painstakingly collected by Bautista and her team at the beginning of the 1990s, and released
in full form in 2004 (Bautista 2011:3). Bautistas (2011) bibliography of Philippine English
studies lists from more than 140 publications on the subject. To be sure, all these studies
about the Philippine variety of English have made valuable contributions in elevating the
language to legitimacy status and consequently, promoting its acceptability. But this is
only true among the educated classthe Inner Circle of Philippine society, which Tupas
(2010:568) further describes as having the economic and sociopolitical innerness of
Standard Englishes within communities of use in any part of the world.
In non-scholarly discourse about English in the Philippines, the status of Philippine
English as legitimate is likewise recognized. The case of Rico Hizon, a BBC World
News Anchor, illustrates this. In his acceptance speech for an award given by Toastmaster
International, he talks about being proud of his Filipino-English diction (Hizon 2011).
He continued:

It is a Pan-Asian diction. It does not pretend to sound western but both Asians and non-Asians can easily
comprehend what is being said. There are a variety of accents speaking the English language and there is
no need for the Filipino to imitate the American, British or whatever accent just to say its proper English.
We have our very own, and that is what makes us a cut above the rest. And thats why I am where I am.
Its because of the Filipino English diction. (Hizon 2011)

Reactions to Hizons acceptance speech, which were posted online by a news daily, reveal
an Inner Circle mindset about languages in the Philippines, such as: (1) Filipinos must
always be proud of Philippine English; (2) Mixing English and Filipino is unacceptable;
and (3) Filipinos must be thankful for their upbringing and education which produced good
English, as the following comments illustrate:

Rico is right. We should be able to speak and write in English and Pilipino but we should avoid mixing
one with the other as it would discombobulate the message we are trying to express. (Germayuga)

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Mr. Rico Hizon is an excellent English speaker, and Im so proud of him. If I listen to him, I actually
would hear an eloquent speaker, not American nor British sounding. Thanks to his family heritage and
good educational background. (Daisy Cerdenia)

Mr. Hizon is right, great job! We should all be proud with our English accent. We all know why
every country hired Pinoy workers. Sadly those Taglish speakers are mostly from prestigious schools.

There are also Inner Circle mindsets that uphold English at the expense of Philippine
languages. One example is the now infamous commentary of columnist James Soriano
who drew the ire of many Filipinos because of his statement that the Filipino language is
the language of the streets. (Soriano 2011). Soriano writes:

For while Filipino may be the language of identity, it is the language of the streets. It might have the
capacity to be the language of learning, but it is not the language of the learned. It is neither the language
of the classroom and the laboratory, nor the language of the boardroom, the court room, or the operating
room. It is not the language of privilege. I may be disconnected from my being Filipino, but with a tongue
of privilege I will always have my connections. So I have my education to thank for making English my
mother language. (Soriano 2011)

Soriano received numerous negative comments about this column, including hostile reac-
tions that went viral in blogs and social networking sites, such as the following comment
from a certain Egui, which stated: Mr. Soriano, your English may be the language of
the learned, but your brain is not the brain of the learned. But Soriano was not without
defenders. There were also comments from readers who agreed with him, as follows:

If speaking and listening in English will make a person better and succeed in life, forget about the culture
and the Filipino dialects. (Edodgreat)

We think the adverse reactions Soriano has been getting is being caused by the fact that truth hurts.
Readers just cant accept the fact that even in language, there is a divide in Philippine society. We know
of the divide in wealth, opportunities, jobs, justice and education in Philippine society where the rich are
able to get the best and the mostest [intended] while the poor make do with meager offerings. The truth
hurts to know that that also exists in language. (Wawam)

Sadly, as one comment above points out, the socioeconomic rifts that exist in Philippine
society trickle down on issues of language as well. It is a truth that does hurt indeed.

The Outer Circle of English in the Philippines

In the discourse of Inner Circle English in the Philippines, several lexical innovations
have been widely documented (Bolton and Butler 2004). Coinages such as hold-upper
(robber), academician (academic), presidentiable (presidential candidate) have been re-
ported as commonplace and acceptable among users of the language. However, I wonder
if Inner Circle Filipino speakers of English would look kindly on Filipinos who use less
formal or more colloquial coinages, such as meldific (to be extravagant like former First
Lady Imelda Marcos) or noynoying (to laze around like Philippine President Benigno
Noynoy Aquino III). I know of Filipino teachers of English who mark as incorrect

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Philippine English revisited 55

expressions which have become commonplace in everyday conversations, such as Close

the light, Ill go ahead, and For a while. And what of Filipinos who code-switch freely,
even in domains that are traditionally considered to be English-only domains, such as the
classroom, business meetings, and legal proceedings?
These questions reflect a concern about the extent of inclusivity of educated Philippine
English. Such questions also point to the existence of an Outer Circle of English in the
Philippines, among Filipinos who also belong to the educated class, and may also be
aware of Philippine English as a distinct and legitimate variety, use both standard and
non-standard forms, but are either powerless to support these languages and/or ambivalent
about promoting them. The Outer Circle includes stakeholders of the English language who
find the more critical approach to the language as, in the words of Matsuda (2009:169),
desirable but not necessary? Tupas (2006; 2010) sees this in seven Filipino student-
teachers he studied. In his study, Tupas (2010) finds that the student-teachers believe
that: (1) Philippine English is not an ideal model in the English language classroom;
(2) students must be taught standardized English because this too is empowering; (3)
Standardized English should be taught as form, but Philippine English should be used as
content; and (4) In teaching standardized English, code-switching should be used whenever
necessary to communicate local content. Despite the seemingly ambivalent stance these
student-teachers have towards the local English variety, Tupas argues that these beliefs
represent a form of resistance, a position that is both empowering and disempowering,
capitulating and resisting, a testament to the conditioned practices of their work as English
language teachers (Tupas 2010:571).
In a previous work, I have also found similar attitudes about Philippine English among
public school teachers in the country (Martin 2010). I have argued that an awareness of the
existence of a Philippine variety of English does not necessarily translate into acceptance
of this variety. This was the conclusion made from a survey of 185 public school teachers,
mostly from the Visayas (in a deliberate attempt to elicit views from the periphery). In
this survey, a large percentage of teachers reported that their target model for teaching
English was American English, even if most of these teachers considered English to be a
Philippine language, and that they spoke Philippine English. When asked why American
English was their target, the teachers offered responses that reflected a sense of helplessness
or powerlessness to offset the elevated status of American English, and came up with such
comments as: (1) American English is the universal language; (2) American English is
universally accepted; (3) It is an international language; (4) It is internationally understood;
(5) American English is most preferred by many companies who have networks in other
countries; (6) It is clearer, more widely-used and a lot of Filipinos go to the US to work;
and (7) I want to be a realist.
The last comment, the desire to be realistic in their dealings with languages, may
reflect the mindset of Outer Circle users of English in the Philippines. This Outer Circle
situation is described by Bruthiaux (2003:160) as having been affected by conflict between
linguistic norms and linguistic behavior, with widespread perceptions among users that
Anglo-American norms are somehow superior and that their own variants are therefore
deficient. Thus, on the question of acceptability of Philippine English among Outer Circle
users in the Philippines, the answer may be: Yes, but . . . If one were to present the stages
of acceptability of a language as (1) beginning with a recognition of the variety and its
distinguishing features, (2) moving on to a concurrence of these features, and then (3)
proceeding to promote and safeguard this variety, then Outer Circle Filipino users of

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56 Isabel Pefianco Martin

Philippine English may have reached only the second stage of acceptability. And this
situation is a consequence of the sense of powerlessness that Outer Circle members feel,
especially in the context of English language teaching.

The Expanding Circle of English in the Philippines

A newspaper article in 2011 reported about a Filipina talking to her non-Filipino
boyfriend in funny English. (The Ear 2011) The article documented the following

Yes, babe, dis 3 pm is hot but dis 4 pm, its coming rain babe.

Oh babe look at, your dog is look at me.

Babe, I was hugging the cat, and then the cat kuko with me and the cat is so dirty. The cat is a baby and
I hate the cat. The cat is a little cat . . . yuuckk!

Babe just drink water and thermometer. I know your not feeling well.

The Filipinas funny, non-standard English is ridiculed by those who heard her, including
a child who complained to his mother that the Filipina spoke in wrong grammar. Such
situation is not uncommon in the Philippines where a majority of users of the English
language belong to the Expanding Circle category. These are Filipino users of English
to whom the language, of whatever variety, is largely inaccessible, even as it remains a
requisite condition for upward mobility.
Filipino boxer and Saranggani congressman Manny Pacquiao (also known as Pacman) is
one famous person associated with funny English. In 2011, he was criticized for tweeting
in wrong English. In response to these criticisms, Pacman tweeted, Its doesnt matter
of the grammar as long they understand the message thanks (Viloria 2011). Another
ridiculed Filipino is 2008 Miss Philippines-World Janina San Miguel, who was widely
criticized for her ear-splitting English. (GMA News Online 2008) The beauty pageant
organizers were also admonished for allowing someone who spoke funny English to win
at the competition. The issue made national headlines, prompting lawmakers such as Cebu
congressman Eduardo Gullas to protest that she is a Filipino, and English is our highly
favored second language. So people expected more from her (GMA News Online 2008).
For Filipinos belonging to the Expanding Circle category, using English may become a
painful, humiliating experience. With English having penetrated most domains of Philip-
pine society, Filipinos cannot avoid using the language at some point in their lives. Cer-
tainly, this is a situation that does not correspond with ESL conditions, as the Philippines
is often described to have. The situation points to EFL conditions, which are found in
Kachrus Expanding Circle category. Public school teacher of English, Marilyn Braganza,
describes how English has created low self-esteem among her students, particularly those
with heavy local accents. One student Jolan, who belonged to the Bagobo tribe of Northern
Philippines, refused to participate in the oral drills of her class. Braganza (2009:13) writes:

Because his written output was really not bad, I often wondered why he would not speak in my class. In
my frustration, I found myself threatening to move him to another class. He then confessed that he spoke

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to only three students in school who happened to be his relatives; he was afraid of being ridiculed by his

Jolan is fortunate to have an English teacher who understood her students sociocultural
backgrounds and how these affect their learning of the English language. This same teacher,
upon encountering funny English in her class, was careful not to ridicule her students.
She shares the following anecdote:

When once a naughty boy who tried to impress his English teacher exclaimed, I was absent Maam
because my stomach was ouch, I congratulated him for communicating the message successfully. Letting
him feel that he was understood was the best motivation for learning. (Braganza 2009:15)

But differences in cultural background were not the only concerns of this English teacher.
Economics was also a determining factor in her students progress. She talks about another
student, Nerissa, who walked two and a half kilometers to and from school every day
because she could not afford to take the public transportation. Braganza (2009:14) writes:

I have also come to realize that the English language is more accessible to the rich. Take the case of
Nerissa . . . If Nerissa has ten pesos a day, she could take a ride instead of walk to school. If she had ten
pesos a day, she might have been more interested in the listening tasks. If Nerissas family had electricity
at home, she could have written better reports. If her home had electricity, she would have turned in
better homework assignments.

Such is the situation for Filipinos in the Expanding Circle of English. For 23.1 million
Filipinos living below the poverty threshold of US$ 387 a year (National Statistical Co-
ordinating Board 2012), would English language issues, whether American English or
Philippine English, even matter? Most likely not.

In this paper, I presented the Philippines, an Outer Circle country in Kachrus Three
Circles model, as having three circles within. These comprise an Inner Circle of educated,
elite Filipinos who have embraced the English language (whether standard American or
Philippine English), and actively promote it; an Outer Circle of Filipinos who may be aware
of Philippine English as a distinct and legitimate variety, but who are either powerless to
support it and/or ambivalent about its promotion; and an Expanding Circle of users of
English in the Philippines to whom the language, of whatever variety, remains a requisite
condition to upward mobility, but is often very difficult to access.
In exploring the issue of acceptability of Philippine English, there may be a need to keep
in mind each of these circles of English in the country. For the educated class who make up
the Inner Circle, it is clear that Philippine English has gained significant headway. Some in
this circle have even moved to recommend that the variety be taught in schools. In contrast,
members of the Outer Circle recognize Philippine English as a distinct and legitimate
variety, but fall short of promoting the variety, owing to a sense of powerlessness they
have in counteracting the dominance of American English. And finally, in the Expanding
Circle of English in the Philippines, there is little talk (if any) of Philippine English as a
variety; and for members of this Expanding Circle, the status of Philippine English is a

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58 Isabel Pefianco Martin

non-issue. These three circles within the Outer Circle experience of the Philippines do not
exactly match each of the circles in Kachrus model, and it was not my intention to mirror
the Kachruvian framework in presenting the varied and complex faces of English in the
country. Instead, what I have attempted to do is build on the Three Circles model in order
to provide a more nuanced description of English in the Philippines and in this way present
a number of insights into issues relating to the acceptability of Philippine English within
Philippine society.

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(Received 21 June 2013)

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