Commonwealth of Nations

Commonwealth of Nations

Commonwealth of Nations, voluntary association of Great Britain and its dependencies, certain former British dependencies that are now sovereign states and their dependencies, and the associated states (states with full internal government but whose external relations are governed by Britain); Mozambique and Rwanda are the only members never to have been under British authority even in part. At its foundation under the Statute of Westminster (see Westminster, Statutes of) in 1931, the Commonwealth was composed of Great Britain, the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland), Canada, Newfoundland (since 1949 part of Canada), Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. As of 1995, the other sovereign members (with date of entry) were: India (1947), Pakistan (1947), Sri Lanka (as Ceylon, 1948), Ghana (1957), Malaysia (as Federation of Malaya, 1957), Nigeria (1960), Cyprus (1961), Sierra Leone (1961), Tanzania (as Tanganyika, 1961), Jamaica (1962), Trinidad and Tobago (1962), Uganda (1962), Kenya (1963), Malawi (1964), Zambia (1964), Malta (1964), The Gambia (1965), Singapore (1965), Guyana (1966), Botswana (1966), Lesotho (1966), Barbados (1966), Antigua and Barbuda (1967), Dominica (1967), Saint Kitts and Nevis (1967), Saint Lucia (1967), Nauru (1968), Mauritius (1968), Swaziland (1968), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (1969), Samoa (1970), Tonga (1970), Bangladesh (1972), Bahamas (1973), Grenada (1974), Papua New Guinea (1975), Seychelles (1976), Solomon Islands (1978), Tuvalu (1978), Kiribati (1979), Vanuatu (1980), Zimbabwe (1980), Belize (1981), Brunei (1984), Maldives (1985), Namibia (1990), Cameroon (1995), Mozambique (1995), and Rwanda (2009). Ireland, South Africa, Pakistan, Fiji, and Zimbabwe all withdrew at different times; all but Ireland and Zimbabwe have rejoined. In addition, Nigeria's membership was suspended (1995-99) because of the country's human-rights abuses; Sierra Leone was suspended (1997-98) when it was under military rule; Pakistan was suspended (1999-2004) following a military coup and (2007-8) following the imposition of emergency rule; Zimbabwe was suspended for a year following the widely criticized presidential election of 2002 and when the suspension was extended in 2003, Zimbabwe withdrew; and Fiji has been suspended several times following coups, most recently in 2009 (partially suspended beginning in 2006).

The purpose of the Commonwealth is consultation and cooperation. The sovereign members retain full authority in all domestic and foreign affairs, although Britain generally enjoys a traditional position of leadership in certain matters of mutual interest. There are economic ties in the fields of trade, investment, and development programs for new nations. A set of trade agreements (begun at the Ottawa Conference in 1932) between Britain and the other members gave preferential tariff treatment to many raw materials and manufactured goods that the Commonwealth nations sell in Britain, but the system of preferential tariffs was abandoned after Britain's entry into the European Community (now the European Union) in 1973. Periodically there are meetings of Commonwealth heads of government, but no collective decision made at these meetings is considered binding. In 1965 a Commonwealth secretariat was established, with headquarters in London.

See also British Empire.

See J. D. B. Miller, The Commonwealth in the World (3d ed. 1965); N. Mansergh, The Commonwealth Experience (1969); W. R. Louis, The British Empire in the Middle East (1986); The Commonwealth Office Yearbook (annual, from 1987); R. J. Moore, Making the New Commonwealth (1987).

The use of English in the Commonwealth of Nations was inherited from British colonisation. English is spoken as a first or second language in most of the Commonwealth; in a few countries, for example Cyprus and Malaysia, it does not have official status, but is widely used as a lingua franca. Many regions, notably Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the Caribbean, have developed their own native varieties of the language.

Written English as used in the Commonwealth generally favours British as opposed to American spelling, with the exception of Canada, which combines elements of both.

In linguistics, the main subdivisions of English are British and American English, with Canadian English being included in the latter. Therefore there isn't a single group of dialects that can be called “Commonwealth English” along linguistic lines.

Native varieties

Southern Hemisphere native varieties of English began to develop during the 19th century, with the colonisation of Australasia and South Africa. Australian English, New Zealand English and South African English are non-rhotic dialects closely related to one another and to the English spoken in southeastern England. The vocabularies of these dialects are also similar to that of English language in England, with some differences and several terms that are peculiar to each country; Australian English features also a number of North American words. Differences in grammar and usage are mostly limited to colloquial speech.

Canadian English is a variety of (North) American English. It shares the same roots as the English of the United States because it is based on the immigration of British Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution in the late eighteenth century. It is also influenced by Scottish, Irish and English immigration after the War of 1812. While the language has continued to change in all of these places, modern Canadian spelling has come to include elements of both (US) American and British spelling. It has also inherited much vocabulary from the shared political and social institutions of Commonwealth countries.

The Caribbean

Caribbean English is influenced by the English-based Creole varieties spoken, but they are not one and the same. There is a great deal of variation in the way English is spoken, with a "Standard English" at the top of the social scale and creoles at the bottom. These dialects have roots in 17th-century English and African languages; unlike most native varieties of English, West Indian dialects often tend to be syllable-timed rather than stress-timed.

Non-native varieties

Second language varieties of English in Africa and Asia have often undergone "indigenisation"; that is, each English-speaking community has developed (or is in the process of developing) its own standards of usage, often under the influence of local languages. These dialects are sometimes referred to as New Englishes (McArthur, p. 36); most of them inherited non-rhoticity from Southern British English.

Africa

Several dialects of West African English exist, with a lot of regional variation and some influence from indigenous language. West African English tends to be syllable-timed, and its phoneme inventory is much simpler than that of Received Pronunciation; this sometimes affects mutual intelligibility with native varieties of English. A distinctive East African English is spoken in countries such as Kenya or Tanzania.

Small communities of native English speakers can be found in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia; the dialects spoken are similar to South African English.

Asia

India has the world's largest English-speaking population, although most speakers of Indian English are not native speakers. Indian English phonology is highly variable; stress, rhythm and intonation are generally different from those of native varieties. There are also several peculiarities at the levels of morphology, syntax and usage, some of which can also be found among educated speakers.

Southeast Asian English comprises Singapore English and Malaysian English; it features some influence from Chinese. Finally, in Hong Kong, which is no longer a Commonwealth country, English has nonetheless official status.

References

  • McArthur, Tom (2002). The Oxford Guide to World English. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-866248-3.
  • Peters, Pam (2004). The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-62181-X.
  • Trudgill, Peter and Jean Hannah. (2002). International English: A Guide to the Varieties of Standard English, 4th ed. London: Arnold. ISBN 0-340-80834-9.

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