Publication details [#62761]

Lindemann, Stephanie and Katherine Moran. 2017. The role of the descriptor ‘broken English’ in ideologies about nonnative speech. Language in Society 46 (5) : 649–669.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Language as a subject
Place, Publisher
Cambridge University Press


This inquiry explores how the descriptor ‘broken English’ is employed to construct speakers as nonnative within standard language ideology. In-depth assay of examples found via WebCorp, employed to search US websites, and the Corpus of Contemporary American English found that the term was broadly employed to refer to intelligible English identified as nonnative. Users of such English were constructed as Other, generally very negatively. The scarcer cases of more positive descriptions referred to encounters outside English-speaking countries, consistent with monolingualist ideology, and when used for a more distantly superior person, made them more attractive through greater apparent accessibility. Four mechanisms are debated by which use of the term naturalizes ideologies. Crucially, its ambiguity fosters slippage between ‘neutral’ and negative uses, allowing any English identified as nonnative to be featured as ‘broken’, slipping into ‘not English’, with such descriptions treated as an acceptable way to identify nonnative speakers as public menace.