Specific research topics

The OED's coverage of World Englishes

Compiling my lexical database has given me a wide view of the OED’s treatment of words of non-British origin, which can be classified as follows:

• Words of foreign origin that are widely used in British and/or American English, or even in other parts of the English-speaking world (e.g., boondock, ylang-ylang from Tagalog)

• Foreign words whose widespread use is restricted to the country/region of their origin (e.g., anting-anting, barangay, jeepney in Philippine English)

• Words of foreign origin that are rare, archaic, historical or scientific (e.g., medrinaque, Marcosian, ladronism, marcottage in Philippine English)

Although previous work on the OED and World Englishes tend to conflate these three types of vocabulary, it is important to distinguish them, given that the dictionary’s coverage and the availability of evidence differ for each category. The first category is generally well covered by the OED, but the second one is insufficiently represented, largely due to the relatively limited presence of these words in the research databases that OED editors habitually use. There is currently a bias towards words of the third category, especially towards terms referring to native flora and fauna and ethnic groups: words that are of anthropological interest but are hardly a reflection of contemporary World English lexis. Addressing this imbalance is one of the main concerns of the current revision of the OED, to which the results of this research project are an important contribution.

Lexical innovation beyond borrowing

The lexicon of Philippine English developed within a highly multilingual context, where close contact between English, native Philippine languages, and languages historically related to the Philippines (e.g., Spanish, Malay, Chinese) aided, and continues to aid, the process of lexical innovation. However, the way that Philippine English is represented in the OED and other widely used lexicographical works such as the American Webster’s dictionaries puts too much emphasis on borrowings from local Philippine languages and pays too little attention to other equally productive means of word formation. This research strand focuses on contact-induced mechanisms of lexical innovation beyond direct borrowing, which include calquing, loan blending, adaptive coining, paraphrasing, semantic re-interpretation and semantic expansion. The initial results of this line of investigation was presented at the International Association of World Englishes Conference, held in Tempe, Arizona in November 2013.

Words of Hispanic origin in Philippine English

The Philippines is a former colony of Spain as well as the United States, and for this reason, Philippine English follows American English instead of British English as an exonormative standard, and many Philippine English words are influenced by Spanish, the language of the country’s first colonizers. The impact of Spanish on Philippine languages extends to English, as evidenced by the lexical items of Spanish origin that have and may make their way into the OED through Philippine English. This makes for a curious case of language contact and serves to illustrate how the inclusion of items from localized varieties of English contributes to the etymological richness of the OED. I have also begun to explore works of Filhispanic literature as a resource for the study of the reciprocal influence between Spanish and Philippine English, starting with Nínay: Costumbres filipinas, the first Filipino novel. Initial results were presented in an invited talk at the University of the Philippines in January 2013 and in the Translations in Transnational Contexts Inaugural Colloquium in Oxford in May 2013.

Lexico-grammatical innovations in Philippine English

The particular focus of this research strand is on innovations that occur in the interface between lexis and grammar, a borderline area that recent research has shown to be particularly susceptible to variable usage and regional differentiation. These lexicogrammatical phenomena include idiosyncratic collocations, verb complementation, concord patterns, article usage and other instances of lexical and grammatical patterning unique to Philippine English. These innovations can be explained in terms of the equivalence Filipino speakers draw between these novel forms and existing structures in Standard American English. Initial results were presented at the International Conference on English Grammar in Manila in January 2013.

Philippine English studies and contact linguistics

Following a previous study that used the OED to prove that comparisons with the current standard of the superstrate language are not sufficient to establish newness in emerging English varieties, I use OED entries and quotations to trace the history of several words that previous lexical surveys have identified as PE innovations, and find some of them to be represented in earlier British English quotations in the dictionary. For example, the use of the word province to refer to any place outside a country’s capital, considered by some as a meaning extension unique to Philippine English, is actually recorded in the OED with quotations dating almost three centuries before English came to the Philippines. Similar examples demonstrate how incorporating insights from diachronic analysis and contact linguistics can enrich the study of World Englishes. Initial results were presented at the conference Changing English: Contacts and Variation in Helsinki in June 2013.

Southeast Asian Englishes and the OED

I have also begun to look at other Southeast Asian Englishes in the OED, particularly Singaporean, Malaysian and Bruneian English, and have added several words of these varieties to my database. As with Philippine English, the key issues that need to be addressed to ensure adequate treatment of Southeast Asian Englishes in the OED include overcoming the shortage of written resources, providing better regional labelling, and covering words and meanings of more current usage, as well as lexical innovations beyond simple borrowing. Initial results were presented at the Asialex conference in Bali in August 2013, and published in the conference proceedings.