Kachru’s three concentric circles of English are accepted as a standard ontology for defining and categorizing world Englishes into Inner Circle (=native), Outer Circle (=ESL) and Expanding Circle (=EFL) varieties. However, the sociopolitical agenda of the world Englishes paradigm is at odds with the concentric circle ontology for several reasons: (1) the terminology implies the ethnocentricity of native Englishes; (2) the lack of infrastructure precludes delineation of the varieties in their own right; and (3) the paradigm lacks fluidity.
The model presented here, based on the image of an umbrella, avoids the misconceptions inherent in the concentric circles framework. The five major components of this model are the umbrella (1) handle=core English; (2) spokes=communication network and support systems; (3) tips=English varieties, (4) fabric covering=background sociocultural systems, and (5) top=an idealized ”standard” English. Advantages of the umbrella model over the concentric circles are that it is egalitarian, flexible, generic and dynamic.
The questions "whose English?" and "how many Englishes?" have been kicked around in both ESL and applied linguistics circles for several years now, leading to fruitful eye-opening and reevaluation of concepts such as native/non-native English (e.g. Nayar 1994), standard/non-standard English (e.g. Strevens 1992), dialects and varieties. Kachru’s three concentric circles of English have come to be accepted as a standard ontology for defining and categorizing Englishes into Inner Circle (=native), Outer Circle (=English as a Second Language) and Expanding Circle (=English as a Foreign Language) varieties.
In the process of the debate, both major native varieties of English and the English Language Teaching (ELT) world in general have been accused of a subtle brand of linguistic imperialism, which has resulted in increased pleas and requests for acknowledgement of "different Englishes" as varieties in their own right. These trends are welcome to those who would support an ecology-of-language paradigm with its tenets of multilingualism, human rights, equality, maintenance of languages and cultures and promotion of foreign language education over a basically monolingual, imperialistic diffusion-of English paradigm (see Tsuda 1994).
However, the sociopolitical agenda of the world Englishes paradigm is at odds with the concentric circle view of Englishes for several reasons. If we take the concentric circle terminology at face value, we imagine a model such as Fig. 1, with circles that are actually concentric; i.e., they have the same center; nested in the order of Inner, Outer and Expanding.1 However, the fact that “native” Englishes are in the center circle emphasizes the very problem the world Englishes movement would like to avoid: ethnocentricity of native Englishes, and especially of the ELT empire. As language shares an intrinsic and unavoidable connection with culture, the centrality of the native English languages in the concentric circles paradigm implies the centrality of native English cultures as well. In addition, the terms "inner" and “outer” themselves have a discriminatory undertone and again, imply the very linguistic elitism we wish to avoid.
Fig. 2 shows a recent revision (Kachru 1997:213) of the circles diagram, an arrangement which would be more aptly termed “overlapping” than “concentric”. This arrangement does much to alleviate the ethnocentricity problem, but the terminology remains.