Exploring the functionality of English in China: a tale of two cities

Marc Xu, Danya Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The world of English has been witnessing shifts and turns over the last half century, and a major one is a paradigm shift from a monolithic English to pluricentric Englishes. The term “Englishes” symbolizes the “functional and formal variation in the language, and its international acculturation” (Kachru B. & Smith 1985: 210), and it is primarily concerned with the “intelligibility of form, comprehensibility of meaning, and interpretability of sense” (Proshina 2014: 4). As far as China is concerned, there are estimated 350-500 million learners and users of English, and the functions of English have expanded since the “reform and open door” policies of the 1970s (Kirkpatrick & Xu 2002). In this paper, we explore the expanding functionality of English in China, taking the major shifts and turns surrounding world Englishes as a backdrop, that is, the shift from codifying linguistic features of English varieties to focusing on users’ translanguaging practices in multilingual contexts, as well as the functional turn, the multilingual turn, and the dynamic interactive turn (Sridhar & Sridhar 2018). In particular, we adopt a qualitative approach to researching Chinese English as a translanguaging practice among Chinese English bilingual professionals in order to unpack the expanding functions of English in two major Chinese cities, Beijing and Kunming. Drawing upon semi-structured interviews of Chinese-English bilingual professionals from the two cities, we present a “tale of two cities” in relation to the expanding functionality of English in China.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)589-611
Number of pages22
JournalRussian Journal of Linguistics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Chinese English
  • Functional turn
  • Functionality of English
  • Paradigm shift
  • World Englishes

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