Broken English

For other uses, see Broken English (disambiguation).
From a pair of shorts purchased in Huwei, Taiwan

Broken English refers to a poorly spoken or ill-written version of the English language, sometimes considered a pidgin. Under the strictest definition of the term, broken English consists of English vocabulary grafted onto the syntax of a non-English speaker's native language, including word order, other aspects of sentence structure, and the presence or absence of articles in the speaker's native language. Typically, the non-English speaker also strips English phrases of linguistic markings that are definite articles or certain verb tenses.

In some communities, young people may intentionally adopt versions of the English language that older people consider to be broken English. This has been documented, for example, among the Māori of New Zealand, where the younger generation was more proficient in English than the previous generation, but intentionally made modifications to the language to assert their own sense of cultural identity.[1]

In literature, broken English is often used to depict the foreignness of a character, or that character's lack of intelligence or education. However, poets have also intentionally used broken English to create a desired artistic impression:

Where "broken English' is considered an inferior form of standard English, poets such as these consider "breaking Englishes' a creative experiment with the rendering of an English which is between standard English and a local language or dialect.[2]

For example, in Henry V, William Shakespeare used broken English to convey the national pride of Scottish and Irish allies in the King's invasion of Normandy.[3] When Henry himself last implores the French princess Katherine to marry him, knowing that her command of the English language is limited, he says to her: "Come, your answer in broken music; for thy voice is music and thy English broken; therefore, queen of all, Katherine, break thy mind to me in broken English".[4]

See also


  1. Raymond Hickey, Standards of English: Codified Varieties Around the World (2012), p. 347.
  2. Peter France, The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation (2001), p. 34.
  3. Paula Blank, Broken English: Dialects and the Politics of Language in Renaissance Writings (2002), p. 136.
  4. Paula Blank, Broken English: Dialects and the Politics of Language in Renaissance Writings (2002), p. 167, quoting Henry V, Act V, scene ii.
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