Broken English refers to a poorly spoken or ill-written version of the English language. Under the strictest 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.
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, or as a creative experiment writing somewhere between standard English and a local language or dialect.
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. 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 is broken; therefore, queen of all, break thy mind to me in broken English.”