English Imperialism Essay
Linguistic imperialism is a major aspect that is impossible to assume in the modern era. In the past twenty years, there has been significant debate and extensive literature on whether linguistic imperialism is a valid concept in the post-modern and post-capitalist era. Debate on linguistic imperialism has taken effect especially focusing on the English language including its spread to different parts of the world. This paper discusses linguistic imperialism with special attention to English as an international language, and identifies the implications English imperialism has for teaching.
Phillipson (2010) considers linguistic imperialism to be a sub-type of linguicism, an aspect of linguistic hierarchies and how this influences unequal access to power in society including sexism, racism, and ethnicism, including the legitimization and operation of linguistic hierarchies in society. Different scholars of sociolinguistics have focused on the issue of linguistic imperialism as an area of research interest. Linguistic imperialism is considered to be condemned by the human rights law which is opposed to different types of discrimination based on aspects such as gender, language, and race, and these are unjustifiable on moral grounds. In this regard, based on human rights, the speakers of smaller and indigenous languages have rights that must be preserved (Phillipson, 2010).
English imperialism can be explained in the context of old and new colonization. In the colonial years, Britain made all of its colonies to learn and speak English. To date, most countries that were colonized by Britain have English as their official language (Rohmah, 2005). On the other hand, in 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt in the United States promoted the policy of making the immigrant population that consisted people from different parts of the world as well as indigenous people to become monolingual users of the English language. Roosevelt stated that: . . . We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language (Phillipson, n.d, 4-5). This shows that the making of English language a global language was done consciously. Just as the British, the colonies of the United States had to use English in their communication, and this is the case to date. English had to be used in education; for instance, in the Philippines, which was a United States’ colony, between the years 1898 to 1940, it was a requirement that English language be used exclusively in education. A few countries such as India did not experience a high level of coercion to use the English language since education was widespread in them before the arrival of the colonialists.
The imperialism theory by Galtung is used to explain imperialism. In this theory, Galtung identifies six types of imperialism including economic, political, communicative, military, social, and cultural imperialisms. Galtung considers imperialism to be a type of relationship where there is a dominant society and a minority society and the former dominates over the latter (Phillipson, n.d). Fragmentation, exploitation, marginalization, and penetration are the four major forces that are considered to perpetuate imperialism. Galtung in this theory considers shows the world as having a dominant centre, which in this case symbolizes the powerful nations of the west including their different interests, and the peripheries, which symbolize the developing and under-developed countries in the world. However, centres of power are shown to exist in the Centre and the peripheries and these exploit their respective peripheries. A common thing that links centres in the Centre and the peripheries is their interests in the different imperialism types and mostly language. In the early days of colonization, the elites in the Periphery were colonizers who were either administrators or settlers, but this has changed in the neo-colonialism era today where the elites in the Periphery are indigenous people who have been educated in the Centre countries and in the Centre language, and maintain strong links with the Centre. Galtung argues that in the future neo-neo-colonialism which is the next phase of imperialism, language, and in this case the English language through international communication, will be the greatest facilitator of the interactions between the Centre and Periphery (Phillipson, n.d).
In his imperialism theory, Galtung also explains that linguistic penetration in the periphery would act as a replacement of the old crude colonial tactics. Language is the major means that is used in communicating ideas and neo-neo-colonialism is enforces its control by ideas. Governments and different governmental organizations are considered to play a role in the promotion of the dominant language. Based on this underlying theory therefore, linguistic imperialism is equated to a type of imperialism and this is operational in all the types of imperialism for the major reason that language is the basis of contact and communication (Phillipson, n.d). It is thus possible to apply this theory to the teaching practice. Based on this theory, the use of English language only in teaching promotes the aspect of neo-colonialism. Neo-colonialism is often seen in negative light, thus the use of English only in class raises considerable controversies. Governments are also seen to promote the English imperialism. Therefore, for this to stop, the governments have a role to play in influencing education policies including the teaching method so that learning and teaching is not solely based on the English language.
Although the natives of all countries have their specific languages, most of them have ditched their native languages and settled for English or have developed a system through which all its citizens will learn English as a second language. For instance, the 2006 Australian census indicates that three-quarters of the Australians in the survey, about 15,581,325 Australians spoke English as opposed to only 561,413 who admitted to not being able to (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007a). Most countries have a large proportion of their population being fluent in English and this is considered to be highly beneficial to the country especially when it comes to international interactions. With only this in mind, then it becomes easy to argue that it is highly imperative and reasonable for there to exist a global language and in this case, English. Therefore, on the positive side, teaching and learning in the 21st century has to be done in English since this prepares students for employment in international organizations where English is the official language. However, while effecting this, teachers through the assistance of higher authorities in the education sector must ensure that they incorporate the native language so as not to promote English imperialism fully.
There exist different dangers of English imperialism at different levels. First, English imperialism promotes inequalities in linguistics. As a global language, English has resulted in the development of a category of an elite monolingual linguistic class that possesses dismissive attitudes towards other non-English languages (Gil, 2010). It is widely argued that linguistic imperialism makes the speakers of the global language to have an advantage when working and thinking in their language as opposed to other speakers of English as a second or foreign language. In the context of teaching, suppose a teacher is instructing in the English language in a multilingual class, it would imply that only those students that are native speakers of English will comprehend better, thus giving them an advantage over others (Phillipson, 1997). To address this therefore, the teaching method that a teacher adopts must be evaluated on this basis so that no student gets more advantage based on the teaching language.
It is argued that English imperialism might make people become lazy or disinterested in learning other foreign languages. As seen, currently, English is the major global language. Most international organizations and global corporations have English as their main official language. Popular culture globally also uses the English language. For this reason, many people might be satisfied that with their knowledge of English language they can interact with many people at the global level and even have the capacity to work for global organizations and corporations. In this regard therefore, they might become disinterested in learning additional foreign languages except English. This is because of their notion that another foreign language might be of less benefit to them compared to the English language. Apart from disinterest in learning other foreign languages apart from English, having English as a global language reduces the opportunities of people to learn other foreign languages. For this reason, teaching other foreign languages that are non-English might receive fewer students compared to teaching English as a foreign language (Hamel, 2005). In the teaching practice, teachers must ensure that students are not restricted to only the English language. Instead, teaching must incorporate other languages. This is because although English is an international language, learning other languages is also essential today.
English imperialism also has implications for teaching especially with regard to the aspect of “linguistic power.” Those people that are natives of a global language and in this case English are better placed to as compared to those people that speak English as a second or foreign language. For instance, as seen, in a class that is taught in English, students that do not have English as their mother tongue might take long to assimilate different readings and instructions in English compared to their counterparts who are native English speakers (Crystal, 2003). Another example is in the field of science. The scientists that are native speakers of English might have an easy time reading and assimilating different scientific reports compared to those scientists that have learnt and speak English as a second language. This will therefore, reduce the level of speed between the two categories of scientists. Those scientists that are native speakers of English will thus come out as being more creative compared to their counterparts who speak English as a second language. In a class taught in English therefore, the students that are native speakers of English might perform better than those that are not native speakers of English (Crystal, 2003).
Although the use of English as a global language has different disadvantages and major implications for teaching, this situation can be turned around mainly through paying more attention to language learning. Teaching of a global language should commence early enough when a child starts their full time education and it should be maintained continuously and be well funded (Crystal, 2003). This will increase the level of linguistic competence of those people that are not native speakers of the English language. This powerful bilingualism will make the non-native speakers of the English language to be indistinguishable from the native speakers of English. In this case therefore, the major challenges and disadvantages that English imperialism is associated with will greatly diminish in the world (Crystal, 2003). It is quite evident that when children are born, they have the capacity for bilingualism, thus are in the best position to learn different languages. However, this ability diminishes in children as they grow and advance to their teenage years. In the teaching practice, teachers must teach the English language to the non-English students starting when a child is still young. This way, the disadvantages of English imperialism will be alleviated.
English imperialism also has implications on other languages and this is explained in the context of linguistic death. There are speculations that the emergence of a global language brings the possibility of making other minority languages to disappear and cease to exist. Throughout history it is shown that different languages in thousands have experienced linguistic death. Linguistic death will occur when one ethnic group dominates and assimilates other minority ethnic groups and the minority groups are forced to adopt the native language of the dominant ethnic group (Gil, 2010). This is quite evident today even as different indigenous languages are being lost especially in parts of Africa, Australia, North America, Brazil, and Indonesia. It is estimated that in the next century, about a half of the living languages in the world today will experience linguistic death (Crystal, 2003). A teaching method that incorporates and promotes other languages is thus effective in preventing linguistic deaths.
English language is considered a source of turbulence in different cultures thus cultural imperialism. For instance, Nguyen (2008) argues that English is the cause of disruptions that are currently experienced in the Vietnamese traditional culture. The Vietnamese culture was highly influenced by the Chinese Confucian Philosophy, but this has been affected by English imperialism. In the traditional Vietnamese traditional culture, students were supposed to uphold a high level of morality, obey their teachers, not argue with their teachers openly, and generally exhibit a high level of respect to their teachers. In Vietnam today, Nguyen (2003) observes that students no longer uphold the Confucian teachings and can comfortably argue with their teachers openly and even demand a right to their opinions. English imperialism thus transmits aspects of the western culture to students, and this influences their morality, perceptions of family, as well as interactions with other people. Teachers during teaching must thus apply effective strategies that will promote English language together with other native languages without causing cultural turbulence.
English imperialism has on the other hand resulted in the broadening of the minds and knowledge of students in different countries. Students today are able to gather wide knowledge and extensive information on the internet, books, films, media, and magazines, among others, as most of these have their content in the English language. With the coming of the internet, it is possible to get any kind of information that one desires. Therefore, students can access, analyze, and use whatever information they have for different purposes. With such information and knowledge, students become more independent and open and critical thinkers who are able to deal with different issues they experience. In addition, students are able to learn about the different cultures of the world as well as different places thus making them think and act globally. It becomes easier for teachers to deal with such enlightened students who are well-informed even as this makes the teaching process more effective (Crystal, 2003).
A final implication that English imperialism has on teaching is that with the rise of English as a global language in the second half of the twentieth Century, there has already been the rise of different “new Englishes” around the world including India, Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines, and Malaysia, e.t.c. Even though English has risen as a major international language, there have risen many different new varieties of English across the world, and this is considered to undermine the effectiveness of English as a global language today. Fernández (2005) argues that when used at the international level, English should cease to be considered as British English and somehow, this is the price that English language has to pay for being a global language in the present era. Standard British English or standard American English is no longer the international language. The implication for teaching comes in with regard to the establishment of the standards for English language. Since different groups of people in the world use and accommodate the English language to their meaning and benefits, it is thus justifiable that teachers across the world should also be given the mandate to develop the standards of the English language they use in their specific teaching method. Nonetheless, the existing varieties of English pose as a challenge to teaching.
In conclusion, English imperialism is confirmed to be existent today even as the use of English has spread in most countries of the world which use English as their official language. However, English imperialism is considered with significant controversies based especially on the aspect of human rights. Galtung’s imperialism theory is the main underlying theory of English imperialism as this explains linguistic imperialism as a type of imperialism and how it operates in the world. This paper has shown the implications that English imperialism has on students, other languages, other cultures, and how this together holds implications for teaching. Even though this has pointed out different adverse effects of English imperialism on teaching, one way of reducing the severity of this is considered introducing learning of English at an earlier stage of development of a child.
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Phillipson, R. (1997). Realities and Myths of Linguistic Imperialism, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 18(3): 238-248, DOI: 10.1080/01434639708666317
Phillipson, R. (2010). Realities and Myths of Linguistic Imperialism. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 18:3, 238-248, DOI: 10.1080/01434639708666317
Phillipson, R. (n.d). Linguistic Imperialism: theoretical foundations. Retrieved from
Rohmah, Z. (2005). English as a global language: Its historical past and future. Bahasa Dan Seni, Tahun 33(1): 106-117, Retrieved from