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Biplob Prodhan
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Define Linguistic Imperialism. Discuss the role of English Language Teaching in Linguistic Imperialism. [N.U. 2016)


Ans. The term “linguistic imperialism” was coined in the 1930s as part of a critique of Basic English. It was later reintroduced by linguist Robert Phillipson in his monograph “Linguistic Imperialism” (Oxford University Press, 1992). In that study, Phillipson offered this working definition of English linguistic imperialism: “the dominance asserted and maintained by the establishment and continuous reconstitution of structural and cultural inequalities between English and other languages.” Phillipson viewed linguistic imperialism as a subtype of linguicism.

The study of linguistic imperialism entails analyzing the policies by which dominant languages, nationally and internationally, have been consolidated and what the consequences are for other languages. The presence of European languages worldwide reflects language policy – as a key dimension of colonial empires-Anglo American, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish-both in countries where Europeans settled and in exploitation colonies. This entry presents the key constituents of linguistic imperialism together with some critiques of it. It gives examples of the way English was promoted in the UK and USA and how European languages were exported and consolidated worldwide, showing the devastating consequences for other cultures and languages.

In the postcolonial age, the pedagogy promoted by the UK, the USA, and the World Bank for the learning of English was founded on five fallacies: the monolingual fallacy, the native speaker fallacy, the early start fallacy, the maximum exposure fallacy, and the subtractive fallacy. Elite formation in the age of globalization and neoliberalism also takes place in mono-lingual “international” schools, which are spreading worldwide. The ways in which English is privileged in education systems, and discourses justifying it, need critical scrutiny, as do the language policies of the European Union. Policies that strengthen linguistic diversity are needed to counteract linguistic imperialism. There are many places where linguistic imperialism is in full force, such as in Turkey and China.

It can be argued that a language program developed by the dominant culture, which provides learners with a different way of life, value and modes of thinking, brings enrichment. Learners can gain a wider perspective and their reasoning ability develops. They can systems become more open-minded, tolerant and flexible. Their cross- cultural understanding develops which might also bring economic advantages and opportunity for social mobility. Being equipped with the language, value system and mode of thinking of the dominant culture helps individuals attain socioeconomic power. It also helps them to be successful in the dominant culture, and provides them with various opportunities (education, etc.). It also has some societal advantages. Since the norms of that system are set by the dominant culture, it forces the dominated culture to meet those standards, encouraging social development. It also gives the dominated culture access to the dominant culture’s science and technology to be used for improving itself.

Eventually, it can also help itself produce its own technology, as in the case of Japan at the turn of the century. Furthermore, it can increase communication among cultures, fosters cross-cultural understanding, and thus leading to the achievement of global peace. However, any prescribed, universal and imported model is far from considering this reality. It does not analyze the needs, characteristics, attitudes, values and global POV of the native culture to design a specific language education plan that can work for that specific culture. It neither takes into account national and international goals, policies and relations, not considers the availability of resources. In short, such a policy is far from determining the language education goals of that specific culture based on the analysis of the nature and the context of language education. Naturally, such a policy, which does not seek the factors mentioned above, may not meet the needs, demands, and goals of a Society, with the result that there will be a mismatch between the prescribed language education program and a native culture. Since it is based on the dominant culture’s norms, this policy is unlikely to work in another context (Pennycook, 1989). In this case, as Brown (1995) and Richards (2001) point out, such an application brings failure rather than success, and the limited economic resources and human power of that culture continue to be wasted.


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Biplob Prodhan
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