Is 'global' English a neoimperialist project?
Robert Phillipson and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas
Lecture jointly organised by the Centre for Languages and Literature
and Swedish South Asian Studies Network (SASNET) at Lund University.
Wednesday 15 February 2017.
Is 'global' English compatible with local language ecologies and principles of language rights, or a neoimperialist project?
The forces behind 'global' English and its increased use at all levels of education in many countries need critical scrutiny. English is fraudulently marketed by the British and American governments, with World Bank complicity, as though it is a universal 'basic skill'. It conflates English with development, and in reality aims at consolidating Anglo-American power. There are clear examples of this in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. This contemporary surge represents a variant of worldwide efforts to eliminate the languages of Indigenous peoples and linguistic minorities. Such policies can be seen as a crime against humanity and constituting linguistic genocide. Creating a balance between dominant languages, nationally and internationally, and maintaining the vitality of local, minority and Indigenous language ecologies and principles of linguistic human rights is a major challenge, in South Asian countries as elsewhere.
Video: Lecture by Robert Phillipson (0:00 - 33:30), Tove Skutnabb-Kangas (34:00 - 1:14:47)
See also: www.linguistic-rights.org → Events:
"Quelle(s) langue(s) pour une Europe démocratique?"
Robert Phillipson (Copenhagen Business School), Mehdi Boussebaa (University of Bath),
Helder De Schutter (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), Daniel Elmiger (Université de Genève).
ESF Research Networking Programme.
Responding to Complex Diversity in Europe and Canada (RECODE).
The politics of multilingualism: linguistic governance, globalisation and Europeanisation
Université de Genève, 19-20 June 2014
Worrying social trends reveal serious unjust and undemocratic features in 'democratic' societies. There are comparable problems in the management of EU affairs, including its multilingualism. The trends correlate with an increased use of English in globalisation, neoliberalism, and greater European integration. One can trace a transition from European colonisation worldwide, ostensibly justified by the Western myth of terra nullius, to worldwide penetration of American imperialism as a cultura nullius, in McDonaldisation processes in many social functions that accompany military and economic empire. English is now increasingly marketed as a necessity, internalised as though it serves all equally well, a lingua nullius. Some European Commission initiatives accord linguicist priority to English, or argue for it as a seemingly neutral lingua franca, in effect a lingua nullius. This obscures the forces behind the power of English. Its hegemony has serious implications for speakers of other languages and their cultures.
The operation of the supranational EU system, and of EU-funded activities in member states, builds on 'integration through law' (treaties) and the evolution of novel forms of linguistic governance. Judgements of the European Court of Justice not only interpret law but are teleological: they extend supranational law and the scope of the common market. A quite different example of the extension of English linguistic hegemony is the way EU administration of post-conflict Bosnia has failed to achieve its goal of creating a viable state, but has established English as a new language of power. Noble human rights aims are aspired to, but international relations are subordinate to the forces behind corporate empire, a project that unites the USA and EU, and that dovetails with a project to establish 'global English'. The failure to create more just societies and to substantiate deliberative democratic principles confirms the analysis of scholars who assess that 'international relations' are pathologically inadequate, and that we have reached the 'endtimes' of human rights. English in global and EU governance strengthens particular interests that are obscured by the myth of it as a lingua nullius. Existential language policy issues should not be consigned to the mercy of the market. [...]
Linguistic imperialism of and in the European Union
To appear in Revisiting the European Union as an empire
ed. Hartmut Behr and Jannis Stivachtis,
Critical European Studies, Routledge
The article tracks the transition from the transportation of European peoples and languages to other continents to the establishment of a world order underpinned by US military and economic might worldwide. The myth of 'terra nullius', unoccupied land outside Europe, has been succeeded by an expansion of the cultural universe of the USA (as a 'cultura nullius') and English. English is fraudulently marketed as a 'lingua nullius', as though it serves all equally well.
Linguistic imperialism permeates EU institutional activities and their outreach. Churchill explicitly advocated US and UK dominance globally through military, economic and language policies. Globalisation and global English are interlocking projects. The formation of the EU was a joint US and European project. The role of the European Court of Justice in advancing European integration and neoliberalism is documented. Many European Commission initiatives like the Bologna process strengthen English in continental Europe. This authoritarian executive managerialism is undemocratic. Linguistic imperialism has many push and pull variables. Loose reference to English as a 'lingua franca' in political and academic discourse conceals the role of English as the neoimperial language of the transnational global corporate class of US-NATO-EU empire. [...]
Forthcoming in Why English? Confronting the Hydra
Paualine Bunce, Robert Phillipson, Vaughan Rapatahana and T. Ruanni F. Tupas (eds.)
Bristol: Multilingual Matters
Until the 16th century, English was the language of an obscure island in northern Europe. Military aggression in Wales, Ireland, and Scotland was followed by vigorous attempts to eliminate all languages other than English throughout the British Isles, with only partial success. People of British origin who settled in the Americas and Australasia imposed similar policies, with disastrous consequences for local languages. This English Hydra is still vigorously alive worldwide. However, intriguingly, the monster is understood by many as a universal need in the modern world. This misunderstanding obscures the reality that English opens doors for the few and closes them for the many. English plays a central role in servicing a capitalist system that serves the interests of a tiny fraction of the world's population. The wealth of the transnational elite accumulates in ethically indefensible offshore banks, while the rest of the world attempts to survive onshore. In countries known as 'English-speaking', a label that airbrushes speakers of many other languages, the rich have become much richer in recent decades, while conditions for the rest of the population have deteriorated. The English-language Hydra services this injustice at home and abroad. [...]
Churchill's first major point is support for USA global dominance. It is camouflaged as 'world responsibility'. In 1943 the British Empire was seriously weakened, British success in the Second World War was dependent on the American war machine, and the British economy was dependent on massive loans from the USA.
Secondly, Churchill sees the UK and USA as linked by 'blood and history', blood in Churchill's case being a reference to his American mother. It is factually correct that links between the two countries have been close throughout history.
Churchill sees the two nations as united by 'law, language, and literature', exemplified by morality, justice, fair play, and support for the weak. Kipling is cited with approval, but Kipling had no illusions about injustice in the USA: he 'never got over the wonder of a people who, having extirpated the aboriginals of their continent more completely than any other modern race had done, honestly believed they were a godly New England community, setting examples to brutal Mankind'. Churchill was a great believer in the British Empire, and the right of the British and Americans to colonise other peoples.
Thirdly, he stresses that in the war effort, American, British and Canadian forces have a joint command. He proposes that this should continue after the war, and only cease once a global system for peace maintenance has been established. The United Nations was soon established for this purpose, but in a form that maintained the principle of the permanent members of the Security Council, including the USA and UK, playing a decisive role. This they still do.
The Bismarck quote about the UK and US being connected by a joint language, and this factor being of global significance, has been cited by many, but is probably apocryphal. There is in fact no evidence of him making this observation. The reality is that the UK has since 1945 been a client state of the USA, like most European countries. There has always been a lack of symmetry in the USA/UK 'special relationship', even if there was close coordination between Roosevelt and Churchill, Reagan and Thatcher, Bush II and Blair. The USA decides unilaterally what it wants, and the UK follows. Blair was misguided enough to believe he could influence Bush - he could not.
Fourthly, a key issue in Churchill's speech is his articulation of a plan for English as a globally dominant language worldwide: "This gift of a common tongue is a priceless inheritance, and it may well some day become the foundation of a common citizenship… I do not see why we should not try to spread our common language even more widely throughout the globe and, without seeking selfish advantage over any, possess ourselves of this invaluable amenity and birthright."
There are many points tucked into these sentences:
- Churchill's advocacy of a potential 'common citizenship' has affinities with the vision of Cecil Rhodes, who bequeathed the vast fortune made in the gold mines of South Africa to fund activities to cement links between the USA and UK. His legacy funds the Rhodes scholarships, which are still very active (Bill Clinton is a typical beneficiary). Rhodes' purpose was to promote Anglo-American dominance worldwide. He also envisaged the USA rejoining the United Kingdom that it broke away from in 1776. Churchill foresees the two societies merging, and pleads for more intensified contacts to facilitate this. In the same spirit he Margaret Thatcher think tank in Washington DC has as its goal the promotion of US/UK dominance worldwide.
- Churchill outlines a plan to spread the English language throughout the world, a task that is projected as being a 'birthright' of English speakers. This ridiculous claim is straightforward imperialism. He also claims that it would not represent gaining any advantage over others, which all evidence of British and American colonisation worldwide contradicts.
- He sees 'Basic English' as a key means of achieving the global spread of English, this simplified form of the language being a stepping-stone towards command of the full language and the interests it represents. To flatter Harvard University, Churchill praises it for promoting Basic English, although the key person doing this was in fact a British scholar, I. A. Richards, an influential literature professor, who taught at both Harvard and Cambridge. Richards also strongly argued that learning English was a key route to people thinking like the British (see my Linguistic Imperialism Continued, 2009, pages 114-116 and 168 for a detailed analysis, as well as similar analysis in Linguistic imperialism, 1992, pages 166-169). Basic English never caught on seriously, but since the 1950s the promotion and expansion of English worldwide has been a key dimension of American and British policy.
- Churchill projects worldwide English as though the language would serve all equally well - which is manifestly not the case - and he specifically envisages the promotion of English being integrated with the peace-keeping institutions of the future.
The key themes of the entire speech - UK/US unity, military collaboration, plans for global peace-keeping, US/UK global dominance and global English - all lead to this conclusion: "Such plans offer far better prizes than taking away other people's provinces or lands or grinding them down in exploitation. The empires of the future are the empires of the mind." Churchill was able to accurately anticipate how different the world would be after World War Two. He argues that Britain and the USA should seize the initiative in influencing how the world would be shaped. Much of the evidence since 1945 indicates that Churchill's ideas have had a decisive influence on the modern world.
In 1950 Churchill was awarded an honorary doctorate by another university, the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. The declared reasons for granting the award were Churchill's accomplishments as a historian and his key role in battling against Hitler in the Second World War. This ultimately ensured the end of five years of German occupation of Denmark.
The speech that Churchill gave in Copenhagen was very different from what he said at Harvard in 1943. He makes profound observations about the role of the university:
"The first duty of a university is to teach wisdom, not to train, and to confirm character and not impart technicalities. We want a lot of engineers in the modern world, but we do not want a world of engineers. We want some scientists, but we must make sure that science is our servant and not our master… No amount of technical knowledge can replace the comprehension of the humanities or the study of history and philosophy.
The advantages of the nineteenth century, the literary age, have been largely put aside by this terrible twentieth century with all its confusion, exhaustion, and bewilderment of mankind. This is a time when a firm grip on all the essential verities and values of humanity and civilization should be the central care of the universities of Europe and the world".
Alas, this humanist vision of the role of universities has been gravely undermined in recent decades. Governments are not concerned with "wisdom". Following the example of the USA and UK, governments worldwide are increasingly forcing universities to graduate technocrats and technicians who are ignorant of "history and philosophy", not to seek wisdom or think independently. Churchill's engineers have been replaced by economists committed to neoliberalism, as have politicians. The USA and UK are not committed to peace-keeping but to wars of aggression in conflict with international law. The empires of the present - in which English continues to play a decisive role - are inhumane.
Renato Corsetti interviews Robert Phillipson about European Union language policy in the light of his 2003 book "English-only Europe? Challenging language policy" (translated by István Ertl into Esperanto, 2004).
Please note that the interview was conducted on Skype. This explains the difference in volume between the two speakers, and the slow speed at which Robert Phillipson was speaking.
Entrevista a Robert Phillipson
Catedràtic emèrit en el departament d'estudis internacionals del
llenguatge i lingüísitica computacional, a la Copenhagen Business School
(UOC - Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, 2010)
The principles for enabling children to become fully proficient bilinguals through schooling are well known. Even so, most children from minorities – indigenous, tribal, the marginalised – are not provided with appropriate mother-tongue based education. Experts from many parts of the world show how it can be done successfully. The book presents general principles in depth and case studies of successfully meeting the challenges of minority education in Canada and the USA, northern Europe, Peru, Africa, India, Nepal and elsewhere in Asia. Analysis by leading scholars in the field shows the importance of building on local experience. Sharing local solutions globally can lead to better theory, and more social justice and equality through education.
ROJ TV (Kurdish satellite TV), Ruwange, 15 08 2005
Interview with Dr. Robert Phillipson:
Languages in European Union, Turkey's quest for EU membership
and the state of Kurdish language.
Voiceover in Sorani Kurdish کوردی (Kurdî)