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Center for Multiple Languages and Literacies Teachers College, Columbia University & International Linguistic Association. Language rights in a neo-imperial world: English for uniting or dividing? Robert Phillipson Faculty of Languages, Communication, and Cultural Studies,

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Center for Multiple Languages and LiteraciesTeachers College, Columbia University& International Linguistic Association

Language rights in a neo-imperial world:

English for uniting or dividing?

Robert Phillipson

Faculty of Languages, Communication,

and Cultural Studies,

Copenhagen Business School

  • present examples of how English is expanding
  • how language rights are administered in the European Union
  • identify linguistic human rights and the need for them
  • assess how far higher education globally is becoming English-medium
  • the commodification of (higher) education
  • English as a cuckoo invading European language nests
recapitulating tc conference 2004 promoting linguistic apartheid
Recapitulating TC Conference 2004Promoting linguistic apartheid?

Should everyone speak English?

The Great English divide. In Europe, speaking the lingua franca separates the haves

from the have-nots.

Business Week (European edition)

13 August 2001

English unites global elites and divides them off from the rest of the population

linguistic neo imperialism rothkopf in praise of cultural imperialism foreign policy 1997
Linguistic neo-imperialism. Rothkopf, “In praise of cultural imperialism”, Foreign policy, 1997

It is in the economic and political interest of the United States to ensure that if the world is moving toward a common language, it be English; that if the world is moving toward common telecommunications, safety, and quality standards, they be American; and that if common values are being developed, they be values with which Americans are comfortable. These are not idle aspirations. English is linking the world…

The global expansion of English has been a key dimension of foreign policy since 1945.

les anglo saxons
Les Anglo-Saxons

The British and Americans are divided by a common language.

George Bernard Shaw

… the British Empire and the United States who, fortunately for the progress of mankind, happen to speak the same language and very largely think the same thoughts…

Winston Churchill, 24 August 1941, after signing The Atlantic Charter with President Roosevelt

the atlantic charter 1941 extracts
The Atlantic Charter, 1941 (extracts)

… the USA and the UK…

  • seek no aggrandisement, territorial or other,
  • desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the people concerned,
  • respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live…
  • all states to have equal access to trade and raw materials …
  • abandonment of the use of force … disarmament
Paradox 1: in ’constructing’ Europe, there is a poor fit between the national interest and national languages

The European Union is at root a Franco-German project

BUT French and German are being marginalised nationally and internationally, and

the use of English is increasing throughout continental Europe and in EU institutions.

EU also follows a US agenda

Our nation is chosen by God and commissioned by history to be a model to the world. George W. Bush, 2000

The rest of the world is best served by the USA pursuing its own interests because American values are universal.

Condoleezza Rice, 2000

english a lingua franca
English a ’lingua franca’ ?
  • lingua economica?

corporate neoliberalism = americanisation

  • lingua emotiva? Hollywood, music
  • lingua cultura? asubject in general education
  • lingua bellica? Afghanistan, Iraq, arms trade
  • lingua academica? publications, conferences, medium for content learning
  • lingua tyrannosaura? subtractive in specific domains
paradox 2 the rhetoric of diversity is pitted against the unfree market
Paradox 2: the rhetoric of diversityis pitted against the unfree market

EU treaties and rhetoric proclaim support for multilingualism,

and cultural and linguistic diversity

BUT in practice

  • the Draft Constitution is weak on language rights
  • laissez faire in the linguistic market
  • political paralysis in language policy analysis and formation at the supranational level
  • formal equality between 20 official languages, but French was earlier primus inter pares and English is the current linguistic cuckoo.
eu language services regulation 1 1958 and language rights
EU language services. Regulation 1, 1958and language rights
  • EU enlargement from 15 to 25 member states in 2004 involved the addition of 9 languages.
  • All legislation, directives etc are promulgated in 20 languages (soon 21) which have equal legal validity.
  • Drafts should be circulated, and negotiated, in these: cf in-house preparation by eurocrats.
  • Interpretation is ’on demand’ for an average of 50 meetings per working day.
  • The amount of interpretation to and from Danish has dropped by 40% since 2003.
are all language rights linguistic human rights tsk
Are all language rights linguistic HUMAN rights? (TSK)
  • NO. Only language rights which are so fundamental that every individual has them because that individual is a human being, so inalienable that no state is allowed to violate them, and necessaryfor individuals and groups to live a dignified life, are LHRs.
  • Other language rights may be enrichment-oriented (e.g. necessary for good jobs, mobility, etc). These are sometimes called instrumental language rights (by lawyers).
language rights
Language rights
    • Nationally – the state
  • L1 and L2 instruction, public services, media
  • Territorial and/or individual
  • Positive duties on national governments
  • International human rights law.? e.g. European Charter for Minority or Regional Languages

B. Supranationally: EU system (inter-governmental – neofederal?)

    • Legal acts, policy texts
    • Draft texts, negotiations, Parliament
    • Interaction with the citizen, correspondence, website

The right to identify with the mother tongue(s) and to have this identification accepted and respected by others (Skutnabb-Kangas late 1960s-2000)

  • Nowhere does human nature appear less admirable than in the relationships which exist between peoples.
  • I put my trust in the theory of what the relationships between men and states ought to be according to the principle of right… a universal federal state… a permanent universal peace by means of a so-called European balance of power is a pure illusion.

Immanuel Kant, Theory and practice, 1792

misuse of ideologies of cultural difference
Misuse of ideologies of cultural difference
  • Few things have done more harm than the belief on the part of individuals and groups (or tribes or states or nations or churches) that he or she or they are in sole possession of the truth… It is a terrible and dangerous arrogance to believe that you alone are right…

’through an ocean of blood to the Kingdom of Love’ (Robespierre, Hitler, Stalin, religious wars…)

Isaiah Berlin, Liberty, (1981) 2002

  • Bush?
a moral approach acccepting difference is the route to peace
A moral approach: acccepting differenceis the route to peace

Nothing has proved harder in the history of civilization than to see God, or good, or human dignity in those whose language is not mine, whose skin is a different colour, whose faith is not my faith and whose truth is not my truth… A god of your side as well as mine must be a God of justice who stands above us both, teaching us to make space for one another, to hear each other’s claims and to resolve them equitably… Only such a God would teach mankind to make peace other than by conquest and conversion, and as something nobler than practical necessity.

Jonathan Sacks, The dignity of dfference. How to avoid the clash of civilizations, 2002, 65

paradox 3 english yes but broken english
Paradox 3: English, yes,but ’broken English’

Newsweek interviewer, 31 May 2004:

A unified Europe in which English, as it turns out, is the universal language?

Romano Prodi:

It will be broken English, but it will be English.

Stigma? The top language? Euro-English?

Linguistic hierarchy on the Commission website

= institutional linguicism

the continental european context
The continental European context

Gardt & Hüppauf (eds.), Globalization and the future of German, Mouton de Gruyter, 2004:

It is hard to find another European society in which so many people are ready and even eager to give up their national identity (…)

it is the cultural status and the role of German for expressing human ideals, insights and aspirations which is at stake (…)

a self-inflicted tragedy. Hans Joachim Meyer

european auto colonisation
European auto-colonisation

The contemporary dominance of English was initially due to the way Britain and the USA promoted the language. But currently it is the non-English-speaking nations which are consolidating this state of dependence (exemplified by English-medium textbooks in higher education) vis-à-vis the Anglo-American language, and as a result, their dependence on the Anglo-Saxon world. Dependence in science, then culture, then economic, then political!

It is self-imposed servitude and not the result of any objective fact that cannot be changed.

Charles Durand

english co official in european states
English co-official in European states?
  • Fiction: Kurt Gawlitta, Der verkaufte Mund. Paderborn: IBF Verlag, 2004.
  • Non-fiction:

Greece: English co-official?

Denmark: in political debate in the daily paper Politiken, 18 September 2005:

The Radicals want to make Denmark bilingual. They suggest that English should be given the same position as Danish in public services. ”Everyone should have the right to address public authorities and receive a reply in English. This is a logical and efficient way of tackling globalisation…” says the Radical leader, Marianne Jelved.

enforced linguistic assimilation in a neo liberal scandinavian state
Enforced linguistic assimilationin a (neo?)liberal Scandinavian state
  • Immigrants have no right to learn the mother tongue in Danish state education.
  • There may be an opportunity to follow L1 classes extra-murally.
  • Immigrants have no right to use the mother tongue in public services (e.g. employment offices, hospitals).
  • In conflict with EU official policies, there is not in public life a ’language-friendly environment’. ’Bilingual’ children are seen as a problem.
EU CommissionPromoting language learning and linguistic diversity: An Action Plan 2004-2006, 24 July 2003
  • learning one lingua franca alone is not enough
  • English alone is not enough
  • In non-anglophone countries recent trends to provide teaching in English may have unforeseen consequences on the vitality of the national language.
EU CommissionPromoting language learning and linguistic diversity: An Action Plan 2004-2006, 24 July 2003

The range of languages for learning:

  • the smaller languages as well as the larger ones
  • regional, minority and migrant languages as well as those with ’national’ status, and
  • the languages of our major trading partners throughout the world.
addressing language policy issues
Addressing language policy issues?
  • French MEPs: Un sujet qui peut être qualifié d’explosif en Europe.
  • The Convention on the Future of Europe ignored proposals by several NGOs for strengthening language policy and language rights, and reforming institutional procedures.
  • Social scientists analysing European integration generally neglect language policy - Sue Wright, 2000: ’a conspiracy of silence’ -although issues of deliberative democracy and trans-European civil society and public sphere are central.
  • Journalistic coverage of language issues tends to be ill-informed.
eu policies for europe 2010 a partnership for european renewal
EU policies for ‘Europe 2010:A partnership for European renewal’

a Europe of freedom

  • knowledge economy
  • European education and research area
  • European public space
  • European Justice Space

Europe as polysemic: toponym, politonym, ethnonym, econonym, or linguonym?

Europe not a meaningful concept for the young

Equally opaque: freedom, education, research

the bologna process the internationalisation of higher education
The Bologna process, the internationalisation of higher education

45 member states, Australia and the USA as observers, EU Commission as participant and funder

  • Bologna 1999 … objectives - within the framework of our institutional competences and taking full respect of the diversity of cultures, languages, national education systems and of University autonomy - to consolidate a European Higher Education Area at the latest by 2010
  • Bergen 19-20 May 2005: structural uniformity, quality, mobility, recognition, joint degrees, attractiveness, competitiveness

nothing on bilingual degrees or multilingualism

internationalisation = English-medium education?

president london metropolitan university cam cambridge alumni magazine easter 2005
President, London Metropolitan UniversityCAM Cambridge Alumni Magazine, Easter 2005

”As a result of the Bologna process, 45 European countries have agreed to implement a Bachelor/Masters degree structure. The concept of the bi-lingual university is already being widely discussed in eastern Europe;

you can now do a medical degree in English in Hungary , for example.

And that’s a trend that is going to continue.”

  • The emergence of English as the international language of higher education has had an enormous impact, agrees Liping Zhou …

who warns against an excessive focus on English.

the view from central europe mikl s kontra
The view from central Europe,Miklós Kontra
  • The concept of bilingual universities is NOT widely discussed (conference last autumn), and none exist (e.g. for linguistic minorities in Carpathian basin).
  • The medical degree in English in Hungary pre-dates the fall of the iron curtain. Target population is foreigners, mainly Third World, now broader, since the quality is good, and cheaper than in western Europe. Membership of the EU may change all this.
  • Teaching through English (and German) is pure money-making.

European Association for International Education, Occasional paper 17, July 2005.Michael Woolf, President, Foundation for International Education, London

I gotta use words when I talk to you:

English and international education.

  • internationalisation does not need to entail learning or operating in a foreign language, i.e. English alone is enough,
  • privatisation and the law of the market are desirable, i.e. higher education should no longer be seen as a common good,
  • English can be detached from its cultural origins and studied merely as a tool, i.e. the language is promoted as though it is culturally neutral and detached from the globalising, internationalising forces that impel the language forward,
  • alternative views are based on ‘worn and tired assumptions’ that contribute to ‘atrophy, irrelevance and stagnation’. Us lot?
Christensen, Nicolette deVille 2005. The role of English language in international education: an American perspective
  • “The citizens of the world have positioned English language as a common bond not just for Anglo nations, but for the entire world, so allow English to be the language in which we can cultivate global literacy.”
  • reciprocity in collaborative ventures involving a US sending university and a European receiving university is “to strive for academic excellence as defined by the sending institution.”
  • Cuckoos are parasitical, their fledglings the sole survivors in the nests they occupy. But are they environmentally sustainable?

Pirkko Vartiainen, The legitimacy of evaluation. A comparison of Finnish and English institutional evaluations of higher education. Frankfurt a M: Peter Lang, 2004.

University autonomy is effectively the norm in Finland (a country with an exceptionally successful economy and school system), even if largely funded by the state, whereas in England it is the privilege of elite universities, because of the coercive evaluation procedures, designed to rank goodies and baddies, and reward them accordingly, rather than seeing evaluation as an ongoing process that can strengthen institutional planning, mission and quality.

The ‘international quality’ that all universities are supposed to strive for is not a gold standard but one that can be reached by many routes, and that coercive policies counteract.

all one s eggs in one basket nest and thanks to bourdieu
All one’s eggs in one basket/nest?(and thanks to Bourdieu)
  • some universities have greater financial capital,
  • which they can convert into intellectual capital, research productivity and productive research environments,
  • using and generating linguistic capital in the globally most marketable language, English.


  • linguistic monocultures are not sustainable
  • ALL universities need to build up multilingual linguistic capital
  • further analysis requires conceptual and empirical clarification: Is English a lingua academica or a lingua tyrannosaura? Are Danish/Estonian/French/German/… being cuckolded?
the economics of language transfers to the uk ireland
The economics of language:transfers to the UK & Ireland

The current dominance of English results in quantifiable

  • privileged market effects
  • communication savings effects
  • language learning savings effects
  • alternative human capital investment effects
  • legitimacy and rhetorical effects

Continental countries are transferring to the UK & Ireland at least € 10bn per year, more probably about € 16 to 17 bn a year (cf budget rebate of € 5bn annually)

Grin, François, à paraître/forthcoming2005: L'enseignement des langues étrangères comme politique publique. Rapport au Haut Conseil de l'évaluation de l'école, Paris, n° 19,

international students in uk universities and colleges broadening horizons 2004 www ukcosa org uk
International Students in UK Universities and colleges: Broadening Horizons, 2004
  • non-English students have difficulty in getting British students to recognize that their ways of being and perceiving are equally relevant: UK students ‘always feel that they are on the right side in terms of opinion, and in the way of thinking’, cited by Hilary Footitt in the Newsletter of the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies, University of Southampton, 8, February 2005, <>.
  • The study of foreign languages in higher education in UK needs strengthening so as to ensure that ‘internationalisation’ is not merely seen as ‘cultural colonising’.
the invading cuckoo domain loss
The invading cuckoo: domain loss
  • Domains: commerce (corporate language), research publication (monolingualism), higher education (medium of instruction), media (Hollywood McDonaldisation), EU affairs, …
  • pilot studies of the Nordic languages: Höglin, R. (2002) Engelska språket som hot och tillgång i Norden. Copenhagen: Nordiska Ministerrådet.
  • Domain loss: a seemingly innocuous term, deceptive, like ‘language spread’, implying a natural, agent-less process.
  • (Linguistic) capital accumulation by dispossession, (Harvey, The new imperialism, 2005, chapter 4). As in the commercial world in its global pursuit of markets and profit, some combination of internal motivation and external pressure contributes to this trend.
  • The extent of domain loss/dispossession is unknown.
factors contributing to the increased use of english in europe
Factors contributing to the increased use of English in Europe
  • English-only Europe? Challenging language policy, lists 10 structural, 5 ideological
  • many push and pull factors, glocalisation, multiple agents
  • different cosmologies in national linguistic cultures
  • diverse university & research world policies
  • immobility at the supranational EU level:

strengthen market forces and English, as do the working practices of the European Commission.

naidoo jamieson s review of higher education identifies three major trends globally 2005 44
Naidoo & Jamieson’s review of higher education identifies three majortrends globally (2005, 44)
  • 1. the public university as a public good is under attack,
  • 2. the tandem of GATS decreeing that education is a commodity and corporations converting this claim into reality,
  • 3. eLearning is facilitating these processes;

together these are ‘resulting in the gradual commodification of higher education’ (ibid.)

  • 2000 corporate universities worldwide, including 200 ‘for-profit higher education corporations in Poland; 600 in Malaysia; and 625 in the USA’

Ninnes, Peter & Meeri Hellstén (eds.) 2005. Internationalizing higher education. Critical explorations of pedagogy and policy, Hong Kong: Comparative Education Research Centre, The University of Hong Kong, and Springer.

proposed language rights of nordic residents
(proposed) Language rights of Nordic residents
  • to learn the language of society as a whole
  • comprehension of Scandinavian languages
  • languages of international utility, like English, Spanish, French etc.
  • maintaining and developing the mother tongue

goals – comprehension – parallel competence – multi- and plurilingualism – the Nordic region as a language model

nederlans taalunie website
Nederlans Taalunie website
  • Essential to guarantee that Dutch language can remain a ‘full-scale’ language (…) The first and foremost challenge … is to see that Dutch can remain a language of instruction in higher education.
  • Students should have the right to use Dutch in examinations.
  • National language policy cannot do all the work – the framework is European - we need to convince governments and the European institutions of the necessity of a real European language policy.
cuckoos must be kept in check by the vitality of the species on which they are parasitical
Cuckoos must be kept in check by the vitality of the species on which they are parasitical
  • Universitiesmust remain a public good and resist commodification and coercive policies.
  • Many languages must continue to serve as lingua economica.
  • English as a lingua academica must be in balance with strong local language ecologies, which presupposes strong national language policies.
  • The education system must evolve strategies for students and staff to become effectively trilingual (at least) in a diverse range of languages.
living with cuckoos
Living with cuckoos

There are 127 species of cuckoo worldwide, of which 42 in Europe. This matches pretty well with Englishes worldwide, and in Europe – except that new species of English are evolving rapidly. We need to learn to live with them, and promote biological and linguistic diversity.

All language communities have the right to preserve their linguistic and cultural heritage, Dalai Lama

Words are no deeds, William Shakespeare


The distinction between NECESSARY and ENRICHMENT-ORIENTED rights is a sociological not legal distinction(TSK)Language rights are of concern to- national and international law- political science- multilingual education- sociolinguistics, BUTthis is unusual in the social scienceswhereas in the political world (e.g. Council of Europe, OSCE, EU membership criteria) minority language rights figure prominently