My worries were triggered by two shocking revelations: one survey conducted by an NGO reported that the extensive failure in Namibia to use English as the main medium of education has cost its education sector. The second one is on the dominant myth that learning English is the only gateway to succeeding in life in Pakistan. Here, the rich class not only invests in taking their children to English taught schools but also insist of them speaking the language at home. The level of education and brightness in Pakistan is measured by fluency in English, and of course without taking into account the correct usage of grammar or general knowledge levels of the subjects (Smith, 1981).
I am also strongly concerned about a third story, that in November 2011, the US unveiled partnerships to enhance English learning in the rest of the world. The government would provide English learning tools and media and bear all costs associated with those processes.
Of course the first question that rings in mind is why would one language be imposed and influence to a great extent the lives of users of another language? How do you explain such a phenomenon and is it justifiable? My research wishes to provide a broad concept of how and why linguist imperialism exists and probably lay a guideline on its implication to the global society.
According to Phillipson, 1990, Linguistic imperialism, or language imperialism, refers to "the transfer of a dominant language to other people". The transfer is basically as a result of power, military power in the ancient eras but more or less economic might of nations in the modern world. The language influence goes along with cultural influence.
To answer the question of whether language imperialism actually thrives requires examination of the features of the local linguistic environment and linguistic hierarchy orders and preferences, the roles played by dominant languages, party benefitted most by the specific language policy and the implications of any developed courses of action (Bowers, 1992). This literature tries to address issues of why some languages predominate over others, the frameworks that necessitate such processes and their implications; with my research being keen on English as the most dominant language globally.
The concept of Linguistic Imperialism.Over the past centuries, political revolution has led to a fast paced emergence of linguistic imperialism all over the globe (Campbell, 1982). This can be seen in the Apartheid eras in South Africa where in 1976 black school children resisted the use of their native Afrikaans as the medium of education. They felt that the South African government would easily control them if they only had access to Afrikaner resources, in contrast to if they had access to a global language i.e. English. With this it could be perceived that dominant languages carry with them more light to people on global matters.
Bingson, 1995, explains that at various times, especially in colonial settings, where a dominant culture wanted to unify a territory under its control, language imperialism came into play. For instance, in Rome, Latin was originally used over a small portion in central Italy. With time it was imposed throughout Italy and later on other regions in Europe, largely displacing native languages previously spoken there.
Culture domination by some groups led to replacement or marginalization of regional languages. For example in the Far East the dominant Mandarin replaced minority Chinese varieties, in Africa, Malayo-Polynesian languages were replaced by Malay, in South America, Philippine languages were marginalized by Filipino and so on (Bowers, 1992).
Leadership impositions and the type of leadership style used under different social groups and especially in ancient monarchy states encouraged the rise of linguistic Imperialism. For example, under the Persian Empire, the language of the group that conquered served as the dominant one.
Phillipson, 1990, further illustrates how religious influence led to emergence of Linguistic imperialism. Latin was imposed in church processes and for learning, while arabization has eliminated many North African indigenous languages and limited the use of Coptic to religious purposes only. Roman Africa Latin, previously the dominant North African language was displaced by arabization.
National and international operations of a country on the other hand enhance linguistic imperialism with languages of more powerful economies being transferred to the subject nations.
Impacts/Implications of Linguistic Imperialism.Phillipson, 1990, argues that linguistic imperialism has provided a unifying global communication platform around the world. Today we have global languages taught and learnt in different parts of the world such as English, German, French and Chinese. This has become necessary due to increased need of international communication harmony between various countries in their extensive interactions.
Through Linguistic imperialism, political and legal frameworks of colonies have been based. We have seen many countries develop their regulations on those already formulated by their colonial masters, especially on the African continent, with British Laws being assimilated by British colonies, French laws by French colonies, German laws on German colonies and so on.
According to Bowers, 1992, it has also led to increased global economic growth and development. This is owed to the fact that imperialist languages are used as a medium for carrying out global trade and in formulating and implementing trade policies and processes.
Impacts of linguistic imperialism on culture are vividly evident on target countries. Western culture, for example, has invaded and eroded African cultural values and practices with native countries incorporating western civilization in their socio-cultural aspects (Bisong, 1995).
Through imperial languages the education processes worldwide have become smooth. They have been used as the main mediums of education in learning institutions with negligence to mother tongues and local cultural values being vividly evident. Smith, 1983, confirms the role of imperial languages in harmonizing education materials and resources, pointing out that that harmony would be rather difficult to achieve with the use of many different native languages.
It has also led to emergence of other bridge languages that arise due to mixing the dominant entry language with the native one. This is where the natives of a less dominant language incorporate the wording, expressions and influence of a dominant language to theirs. For instance, we can take the case of South Asian countries changed English versions: Hinglish in India, Singlish in Sri Lanka and Pinglish in Pakistan.
Campbell, 1982, on the other hand highlights that domination of one language at the extent of others, is a shortcoming of linguistic imperialism. This eventually translates to marginalization of the smaller languages and in extreme extents it leads to extinction of those languages. It is for this reason that UNESCO has for over 50 years encouraged the use of mother tongue.
Similarly Bingson, 1995, explains that it can lead to favoritism, in that, lets say if an aid project avails funds for one language at the expense of another and whereas both languages are core to the said nation, linguistic imperialism will be the only logical explanation for this, especially if the preferred language is associated with the donor country or is the former colonial language and is being used as a medium of education.
Similarly, linguistic imperialism diminishes the importance of some languages over others and therefore making their users less confident with their native languages (Bowers, 1992).
English imperialism.The insurgence of English as a global language is viewed as the peak of linguistic imperialism. The British power has, from ancient times, imposed its political, economic, social and cultural features by transferring its language to other nations and especially to its colonies (Smith, 1981). Today it has become inevitable since US- the world superpower- uses the same language.
According to Phillipson, 1990, dominance in English as a global language is reinforced by its qualities such as:
Extrinsic characteristics point out that English is well framed and structured and that it has many speakers and with a whole lot of trainers and teaching material.
Intrinsic features describe English language as self-sufficient and rich in vocabulary as well as grammar. This tends to explain the distinct features contained in English and absent in other languages:
- Functional qualities emphasize its usefulness as a global communication platform.
- Its economic utility enables people to operate technology.
- Its status is as symbol for material advance and efficiency.
- Its ideological function enhances its stand for modernity.
References.Bisong, J. 1995 (pp. 103-111). Language choice and cultural imperialism. Havard Press.
Bowers, R. 1992. Memories, metaphors, maxims, and myths: Language learning and cultural awareness. Pergamon Press.
Campbell, D., Ekniyom, P. Haque, A. and Smith, L. 1982. "Languages in international settings: problems and their implications." In L. Smith (Ed.) 1983.
Phillipson, R. 1992 (pp. 02 168); Linguistic imperialism: University of Sydney Press.
Smith, L. E. (Ed.). 1981. English for cross-cultural communication. Macmillan, London.
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