Language Education Policy Studies
An International Network
New members welcome!

Linguistic Imperialism 

The historical economic, political, cultural and military dominance of Britain and the US has made English become a global language for business and diplomacy. Scholars of linguistics and human rights call it “linguistic imperialism ”(Phillipson, 1992) referring to a dominant language killing other indigenous languages often through designing and implementing effective language education policy that favors English. It is a complicated and interdisciplinary issue in intersecting fields, such as language education policy, education, and applied linguistics. Robert Phillipson (Ricento, 1999) is thought to be the first scholar who published work pertaining to linguistic imperialism systematically and comprehensively. In Linguistic Imperialism Phillipson (1992) examined how English became dominant and the cultural and social conditions that make it possible through theoretical, historical, and ideological discourse analysis. Phillipson (2008) analyzed the discourse of language policy enacted by the British Council and the World Bank and points out how policy makers make the hegemonic position of English possible. Phillipson’s definition of “linguistic imperialism ” is as follows: Linguistic imperialism is the process by which the dominance of English is asserted and maintained by the establishment and continuous reconstitution of structural and cultural inequalities between English and other languages. (p. 47)

Since the initial study, some researchers debate the function of linguistic imperialism. Those favoring linguistic imperialism claim that English as a “lingua franca” facilitates cooperation on the country, regional, and global level, eliminating conflicts in culture and ideology. They hail spreading English and position it as a instrument that brings  “internationalization”,“globalization” and “modernization” (Phillipson, 1998). On the other hand, while most scholars align English with globalization and believe that economic growth is generated from studying English as second language, a case study of Japan from the 1970s to early 2012 draws a different conclusion (Kobayashi, 2013). The research finds that English doesn’t have a direct and obvious influence on national economic growth. The incongruence between world-class economic success and substandard English popularity in Japan is an interesting case that inspires other countries, especially developing countries where English education is seen as a necessary tool of stimulating economic development. Even if the relationship between language education and national growth in Japan is just a case, not universal, the role of English education in Japan provides a distinctive view of treating English education. While other countries of Asia, such as China and Korea are sending more and more excellent youths to the United States, Japan is recruiting foreigners to Japan.


Other scholars are concerned with endangered languages and inequality between English and the indigenous language (Lal Basu, 2013). With native tongues threatened by dominant languages, language diversity is being damaged. Moreover, the national identity represented by language and heritage civilization is threatened. In these views, scholars think of language as not only an instrument of communication but also a marker of identity representing unique culture and civilization. The former means the gradual loss of national identity and the latter strengthens national identity through monolingual home-education.


Linguistic imperialism assumes the “active promotion of the language of by the dominant class as an active expression of power of the powerful over the powerless. (Phillipson, 1992). Phillipson’s theory provides critique of the historical spread of English as an international language and how it continues to maintain its dominance over the world. English is the language of international air control. Three quarters of academic journals are first published in English and 85 percent of global international organizations use English as an official language. English linguistic imperialism involves not only ideological domination of English but also material domination over other languages.


There are different views of the source of linguistic imperialism. According to Crystal (1997:1), linguistic imperialism may take militarily powerful nation to establish language but takes economically powerful nation to maintain and expand it. Phillips (1992) states that linguistic imperialism is a sub-type of cultural imperialism. Here are some of the historical examples of active linguistic imperialism. French over English following the French invasion of England in 1066. Russian over Ukranian following Soviet oppression of the Ukraine in the early 20 century.


To resist linguistic imperialism, many countries are acting by sending language teacher abroad and supporting native language education. Also, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) has stressed the significance of maintaining language diversity, calling for joint efforts of different countries, regions and races to maintain a world of diverse languages.


English as Language of the World


Linguicism & Linguistic Imperialism

Riz Khan - Linguistic imperialism?

The Great Debate: MT or English as the New Lingua Franca


Tove Skutnabb-Kangas speaking at UCBerkeley, 2006


Crystal, D. (2012). English as a global language. Cambridge University Press.


Kobayashi,Y.(2013).Global English capital and the domestic economy: the case of Japan from the1970s to early 2012. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development,34 (1),1‐‑13.


Lal Basu, B. (2013). The Global Spread of English, “Linguistic imperialism”, and the “Politics” of English Language Teaching: A Reassessment of the Role of English in the World Today. Spectrum, 8&9, 186-198.       


Phillipson, R. (1992a) Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Phillipson, R. (1996). Linguistic imperialism: African perspectives. ELT Journal, 50(2), 160-167.


Robert Phillipson (1997) Realities and Myths of Linguistic Imperialism, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 18:3, 238-248, DOI: 10.1080/01434639708666317


Phillipson, R. (2000). English in the new world order. Variations on a theme of linguistic imperialism and “world” English. Ideology, politics and language policies, 87-106.


Phillipson, R. (2008). The linguistic imperialism of neoliberal empire. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 5(1), 1-43.


Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove, Maffi, Luisa,& Harmon, David (2006).Sharing a world of difference. The earth’s linguistic, cultural and biological diversity. Terra Lingua, WWF & UNESCO.


Tochon, F.V. (2015). Language Education Policy Studies in a Global Context: An Introduction. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Unlimited. Global Perspectives and Local Practices (pp. 33-53)         


This web page has a copyright. It may be referred to and quoted, or reproduced and distributed for educational purposes according to fair use legislation only if the following citation is included in the document:

This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Yuting, Lan & Hyun, Jungwon. (2015). Linguistic Imperialism. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

Widget is loading comments...