In my project on the globalization of the English language, I would like to focus on, firstly, how English has become a form of lingua franca, that is a new globalized language, and secondly, how this has become a form of what in political science is called “soft power”, in so far as the particular globalization of English can be viewed as a consequence of American political and economic power. With these two ideas in mind, I have found two articles which will contribute to my project.
In her article, “The Rise of English: The Language of Globalization in China and the European Union”, Anne Johnson examines how English has emerged as a world language, while also looking at some of the consequences, both positive and negative, of this development. For example, the globalization of English is tied to the reality of globalization itself, which requires “streamlined and efficient communication across lingual borders.” (Johnson, 133) In other words, the idea that there is a dominant global language is a logical conclusion of what happens when our world becomes globalized. We need a quick and efficient way to communicate with each other.
From another perspective, however, this does not answer why English has become the language of globalization. One of the reasons for this is the structure of the current world economy. As Johnson writes, “Predominantly English-speaking countries are said to account for around 40 percent of the world’s GDP.” (Johnson, 156) In other words, the globalization of English is the result of those who hold power in the world economy. It is a symptom of hegemony. Since hegemony implies an unequal distribution of power, with one group controlling and dominating another, which is a natural situation of inequality, the globalization of English can also be viewed along these lines of inequality and hegemony. Those who fall outside the Anglosphere are, in Johnson’s view, susceptible to inequality. Language, namely, also is a sign of the inequality in the world and the globalization of English accordingly tells us who dominates the world order.
In his article, “Soft Power and Languages without Borders”, Graham Douglas gives us a closer look at how the globalization of English can be interpreted as a form of soft power. Firstly, he notes that there is a historical relationship between trade and language. Secondly, however, this means a duality of facilitated communication and hegemony. The hegemonic aspect of this duality is known in political science as “soft power”, which is “the ability of a country to influence people through the attractions of its language, culture and people.” (Douglas) Accordingly, the ascendancy of the English becomes a radical form of soft power, where those who benefit from this development are the states of the Anglosphere. However, Douglas also gives the opinion that perhaps the globalization of English is not only hegemonic, for example, China and India discussion mediums are also carried out in English. Douglas sees a shift in the globalization of English language from being “called an agent of linguistic imperialism through McDonaldisation and Hollywood especially” to a preferred choice of non-Anglophone countries. However, this choice may already be one of convenience, because of the dominance of the English language.
Accordingly, the emergence of the English language as global language is, as the two articles mention, the consequence of phenomena such as globalization and commerce. At the same time, it is a particular language that has emerged as the dominant language and this can also create inequalities. In my project I will therefore try to investigate the extent to which, on the one hand, the globalization of English is a form of soft power and, on the other hand, how it is a result of the globalization process itself.
- Douglas, Graham. “Soft Power and Languages without Borders.” The Prisma. June
28, 2014. Retrieved September 11, 2014 at
- Johnson, Anne. “The Rise of English: The Language of Globalization in China and
the European Union.” Macalester International, Vol. 22. Retrieved September
11, 2014 at http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/macintl/vol22/iss1/12