Standard English. Superior? Or just another fish in the SEa? JAMES RODGER tries to get the measure of this complex concept.

The belief that Standard English (SE) is superior to other varieties is controversial to say the least. On a whole, this can be linked to a wider debate, regarding whether ‘good’ and ‘bad’ English exists in general. Alongside concepts like ‘prescriptivism’, SE supports the existence of ‘good’ English – the consensus here being that the presence of a standard form shows there is a better way to use English. Without delving too far into wider debate, I am primarily interested in SE alone.  Specifically, I question whether or not it can be justified as a superior variety. Before diving head first into discussion, we must note that the term ‘SE’ is extremely subjective.

Twenty years ago John Honey caused controversy with his book Language is Power: The Story of Standard English and its enemies, where he asserted that SE is superior to other varieties. His book is an interesting read, as throughout he constantly criticises the idea of linguistic equality which states that “all languages and all dialects of any language are equally as good” (1997, p.5). To his credit, Honey backs this criticism up, drawing upon several supporting issues. Firstly, Honey mentions our education system, claiming that SE is the variety spoken by teachers, as well as the variety present in textbooks (1997, p. 40). Here, he suggests that SE must hold some form of superiority if it is the variety chosen for future generations to learn from.

Furthermore, Honey lauds the versatility of SE. By versatility, he explicitly refers to how SE can be used in the most formal and informal of occasions (1997, p.40). A perfect example comes from Andersson and Trudgill (1990, p.6) who refer to the term ‘informal SE’, exemplifying this through “he’s bust his collar bone”. Collectively, Honey implies that non-standard forms cannot be used in formal situations. Without being too contentious, I do see where he’s coming from.  Admittedly, it is difficult to imagine a Member of Parliament, for example, standing and speaking with a broad scouse dialect, throwing ‘las’ around casually!

As insightful as Honey’s views are, opposing arguments are equally as thought provoking. Bringing the concept of ‘linguistic equality’ into play, many linguists see SE as simply another variety. Initially, these linguists question the supposed superiority of SE which often occurs through misinterpretation of its label. For instance, Perera (1994, p.81) claims that many misinterpret the meaning of the word ‘standard’. As she points out, the dictionary definition of ‘standard’ is “a level of excellence or quality” (1994, p.81). In her eyes, people wrongly assume that SE complies to this definition and encompasses a form of superiority that other non-standard varieties do not have. On a whole, she is quick to disregard the superiority of SE. Somehow, I’m not as convinced. Surely, we can’t just succumb to the idea of linguistic equality because a few people may have gotten muddled up in their definitions? I think we need to dig deeper.

To do so, we must consider measures of superiority. Milroy and Milroy claim that as the superiority of one language to another is not amenable to rigorous proof, we cannot prove that one language is better than another (1999, p.13). For how can linguists, like Honey, claim the superiority of SE, when they cannot provide any physical proof or measures?

Fortifying their support for linguistic equality, Milroy and Milroy also claim that all languages and varieties have gaps in their system (1999, p.12). For example, SE has no grammatical resource for differentiating between singular and plural in the second person pronoun ‘you’. Comparatively, the non-standard variety Northern Irish English, does (1999, p.13). Indeed, this may not seem too problematic. Even still, the fact that SE can be classed as inferior to a non-standard variety almost dents senses of legitimacy we derive from Honey’s views. For how can we see something inferior, as superior?

My opinion? I do agree with the notion of linguistic equality to an extent. Predominantly, I fail to see how we can deem one variety as superior to the rest, when we have no empirical evidence to back this up. On the other hand, I also recognise the opposing point of view, particularly regarding the presence of SE in our educational system. Overall, however, I do not feel as though we have enough evidence to decisively classify SE as superior. Therefore, I am intrigued enough to pose the following question: What would need to happen for us all to openly accept SE as a superior variety?

JAMES RODGER, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Anderrson, LG and Trudgill, P. (1990). Bad Language. London: Penguin.

Honey, J. (1997). Language is Power, The Story of Standard English and its Enemies. Faber and Faber. London, United Kingdom .

Milroy, J., & Milroy, L. (1999). Authority in language: Investigating standard English. London, United Kingdom: Routledge & Keegan Paul.

Perera, K. (1994). Standard English: The debate. In S. Brindley (Ed.) (1994), Teaching English (pp. 79-88). Hove, United Kingdom: Psychology Press.



To prescribe or describe? That is the question. LAUREN HAUTON considers the obsession with whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’ English really exists

The prescriptivism versus descriptivism language debate has spanned the centuries. One definition of prescriptivism is “an approach, especially to grammar, that sets out rules for what is regarded as correct in language” (McArthur, 1996, p.263). Prescriptivists are those who criticise what they feel is the ‘incorrect’ use of language and set out rules on what they deem ‘correct’. Descriptivists adopt the view that language naturally varies, especially in terms of differing dialects and they “want to tell you how people actually do speak and write” (Huddleston and Pullum, 2002, p. 5) rather than criticise the non-standard use of English in, for instance, regional dialects. So is one viewpoint stronger than the other?

Worries about language variation and change can be traced as far back to 1490 when the pioneering printer, William Caxton complained that the English language was too variable. This is known as the beginning of the ‘complaint tradition’ (Milroy and Milroy, 1999: 27). Caxton selected the south-east midland area of Britain and adopted their specific dialect as the ‘standard’ based on political and academic prominence as well as linguistic factors (Milroy and Milroy, 1999: 27). Subsequently this caused numerous other grammarians and linguists to criticise the language and attempt to “fix the language that they deemed as being broken or in need of improvement” (Tieken-Boon Van Ostade, 2008: 21) as well as attempting to diminish any variability in the English language.

The complaint tradition has continued into the present day. It seems that there are two types of language critic within prescriptivism. According to Bex and Watts (1999: 19) “[t]here is the general public, […] who keep writing to the newspapers denouncing trivial mistakes in usage. On the other hand, there is a group of people who are said to have more enlightened attitudes based on scholarly research”. It seems that there are a vast amount of people within the general public who hold and project strong views on non-standard English, which they see as ‘bad’ English and the misuse of what they deem is ‘good’ English. They are sometimes labelled ‘grammar Nazis’ and are described in one on-line dictionary as “[s]omeone who insists on correcting or criticizing others for errors in spelling, grammar, and syntax, especially to a pedantic or self-righteous degree” (The Free Dictionary, 2015). There are also many scholars who hold this same view. Neville Gwynne, for instance,  is responsible for the best-selling Gwynne’s Grammar: The Ultimate Introduction to Grammar and the Writing of Good English (2013). He holds very strong beliefs on the use of what he deems ‘correct grammar’ and states that “happiness depends at least partly on good grammar” (Gwynne, 2013: 6).

The descriptivist view on language is somewhat different to this. Trudgill is a descriptivist who criticises prescriptivism by stating that it “is based on a false premise, and it is a waste of time: it does not work, and all it succeeds in doing is making speakers and writers insecure and inarticulate” (2016, p. 25). Descriptivism in many ways believes that variation in language is inevitable and “when most speakers use a form that our grammar says is incorrect, there is at least a prima facie case that it is the grammar that is wrong, not the speakers” (Huddleston and Pullum, 2002: 7). Descriptivists also criticise prescriptivists for believing that “only formal style is grammatically correct” (Huddleston and Pullum, 2002: 8). Descriptivists hold the view that grammaticality does not depend on high formality and non-standard varieties of language are still in many cases grammatical. However, descriptivism m be described as too laid back in some cases as there are many instances where linguistic rules are needed for clarity understanding.

So who is correct? That is the question. As a student of English Language I am taught to write in standard English and so in this case I suppose I am following many prescriptivist rules. However, I also side with the descriptivist, especially in terms of spoken English. Many non-standard regional varieties use forms that are not standard and sometimes may not be grammatically correct, which could be seen to some as ‘bad’ English. This leads us to question, if they are understandable does this really matter? In my opinion, a mix of both prescriptivism and descriptivism is probably best as this accounts for the vast amount of ways we use language on a day to day basis. The notion of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ English is merely personal opinion.

LAUREN HAUTON, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Bex, T., & Watt, R. J. (1999). Standard English: The widening debate. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.  

Gwynne, N. (2013). Gwynne’s grammar: The ultimate introduction to grammar and the writing of good English. London, United Kingdom: Ebury Press .

Huddleston, R., & Pullum, G. K. (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

McArthur, T. (1996). Descriptivism and prescriptivism. In T. Mcarthur. The Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. (2006). Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Milroy, J., & Milroy, L. (1999). Authority in language: Investigating standard English. London, United

The Free Dictionary. (2015). Grammar Nazis. 

Trudgill, P. (2016). Dialect matters: Respecting vernacular language. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. 

Tieken-Boon Van Ostade, I. (2008). Grammars, Grammarians and Grammar Writing in Eighteenth-Century England. Berlin, Germany: Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. 

Standard English: Elitist or Essential? JOSH COOPER accesses the views of pedants and progressives.

Is there such thing as a ‘correct’ way to use the language? The term ‘Standard English’ is most commonly regarded as “[t]he form of the English language widely accepted as the usual correct form” (English Living Oxford Dictionaries), so many people argue ‘yes.’ For instance, Honey (1997) states that “the use of Standard English confers intellectual advantages on those who speak and write it […]” (p. 21-22). However, others argue that as English is a global language with so many varieties both nationally and worldwide, “Standard English cannot be ‘correct’ or ‘superior’ because it is simply just one particular variety of the language” (Bex and Watts, 1999, p. 118).

But what exactly does Standard English mean? Perera (1994) highlights that on the one hand it is interpreted to mean ‘excellence,’ which implies a superior form. On the other hand, it is associated with ‘uniformity’ suggesting that the ‘standard’ is a practical form which attempts to reduce variability (p. 81). So, is ‘Standard English’ a high-achieving ‘elitist’ form whose usage marks out the privileged class with all its associated advantages, or is it simply facilitating an agreed usage – a matter of essential convenience for the ease of effective communication?

These differences in opinion are highlighted in the linguistic complaint tradition, which has existed since the Middle Ages. One of the most significant early complaints came from William Caxton (1490), who worried that there was too much variability in the English language when it came to the practicalities of early printing. Choosing to print in the dialect of those who lived in the East Midlands dialect area (which included London, Oxford and Cambridge) accidentally contributed to kick-starting the process of ‘standardisation’ whereby that dialect became a communication bridge for people from different regions so they could understand and effectively communicate with one another (Milroy and Milroy, 1999, p. 27). This choice was not based on grounds of linguistic superiority, but was a practical decision because this area “[…] was the most prominent politically, commercially and academically,” and this variety actually formed the basis of the standard we know today (Milroy and Milroy, 1999, p. 27).

In comparison, during the eighteenth century most complaints adopted a prescriptive, judgmental attitude to language. Prescriptivism is simply “the attitude or belief that one variety of a language is superior to others and should be promoted as such” (About Education), and therefore writers and complainers during this time mostly argued that there was indeed a correct and incorrect way to use the language.

Significant prescriptive thinkers during this time include Bishop Robert Lowth (1762) and Lindley Murray (1795) who wrote grammar textbooks outlining how they believed the language ought to be used, and these included rules that we are still familiar with today such as the ban on double negatives (Milroy and Milroy, 1999, p. 28). At this point, it is important to highlight that there was never any linguistic explanation as to why one variety and usage was favoured over another. So is ‘good’ English simply a matter of authoritarian opinion? If so, then surely anyone could argue that his or her variety is ‘correct’ and with the right power start influencing the way we speak and write?

Nevertheless, these prescriptive complaints still flourish in the language today. For example, in his book Simply English An A to Z of Avoidable Errors, Simon Heffer (2014) reports on what he believes is correct usage. He argues for instance, that the word ‘access’ is incorrect if used as a verb and should thus only be used as a noun as in ‘can I gain access?’ (Heffer, 2014, p. 8). Isn’t this attitude rather pedantic and traditionalist? After all, language meanings and usages are permanently changing. Surely as long as the respondent understands, that is all that matters?

Trudgill (2016) expresses his opinion on this when he argues that prescriptive attitudes to language are both pointless and a waste of time because all they succeed in achieving is making individuals feel insecure about their use of language (p. 25). He goes on to state that we should accept the fact that the language is variable and “see this for the fascinating fact that it is, and not keep trying to make judgements about ‘correctness’” (Trudgill, 2016, p. 26).

As noted in the introduction, Standard English is generally regarded as the ‘correct’ and therefore ‘good’ form by definition. By implication, this means that other forms will naturally be viewed as inferior and non-standard. But how can this be when the language is permanently changing through constant influxes from both other languages and technology? It is difficult to argue that one fossilized form is the gold standard.

JOSH COOPER, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


About Education. (2016). Prescriptivism.

Bex, T., & Watt, R. J. (1999). Standard English: The widening debate. London, United  Kingdom: Routledge.

English Living Oxford Dictionary (2016) Standard English.

Heffer, S. (2014). Simply English: An A to Z of avoidable errors. London, United Kingdom: Random House Books.  

Honey, J. (1997). Language is Power, The story of Standard English and its enemies. Faber and Faber. London, United Kingdom.

Milroy, J., & Milroy, L. (1999). Authority in language: Investigating standard English. London, United Kingdom: Routledge & Keegan Paul. 

Perera, K. (1994). Standard English the debate. In S. Brindley (Ed.) (1994), Teaching English (pp.79-88). Hove, United Kingdom: Psychology Press.

Trudgill, P. (2016). Dialect matters: Respecting vernacular language. Cambridge, United  Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. 

Are we literally Gwynne mad? CURTIS PRIDAY launches an inquiry into language anxieties

The ways the English Language should be used causes great debate not only amongst academics, but amongst the general public also. Language use can provoke anxiety and even rage when people feel that it is being misused. This anger can be sparked from as little as a misplaced apostrophe to larger issues such as how grammar is being taught in schools. In this blog I am going to focus on semantics and grammar.

It is the view of prescriptivists that words have very specific meanings and should only be used in situations that fit their exact definitions. Two such prescriptivists are Neville Gwynne and Simon Heffer. Gwynne and Heffer feel so passionately about grammar that they wrote the books Gwynne’s Grammar (2013) and Simply English (2014) respectively. Gwynne (2013, p. X) firmly opposes the view that allowing language users to use language freely will lead to language creativity. He believes that the education system should strive to teach children the basics of grammar as they’ll be unable to “flourish at it” until they master these basics. In a TV interview, Gwynne even goes as far to say that the fabric of society hinges on the proper usage of grammar (no seriously, he does, check it out

Heffer, (a Daily Telegraph journalist), shares Gwynne’s language view. He has penned several strongly worded articles on word usage, which led to the publication of Simply English (2014) and before this Strictly English (2011). Within his book, Heffer highlights many words which he feels are being wrongly in contemporary discourse. He cites, for instance, ‘inquiry’ and ‘literally’. The modern usage of these words is slightly different to their dictionary definitions. By definition an inquiry is “a formal investigation” and ‘literally’ means “with exact fidelity of representation”. However, an ‘inquiry ‘is often used when people say they have a question and ‘literally’ can be used to add emphasis (e.g. ‘I literally died laughing’). Heffer and Gwynne believe English words have a set semantic meaning and should only be used in the correct context. If these words are not used in the correct context then it can have a negative impact on society because language users are not being able to sufficiently articulate what they mean.

Descriptivists sit firmly on the other side of the fence to Gwynne and Heffer, being of the more liberal opinion that as long as the correct meaning is inferred then language is fulfilling its purpose, regardless of whether it is adhering to a set of rules. An article in The Guardian (2014) even went as far to say that prescriptive attitudes cause more harm to the English language than those who supposedly use language incorrectly, claiming that, “[o]utdated grammar rules are off-putting when they create a barrier to clear communication”. Language’s primary function is communication and understanding. If language users are able to communicate what they want to say in a way that the receiver of the information is able to understand what they meant, then they feel that there is not a problem. Descriptivists see language as a fluid, ever-changing tool for communication.

The National Post (2017) wrote, “English is constantly evolving […] therefore, if the way language is being used is constantly changing, then the rules associated with language are too.” This is a view that is obviously shared by the OED. Here, the word ‘literally’ has had a new meaning entered for it: “used for emphasis rather than actually being true” (I doubt Heffer will have been pleased to hear about that…).

Which side of the fence do I sit on you may ask? Well neither! I sit firmly on the fence alongside Professor Geoffrey Pullum. In a 2014 interview with the Daily Telegraph, Pullum explained it is nonsensical to wholly side with either the prescriptivist or descriptivist viewpoint. He claims it is more appropriate to find “a sensible middle ground where you decide what the rules of Standard English are, on the basis of close study of the way that native speakers use the language”.

So there you have it, there are those intent on prescribing rules and along with it a ascribing prestige to certain aspects language, whilst there are others who believe language should be used freely without constraints. Regardless of which side of the argument is right (both have their strengths and weaknesses), language will continue to evolve and change naturally irrespective of the wishes of those who attempt to guide it in a certain way.

CURTIS PRIDAY, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester


Gwynne, N.M. (2013). Gwynne’s Grammar. London: Ebury Press.

Heffer, S. (2014). Simply English; an A to Z of avoidable errors. London: Penguin.



Is there simply ‘good’ and ‘bad’ English? Are you with Taylor or Jonathan Swift on grammar? PENNY ADAMS explores ‘rules’ and ‘rules’

Does seeing an incorrectly placed apostrophe make your language senses tingle? If so, like many others out there, you would be considered a prescriptivist. A prescriptivist can be defined as a person who “wants to tell you how you ought to speak and write”, while their counter parts, descriptivists, “want to tell how people actually do speak and write” (Huddleston & Pullum, 2002, p.5.). For a large proportion of the general public, these terms may seem alien, as most would probably recognise a prescriptivist by a different name; ‘Grammar Nazi’s’. On hearing the alternative name, used most favourably by the media, there may be some people who would disassociate themselves from the prescriptivist ideology. However, to some extent, all attitudes to language, whether popular or academic, hold ideologies which can be seen as prescriptivist (Cameron, 1995, p.4.).

Whilst it is recognised that everyone has certain prescriptivist attitudes to language, some take this authoritarian attitude to language more seriously than others. British journalist and author, Simon Heffer, notes that “[g]rammar is the foundation of good style. Its violation or disregard has the same effect on language as amputating limbs from a healthy being” (2014, p.160.). His passionate belief in following certain grammatical rules culminated in the writing of the book from which this quote is taken, Simply English. The book is an attempt to educate the general public on the ways to use English ‘correctly’. This popularist view that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ English exists, raises questions about the reasons why people judge language in this way.

One theory which provides reason for people’s judgement of English is the fear of the decline of English. Aitchison states that “a wide web of worries, a cobweb of old ideas, ensnares people as they think about English” (1997, p.2.). By looking back at English, we can see that it did not always have a fixed grammar system. During the 18th century, there was much admiration for the fixed grammar system of Latin, which was a particularly prestigious language (Aitchison, 1997, p.4.). This period saw an overhaul in the grammar system of English, and an increase in the number of grammar books, such as Robert Lowth’s A Short Introduction to English Grammar, which detailed how the English grammar system worked. Many believe it is this fixed grammar system that adds prestige to the English Language and if this system is not adhered to, English will fall into decline.

Attempting to adhere to this fixed grammar system does cause some issues. The English language is constantly evolving, and therefore some of the grammar rules that were in place 300 years ago are no longer used. If these grammar rules are constantly changing, then how can we be sure which rules should be adhered to? The Princeton Review faced this problem when they used Taylor Swift’s song ‘fifteen’ as evidence of bad grammar in their practice test papers. But, it was later pointed out that not only had they got the lyrics wrong, the correct lyrics are not grammatically incorrect (The Guardian, 2015).  The Princeton Review then attempted to rectify the situation by claiming “the accurate lyric is still grammatically wrong, on the grounds that ‘somebody’ cannot later be referred to as ‘them’”(The Guardian, 2015). What they seem to be forgetting is that ‘them’ has been used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun for ages. The problem caused by these prescriptivist attitudes is that “invented language rules often get confused with genuine language rules” (Aitchison, 1997, p.5.). People confuse the genuine rules of the English Language, such as verb tenses and subject-verb-object structure with invented rules, such as not using double negatives. Problems occur when the importance of invented rules are over stated by prescriptivists.

Another potential reason for prescriptivist attitudes to language is that “although discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, gender or social class is not now publicly acceptable, it appears that discrimination on linguistic grounds is publicly acceptable” (Milroy & Milroy, 1999, p.2.). This use of prescriptivism as a form of discrimination is reflected in the Guardian article, as academics criticise celebrity/pop culture on the grounds that they will influence the ‘bad’ grammar habits of the general public.

To summarise, everyone, to some extent has a prescriptive attitude towards language. It is problematic to discuss the English Language completely prescriptively, but it is also just as problematic to discuss English completely descriptively, due to personal backgrounds and beliefs. Therefore, we can all recognise that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ English does exist, but the more interesting question is why this juxtaposition exists.

PENNY ADAMS, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester


Aitchison, J. (1997). The Language Web: The power and problems of words. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Cameron, D. (1995) Verbal Hygiene. The Politics of Language. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Heffer, S. (2014). Simply English; An A to Z of avoidable errors. London, United Kingdom: Penguin.

Huddleston, R. & Pullum, G. (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Lowth, R. (1799). A Short Introduction to English Grammar: With Critical Notes. Montana, United States: Kessinger Publishing.

Milroy, J. & Milroy, L. (1999). Authority in Language: investigating Standard English. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Poole, S. (2015, March 26). Taylor Swift’s grammar marked down incorrectly. The Guardian. 

Cultural imperialism or economic gain? British Council language assistant SUNDEEP JANDU examines the consequences of the global promotion of English

Neither of the concepts in the title are morally correct; one suggests manipulating the minds of naïve learners of English while the other implies exploiting them for money. But when the language itself is rooted in a capitalist society, which of these is the most important motive for spreading global English? And do organisations like the British Council actively influence learners’ thinking when teaching them English?

The British Council’s answer to this is that they accept that English has hegemonic influence on the societies in which it is taught but this is due to the prestige and attraction of English and is not portrayed this way intentionally (Coleman, 2011, p.333). From a personal perspective, as a British Council language assistant my intentions weren’t to manipulate the minds of 12-year-old Spanish children to think in a certain way but to enhance their English (although not ignoring my own economic gain for doing so, in the form of a salary).

However, the reason that people learn English in the first place could be because they want to be successful in comparison to others. Gray states that a capitalist society promotes individualism as the key to freedom and success and that this ‘new economic world order’ encourages people to promote themselves in a certain way in the marketplace (2012b, p.95). The marketing of global English promotes and spreads this ideology, because learners buy into the testing and do it for the economic incentive of being paid more and being more competitive in the job market. Gray claims that putting a price on language in this way is a result of neoliberalist ideology whereby language is now sold as a skill in return for wages (2012a, pp.137-138).

On the other hand, Crystal suggests that a common language (i.e. English) is essential so that “an unfavoured linguistic heritage should not lead inevitably to disadvantage” (2003, p. xiii). However, this equality is not being fulfilled because the language skills and qualifications are not economically accessible to everybody.

IELTS (International English Language Testing Systems) and ELT (English Language Teaching) services are worth £3-4 billion year to the British economy, showing the hugely positive impact the language has for Britain (Gray, 2012b, p.97). While this is a great advantage to Britain, it is unfair for the people who contribute to this high figure. In 2012, IELTS charged £125 for English testing which was then converted to the learners’ own currencies, automatically disadvantaging people from a poorer background or from a developing country, as this is expensive (Gray, 2012a, p.156). The British Council admits that this inequality is inevitable in a capitalist economic system (Coleman, 2011 p.333). This means that people from poorer backgrounds are less likely to achieve the qualifications necessary to get a better-paid job and break the cycle of poverty.

 Moreover, in Rwanda, English was made the language of education following a conflict between two ethnic groups (the Hutus and Tutsis). This led to a cut in diplomatic ties with France (due to their involvement) and therefore English replaced French’s presence in education (Gray, 2012a, pp.143-144). The British Council claim that this was a positive outcome because the economic benefits of learning English (better job prospects and higher wages in comparison to non-English speakers) would allow the economy to recuperate after the genocide. This would clearly benefit the British Council economically as well as Rwanda, as the organisation would earn money by training teachers and selling ELT resources (Gray, 2012a, p,145). However, Gray mentions Williams’ opinion that learning through the medium of English would only benefit the elitist families in which the parents already knew English to ensure that the students would be able to understand what they were being taught, again emphasising the inequality among the rich and poor (2012a, p.147).

As regards ‘cultural imperialism’, Gray claims that Rwandan President Kagame has the support of many Western governments, especially because of his willingness to restructure the Rwandan economy along neoliberal lines. This implies that Kagame is willing to adapt to a Westernised economy, thus implying that Rwanda would change their economic ideologies in favour of a British one (2012a, pp.145).

Overall, it seems that economic gain is the motive behind promoting global English, but that this is achieved through cultural imperialism because spreading the Western ideology ‘neoliberalism’ will have long term economic benefits. Promoting English as the key to success and to earning more money means that there is an ever-increasing desire to learn the language to be able to compete with others in the job market. ELT organisations rely on these learners for their vast income, but rely on the Western ideals of individualism and competition to keep attracting learners.

SUNDEEP JANDU, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Coleman, H. (Ed.) (2011) Dreams and Realities: Developing Countries and the English Language. British Council.

Crystal,D. (2003). English as a global language (2nd ed.).  New York, United States of America: Cambridge University Press.

Gray, J. (2012a). English the industry. In A. Hewings & C. Tagg (Eds.). The Politics of English: Conflict, competition, co-existence (pp.137-163). Abingdon: Routledge. 

Gray, J. (2012b). Neoliberalism, celebrity and aspirational content in English language teaching textbooks for the global market. In D. Block., J. Gray & M. Holborow (Eds.) (2012), Neoliberalism and applied linguistics (pp. 86-113). London, United Kingdom: Routledge


How far can marketing English globally be viewed as ‘cultural imperialism’? EMILY BOLAND reviews the opposing arguments

The global marketing of English and the contribution it makes to maintain the English language’s position as the global lingua franca is a topic that attracts much debate. As highlighted by Schneider (2011, p.213), opinions on the matter are divided, and the UK is either applauded for promoting a language with political and social prestige or held accountable for the deaths of lesser languages and cultures.

Language, as outlined by Graddol (2007, p.257), is the foremost expression of cultural identity. With an increasing number of people opting to learn English, it is plausible that lesser languages and the cultures paired with them may be ignored and eventually even forgotten about, justifying why marketing global English may be viewed as linguistic and cultural imperialism.

In some cases, English is imposed on non-native speakers, as discovered by Boussebaa and Brown in their 2016 study of the French University, FrenchU. In order to increase the number of publications produced in English, FrenchU reportedly began pressuring their French employees to work in English and employed a strict regime to enforce this (Boussebaa and Brown, 2016, p.11). Boussebaa and Brown learnt that many employees felt that they had to discipline themselves to “fit the identity mould” that was being imposed on them (2016, p.18) and stated that this left them feeling as though they were losing their individual French identities, in favour of institutional English identities (2016, p.18). This firmly indicates how the promotion of English can be culturally imperialistic, and, as argued by Boussebaa and Brown, acts as an example of “Englishization”: the creation of a situation where native English speakers gain status whilst non-native speakers consequently lose status (2016, p.16).

Nevertheless, it must be noted that it is not only non-natives who have been affected by the central position of English. As reported by Galloway and Rose, in recent years there has been a reduction in the number of English students opting to study a second language (2015, p.58). With English being an official or co-official language in one third of the world’s countries (Galloway and Rose, 2015, p.54), English people often no longer deem it essential to learn other languages, expecting non-native speakers to conform to the ‘global lingua franca’ instead of having the skill to communicate with them in an alternate language.

With regards to this, however, Johnson makes the point that the decreased number of English people learning a second language has caused the ability in another language to become more special, due to its rareness (2009, p.141). Aptitude in another language is viewed as more valuable for employment, which could potentially encourage ambitious young English people to learn a second language.

Additionally, Johnson offers further positives for the global marketing of English, arguing that, for many non-natives, knowledge of English can be a way of gaining better career and economic prospects (2009, p.133). As Johnson (2009, p.139) highlights, the promotion of English therefore cannot be culturally imperialistic, as people are choosing to learn English, and are not doing so with the intention of ignoring their own culture, but are merely striving for better lives.

Similarly, those promoting English globally are infrequently doing so with the aim of pushing out lesser cultures and languages in favour of English. In most cases, global English is marketed due to the economic benefits it brings the country. ELT textbook production is a multi-million pound industry, which, as Gray (2012, p.97) believes , makes a case for promoting English.

Furthermore, global English is promoted due to the vital role it plays in international communication. Galloway and Rose (2015, p.54) make the point that global English is frequently used as the common language for global political gatherings, greatly aiding international diplomacy and the worldwide economy as a result. Likewise, global English is the official language for air control and helps to reduce issues with transportation industries (Galloway and Rose, 2015, p.55), indicating that there are many benefits to having a global lingua franca and that the promotion of it cannot always be regarded as cultural imperialism.

With regards to this subject, it must be noted that there is no ‘right or wrong’ answer, and that these arguments are only a handful of the views on marketing global English. According to Graddol (2007, p.271), it is likely that English will maintain its position as the global lingua franca – meaning that it is highly likely that further alternative outlooks on marketing global English will emerge.

EMILY BOLAND, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


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