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


Boussebaa, M., & Brown, A. D. (2016). Englishization, identity regulation and imperialism. Organization studies, 38 (1), 7-29.

Galloway, N., & Rose, H. (2015). Introducing Global Englishes. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Graddol, D. (2007). “Global English, Global culture?”. In S. Goodman., D. Graddol., & T. Lillis (eds.) (2007), Redesigning English (pp.243-279). London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Gray, J. (2012). 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

Johnson, A. (2009). The rise of English: the language of Globalization in China and the European Union. Macalester International, 22(12), 131-168.

Pennycook, A. (1998). English and the discourses of colonialism. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Schneider, E. (2011). English around the world: an introduction. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.


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

  1. Laura Bowater says:

    I think you have made and researched some very interesting areas. I found Boussebaa and Brown’s study interesting and how they had to follow a strict regime to enforce English. I think an individuals language is part of their identity. I think you have looked at both sides of the argument effectively and think that the learning of a second language should be by choice. Which do you think is the case, is the ‘UK promoting language with political and social prestige or held accountable for the deaths of lesser languages and cultures’?

  2. Holly Royle says:

    I find this debate very interesting, particularly your suggestion of individuals choosing to learn English, not to lose their culture, but to better their own lives. Surely this suggests that it is, to an extent, up to individuals to decide whether to learn English for their own benefit. It cannot be overlooked that many global business and high paid jobs require knowledge of the English language in order to carry out business deals. Many choose to learn English and maintain their native language, I think it should be up to the individual whether they do this. Lifestyle and circumstance may make it difficult for native languages to be maintained.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s