Spread of English could be ‘linguistic imperialism’

Two international communication experts have pointed to the limitations of English as an international language and cautioned its spread could be regarded as linguistic imperialism.

Queensland University of Technology intercultural communication expert Professor Caroline Hatcher (pictured) said the rise of English could cause miscommunication and inequalities between cultures.

“While the uniform development of the international language of English may make business more efficient, it does not necessarily make our thinking more inventive or our interactions more democratic,” she said.

Professor Hatcher was giving the 2010 Churchill Lecturer to the English Speaking Union in Brisbane.

She said it was wise to maintain other international languages alongside English to preserve cultural and linguistic diversity.

“In our enthusiasm for English we must be careful not to repeat the mistakes of our colonial past and not to substitute a form of linguistic imperialism in its place,” she said.

National Cheng Chi University international communications expert Professor Leonard Chu said many non-native speakers of English were wary of the spread of the language for historical reasons.

“I think it’s inevitable for people to associate this with imperialism, because indeed in the 19th century the English speaking people were colonising the world,” Professor Chu told Newsbytes.

Despite this, many people in non-English speaking countries were forced to learn the language because it was a necessity for the modern world.

“From a very utilitarian view, if it’s useful you learn it. It’s not whether you like it or you don’t like it. You have to learn it,” he said.

Professor Chu said having a global language had limitations, because it could not adequately represent ideas and concepts from different countries

“No language can represent all the cultures. English may represent a big chunk of the cultures, but not all the cultures,” he said.

But English Speaking Union secretary Alison Philpott said many cultures around the world already use English to communicate effectively.

“In many, many cultures around the world their second language is English,” she said.

“It’s not just an English language from England. It’s now really an international language.”

She said that a common language could be a tool to unite people and promote communication and understanding.

“We believe that if there is one international language then countries and peoples around the world will communicate better, will understand other countries and cultures better,” she said.

One Response to “Spread of English could be ‘linguistic imperialism’”
  1. Bill Chapman says:

    I’m surprised to see no mention here of Esperanto, a language specifically designed for international communication.

    Alison Philpott is right to say that a common language could be “a tool to unite people and promote communication and understanding”. I should like to see Esperanto used more widely for that very purpose. It has the advantage of not being linked to any particular nation or group of nations.

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