The Advantages and Disadvantages of Spread of English as a Global Language

Subject: Linguistics
Pages: 8
Words: 2236
Reading time:
9 min
Study level: PhD


There can be few doubts that, as of today, the process of English language being recognized by more and more people, as the only universal medium of international communication, has attained an unstoppable momentum. The reason for this is quite apparent – this process appears to be the one of Globalization’s many emanations. However, given the fact that an ongoing process of this Earth becoming increasingly ‘flat’ (Globalization) continues to spark public controversies, it does not come as a particular surprise that world’s continual ‘englishnization’ is also being often discussed in a somewhat negative light. In this paper, I will aim to outline what are being commonly believed to account for this process’s positive and negative aspects, while advancing the idea that, despite ‘post-colonial’ criticisms, directed at ‘englishnization’, there could be no alternative to the prospect of English language attaining the status of world’s only universally spoken language in the future.

Analytical part

The analysis of how different authors go about criticizing the expansion of English language reveals an undeniable fact that their criticisms, in this respect, are being of an essentially ‘post-colonial’ essence. That is, these authors commonly discuss the earlier mentioned expansion in terms of how it helps the representatives of world’s social elites, which even today consist of overwhelmingly White people, to maintain their socio-cultural control over ‘underprivileged’ populations in the Third World. Hence, the newly coined notion of ‘linguistic imperialism’, which is being commonly utilized by the advocates of linguistic multiculturalism, within the context of how they strive to substantiate the validity of their strongly negative attitude towards the process of world’s linguistic ‘englishnization’, “Linguistic imperialism entails unequal exchange and unequal communicative rights between people or groups, defined in terms of their competence in specific languages, with unequal benefits as a result, in a system that legitimates and naturalizes such exploitation” (Phillipson, 2009, p. 348). Phillipson’s point of view, in this respect, appears being an essentially neo-Gramscian. Just as it was the case with Antonio Gramsci, who believed that ongoing socio-cultural discourses serve the purpose of legitimization bourgeoisie’s dominance over proletariat, authors like Phillipson do believe that there are conspirological motivations behind the process of English language becoming ever more appealing to world’s non-English speaking populations.

Nevertheless, the very fact that there are conspirological undertones to how ‘post-colonial’ sociologists discuss contemporary linguistic trends in the world is being implicitly suggestive of the conceptual inappropriateness of these sociologists’ line of argumentation. After all, there is a plenty of evidence as to the fact that, contrary to what neo-Marxian authors imply, the growing attractiveness of English language on a global scale simply reflects the innermost anxieties of non-English speaking populations. As van Parijs (2004) pointed it out, the fact that, as time goes on, English language is becoming increasingly appealing to non-Anglophones, is being of a spontaneous nature – that is, non-English speaking people themselves decide in favor of gaining a fluency in this language, without being forced to do so from the outside.

Apparently, the promoters of ‘linguistic multiculturalism’ have a hard time understanding a simple fact that languages are not meant to be ‘celebrated’, but to serve the function of communicational mediums. And, if for whatever the reason these languages appear being ill-adjusted to serve this specific role, it will naturally result in their eventual extinction – pure and simple. The validity of this suggestion is being self-evident to an extent that many ‘post-colonial’ authors themselves end up admitting it, “Diglossia, with English as the intrusive dominant language, may be imminent. If the state language is construed or presented as unable to function adequately for certain purposes… this will gradually result in the spread of the dominant international language English” (Phillipson & Skutnabb-Kangas,1996, p. 446). Therefore, the notion of ‘linguistic imperialism’ simply does not stand much of a conceptual ground.

Another disadvantage of English language’s global expansion is being commonly defined the fact that this expansion contributes to the rise of socio-economic inequalities between the citizens of technologically and culturally advanced Western countries, on the one hand, and the citizens of ‘spiritually rich’ but technologically and culturally backward countries of the Third World, on the other. According to Tollefson (2000), there is a certain paradox – whereas, people’s proficiency in English is often being perceived as a proof that they would be able to attain a social prominence, the very process of them attaining such a prominence results in undermining the chances to do the same, on the part of those who do not speak English.

Given the fact that in order for a particular non-English speaking individual to gain a proficiency in English, he or she will have to be able to afford it financially; this presupposes that only comparatively well-off individuals can learn English, in the first place. In its turn, this presumes that the global spread of English language primarily benefits the representatives of social elites in non-English speaking countries. Yet, one does not have to hold PhD in history to be aware of a simple fact that the representatives of world’s elites have always been the primary beneficiaries of historically predetermined socio-cultural transformations, such as the global spread of English language, in our case. It is perfectly understandable that, due to the fact that during the course of recent decades, Western countries have been growing progressively ‘socialist’, many Western sociologists consider it fully appropriate, on their part, to promote the Marxist concept of ‘equality’. This, however, does make the earlier mentioned concept any more theoretically legitimate. After all, as the famous Orwellian saying goes – all people are equal, but some people are being more equal than the others are.

The same applies to the criticism of English language’s global spread as such never slowed down the process of ‘developing’ countries, liberated of ‘White oppression’, rapidly regressing back to the state of primeval savagery. After all, the foremost justification for British and American ongoing efforts to popularize English language in the ‘developing’ countries continues to be British and American politicians’ intention to help these countries to get out of poverty. Yet, throughout the course of last thirty years, there has been not even a single indication that this starting to happen (Phillipson, 1994). This seeming inconsistency, however, cannot be blamed on American and English ‘linguistic imperialists’’ maliciousness. The fact that, even after having acquired basic skills in English language, the overwhelming majority of people in the Third World countries continue to live in the state of an extreme poverty, is nothing but the consequence of these people has lowered rate of IQ (Lynn & Vanhanen, 2002). In its turn, this explains the clearly defined lexical, morphological and syntaxes ‘otherness’ of African-American (Ebonics), Jamaican and Pakistani/Indian versions of English language, for example (Pennycook, 2003).

Very often, the negative consequences of English language’s global spread are being discussed within the context of how the process of Globalization results in the unification of people’s socio-cultural aspirations. (Phillipson & Skutnabb-Kangas, 1996). In its turn, this prompts those who oppose such a spread to criticize the process of world’s linguistic ‘englishnization’ as something that results in the destruction of many native languages, which in turn is believed to result in undermining the extent of people’s ‘cultural richness’. According to the critics, it is not only that linguistic Globalization undermines the inner integrity of indigenous societies, but also that it also results in world’s continual ‘westernization’ – just as it used to be the case during the course of a colonial era. In its turn, this is believed to cause the non-English speaking people’s sense of self-identity to grow substantially undermined from within (Mazrui, 1999). This suggestion is not being altogether deprived of a certain rationale. After all, the process of world’s linguistic homogenization does account for the fact that, as of today, non-Western cultural traditions become progressively weaker, within the context of how they affect their affiliates’ lives.

Nevertheless, individuals who criticize the global spread of English language clearly confuse the notion of unification with the notion of simplification. The validity of this statement can be illustrated with the following analogy – as compared to what it used to be the case with individually crafted horse-drawn carriages of the past, contemporary cars, manufactured on an industrial scale, appear being rather ‘simplified’. They all feature aerodynamically designed bodies, two headlights, four wheels and two/four doors. Yet, these cars’ external ‘simplicity’, does not presuppose that, when compared to the uniquely styled horse-drawn carriages, they are being simple per se. On the contrary – modern cars are utterly complex technological products. The same can be said about people who decide to switch to English as their ‘everyday language’, at the expense of abandoning their native languages – the fact that these people become linguistically homogenized does not mean that this results in lessening the extent of their cultural/intellectual sophistication.

Apparently, the process of more and more people gaining a proficiency in English language can be well conceptualized in terms of how they become the affiliates of a so-called ‘collective story’ (currently predominant socio-cultural discourse), which in turn results in these people growing ever more civilized, ever more complex on the ‘inside’. As it was pointed out by Richardson (1997), by becoming affiliated with the conventions of a particular ‘collective story’, people develop the sense of emotional bondness, which in turn helps them to overcome social alienation and become a part of the world’s shared consciousness. Thus, it will only be logical, on our part, to conclude that the so-called ‘disadvantages’ of the process of English language becoming the only linguistic tool of international communication are being of an essentially advantageous nature – whatever ironic in might sound.

Nevertheless, the most clearly seen advantage of world’s continual ‘englishnization’ is the fact that it provides an additional momentum to the ongoing cultural and social progress. It is important to understand that the very concept of civilization is being synonymous to the notion of ‘unification of standards’. Why is it that, even when compared to what it used to be the case a few decades ago, today’s Westerners enjoy the significantly improved standards of living? This is because, as time goes on, our civilization is becoming increasingly ‘standardized’. The ongoing standardization can be traced on a variety of different levels. For example, the emergence of World Trade Organization (WTO) is being reflective of the process of economic standardization. The emergence of Interpol is being reflective of the process of legal standardization. In its turn, the global spread of English language is nothing but the one of many indications of the process of people’s cultural standardization. Yet, contrary to what the critics of English language’s ‘linguistic imperialism’ imply, this process is being absolutely consistent with people’s life-agenda, as it makes their living so much more comfortable – regardless of what happened to be the particulars of these people’s cultural affiliation.

Another major advantage of English language’s global spread is the fact that, while contributing to the process of world’s primitive languages becoming extinct, it nevertheless helps to preserve these languages’ conceptually unique linguistic idioms. After all, it is now being estimated that English language is becoming continually enriched at the rate of 8.000 words per year. The bulk of these words come from world’s non-English languages. What it means is that, as time goes on, English language is attaining the subtleties of a true international language, which is being ‘owned’ by the representatives of formerly non-English speaking cultures, as much as it is being ‘owned’ by the representatives of Anglo-Saxon culture. In fact, many linguists from such countries as India, Pakistan, Jamaica and South Africa, absolutely reject the essentially Marxist idea that English language is destroying native languages. In their opinion, it is actually helping to preserve them (Mahboob, 2009). A certain parallel can be drawn between the process of English language’s continual enrichment and the process of world’s cuisine becoming increasingly enriched, as well. For example; whereas, even as recent back as hundred years ago, pizza used to be considered an exclusively Italian food, it now attained a truly global popularity, which is why it nowadays can be bought just about anywhere in the world.

The same can be said about such a vocal expression as ‘yo’, which originated in native African languages. Whereas, not too long ago this expression used to be solely associated with African-American culture, it is now being predominantly associated with Rap sub-culture. In its turn, this sub-culture can be best defined as a truly international phenomenon. This once again points out at the sheer discrepancy of ‘post-colonial’ socio-linguists’ argumentation, as to the fact that the global spread of English language is being counter-productive.


As it was suggested in the Introduction, the very laws of history have predetermined the currently ongoing process of English language becoming ever more appealing to non-English speaking populations. Therefore, those Westerners who are being overly critical of this process can be best defined as either naïve or deliberately malicious individuals. By having adopted a strongly negative attitude towards what they perceive as the emanations of English ‘linguistic imperialism’, they expose themselves as individuals who simply lack the understanding of basic laws of historical progress. Regardless of whether ‘post-colonial’ sociologists, such as Phillipson and Skutnabb-Kangas, like it or not – the continuing expansion of English throughout the world’s linguistic domain simply cannot be effectively opposed. I believe that this conclusion is being thoroughly consistent with the paper’s initial thesis.


Lynn, R & Vanhanen, T 2002, IQ and the wealth of nations, Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport.

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Mazrui, A 1999, ‘Globalization and cross-cultural values: The politics of identity and judgment’, Arab Studies Quarterly, vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 97-109.

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