Linguistic imperialism is often seen in the context of cultural imperialism.
Phillipson defines English linguistic imperialism as
the dominance asserted and retained by the establishment and continuous reconstitution of structural and cultural inequalities between English and other languages.
Phillipson’s theory critiques the historic spread of English as an international language and that language’s continued dominance, particularly in postcolonial settings such as India, Pakistan, Uganda, Zimbabwe, etc., but also increasingly in “neo-colonial” settings such as continental Europe. His theory draws mainly on Johan Galtung’s imperialism theory, Antonio Gramsci’s social theory, and in particular on his notion of cultural hegemony.
A central theme of Phillipson’s theory is the complex hegemonic processes which, he asserts, continue to sustain the pre-eminence of English in the world today. His book analyzes the British Council’s use of rhetoric to promote English, and discusses key tenets of English applied linguistics and English-language-teaching methodology. These tenets hold that:
* English is best taught monolingually (“the monolingual fallacy”);
* the ideal teacher is a native speaker (“the native-speaker fallacy”);
* the earlier English is taught, the better the results (“the early-start fallacy”);
* the more English is taught, the better the results (“the maximum-exposure fallacy”);
* if other languages are used much, standards of English will drop (“the subtractive fallacy”).
According to Phillipson, those who promote English—organizations such as the British Council, the IMF and the World Bank, and individuals such as operators of English-language schools—use three types of argument:
* Intrinsic arguments describe the English language as providential, rich, noble and interesting. Such arguments tend to assert what English is and what other languages are not.
* Extrinsic arguments point out that English is well-established: that it has many speakers, and that there are trained teachers and a wealth of teaching material.
* Functional arguments emphasize the usefulness of English as a gateway to the world.
Other arguments for English are
* its economic utility: it enables people to operate technology;
* its ideological function: it stands for modernity;
* its status as symbol for material advance and efficiency.