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Modern Imperialism

Linguistic Dominance or Imperialism can be defined as the transfer of power through language.

In the 21st century, the English language is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, which is why it has been attributed the name of “world language”.  Being the lingua franca of the modern era, it is currently the language most taught as a foreign language.  Due to its extensive use  by diverse peoples, many linguists believe that “it is no longer the exclusive cultural property of native speakers” but  rather that it has become a part of the cultures in which it is immersed.

This constant use of the language (studied by 89%of schoolchildren in the EU) has had an enormous impact upon many other languages so much so that it has led to language shift and even language death.  Language shift, also referred to as language transfer or assimilation, occurs when a community which speaks a particular language shifts to another language.  This is the main cause of language death.

Although the expansion of the languages leads to globalisation and also has improved inter-global communication, the downside remains that indigenous dialects and languages are becoming extinct.  Some linguists attribute this phenomenon to linguistic imperialism.

Examples of Linguistic Imperialism are spread across the pages of history, not only with the English language but also French, Chinese, and German.  Language transfer is mainly a demonstration of power, not only economic but also military and cultural;

  • During the Middle Ages, the English language was literally usurped by the French following the Norman Conquest.  For hundreds of years following the conquest, the French language kept its stronghold in England.  Anglo-Norman was the preferred language of administration.
  • After the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire, the German language gained ascendency over much of present day Germany and Central Europe until becoming the language of trade and nobility.
  • The same can be said of French being an expansionist language (Francization).  Dialects used in France such as Occitan, Breton, Basque and Corsican were greatly marginalised.
  • In post-independence India, Hindi was initially thought of being imposed as the sole “National Language”.  This was stopped by protests from Southern states of India (such as Kannada, Telegu, Tamil, Malayalam and Tulu).  Both Hindi and English thus became the two official administrative languages.

Linguistic Dominance in the 21st century is restricted to four main languages lead by English.  This is followed by French, Spanish and Chinese.  Countries need to wake up and take steps to preserve their cultural and linguistic inheritance.  Being a global family has its advantages but the roots which define us cannot be severed in the name of modernism.


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About Sharon Stephens

Sharon Stephens is Operations Director of Lingua Translation. With a First Class Honours Degree in Translation and a University Lecturer in Translation (Masters), she is a self confessed language geek! Bringing the academic principles of translation and business together Sharon offers a quality-driven and needs centric translation and interpreting service - like no other.

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