Linguistic imperialism

Suresh Canagarajah, Selim Ben Said

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

21 Scopus citations


Linguistic imperialism (LI) refers to the imposition of a language on other languages and communities. As in other cases of imperialism, this is an exercise of power at the transnational level with geopolitical implications. Though imperialism through economic, cultural, political, and military means has been discussed widely, the realization that language can serve imperialistic purposes has begun to be theorized in its own right only recently. Scholars engaged in this area of research are open to the possibility that language doesn’t have to serve a subsidiary role to other material and political factors in the exercise of power; language can play a more central role in enabling the hegemony of a community. For example, some might argue that after decolonization, it is the English language that primarily sustains the power of the United States and Britain in many parts of the world today, facilitating other forms of cultural, educational, and political hegemony (see wa Thiong’o 1986). In this chapter, we first provide a historical orientation to the study of LI. Next, we review some theoretical constructs that help us understand the manifestations of LI. We illustrate these constructs in relation to educational contexts. We then move on to the controversies and debates surrounding the study of LI. Finally, we explore some new social and theoretical developments that complicate language-based hegemony. We outline the ways in which these new developments call for further study and theorization. This chapter primarily explores LI as it finds expression through the English language.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Applied Linguistics
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781136857980
ISBN (Print)9780415490672
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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