[lg policy] Globalization, Language Policy, and the Role of English

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Tue May 15 10:28:27 EDT 2018

 Globalization, Language Policy, and the Role of English
Thomas Ricento
The Oxford Handbook of Language Policy and Planning
Edited by James W. Tollefson and Miguel Pérez-Milans
Print Publication Date: Jul 2018 Subject: Linguistics, Sociolinguistics Online
Publication Date: May 2018 DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190458898.013.17

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In This Article

   - The Concept of Globalization
   - English and Economic Development
   - Scholarly Acceptance of the TINA Doctrine
   - Neoliberalism, Employment in the Formal Economy, and the Role of
   - Conclusion: Language Rights and Language Policy
   - References

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Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores some of the ways that apparently incompatible claims
from the language policy and planning (LPP) literature can be disambiguated
and resolved by reference to political economy. In particular, it focuses
on competing views regarding the role of English in the world today as
either a form of linguistic imperialism or a vehicle for social and
economic mobility. In analyzing the nature and effects of neoliberalism, as
expressed in its globalized economic and political forms, it shows that the
role and utility of English worldwide is a vehicle for mobility for some
people, in some economic sectors, mainly the knowledge economy, but is
generally not connected to socioeconomic mobility for the vast majority of
the global workforce. The discussion of neoliberal globalization and the
role of English addresses the following questions: Where does power reside?
Who has agency? Who decides which language has value? Who has rights?

Keywords: English
<http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/search?f_0=keyword&q_0=English>, economic
development <http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/search?f_0=keyword&q_0=economic
development>, globalization
<http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/search?f_0=keyword&q_0=globalization>, language
planning <http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/search?f_0=keyword&q_0=language
planning>, language policy
<http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/search?f_0=keyword&q_0=language policy>,

In this chapter, I explore some of the ways that apparently incompatible
claims from the language policy and planning (LPP) literature can be
disambiguated and resolved by reference to political economy. In
particular, I focus on the competing views regarding the role of English in
the world today as either (a) a form of linguistic imperialism, or (b) a
vehicle for social and economic mobility. First, I consider the case for
English as *the* global lingua franca, citing statistics from a variety of
sources that demonstrate the reach of English in academic publishing,
economic activity, and international communication networks; evidence is
also provided that the economic effects of English are both overstated and
uneven. Next, I consider the role of English in economic development in
non-English-dominant countries, using data on trade and other indices of
economic development.

The available research shows that it is difficult to tease out the
independent effects of English on economic development; the connections
from language skills to foreign trade, foreign trade to gross domestic
product (GDP), and GDP to development and quality of life are complex.
Putting it differently, the distribution of skills in a language shared
with a trading partner does not directly generate higher GDP, let alone
enhance societal welfare. I then critically examine the TINA doctrine
(“There Is No Alternative” to economic neoliberalism), a concept widely
accepted by pundits and (often implicitly) by LPP scholars.

(p. 222) In analyzing the nature and effects of economic neoliberalism, as
expressed in its globalized economic and political forms, I show that
particular levels of proficiency in English are necessary for mobility for
some people, in some economic sectors, mainly the knowledge economy, but
such proficiency is generally not connected to socioeconomic mobility for
the vast majority of the global workforce. I conclude with a brief
discussion of neoliberal globalization and the role of English by answering
the following questions: (1) Where does power reside? (2) Who has agency?
(3) Who decides which language has value? and (4) Who has rights?

The Concept of Globalization

What does the term *globalization* mean? One of the most fashionable
buzzwords of contemporary political and academic debate, *globalization* in
popular discourse often functions as a synonym for one or more of the
following phenomena:


   • The pursuit of classical liberal (or “free market”) policies in the
   world economy (“economic liberalization”)

   • The growing dominance of Western (or even American) forms of
   political, economic, and culture life (“Westernization” or

   • The proliferation of new information technologies (the “Internet

On the matter of globalization, three books written over the past decade
reflect the range of views on globalization. In his book *The Collapse of
Globalism and the Reinvention of the World*, John Ralston Saul (2005)
argues that the West remains stuck on outdated ideas of growth, wealth
creation, and trade expansion and that the world is headed for disaster. On
the other hand, Thomas Friedman, *New York Times* columnist, argues in his
2000 book *The Lexus and the Olive Tree* that the driving idea behind
globalization is free-market capitalism, and the more that market forces
rule and the economy is opened to free trade and competition, the more
efficient the economy will be. For Friedman, globalization means the spread
of free-market capitalism to virtually every country in the world through
the deregulating and privatizing of national economies in order to make
them more competitive and attractive to foreign investment. Perhaps in the
middle is someone like Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel Prize–winning economist,
who in his book *Making Globalization Work* (2007)
roundly decries the excesses and inequalities that have resulted from
neoliberal global economic policies, but believes that changes in a range
of policies can help level the playing field, especially for poorer
countries that have fared the worst over the past forty years.

Among scholars interested in globalization and language, there is a range
of views on how globalization affects language, and how language influences
globalization, just as there is a range of views on the economic and
political effects of globalization. (p. 223) Some argue, for example, that
the global spread of English has had many harmful effects, often captured
by the term *linguistic imperialism*, made popular by British applied
linguist Robert Phillipson in his 1992 book *Linguistic Imperialism*, and
in a number of subsequent publications (e.g., 2001, 2003). In this model,
English is viewed as an accomplice in the aggressive push of neoliberal
economic policies and the spread of Western culture, often crowding out
space for other languages, including medium-sized European languages, such
as Catalan (with 5.7 million speakers in Catalonia) and Finnish (about 5
million in Finland).

Others argue, often triumphantly, that English can no longer be considered
an imperial language, that it is the best and only choice for the global
lingua franca, and that everyone should accept that fact and get busy
learning English so they can improve their life chances and gain upward
socioeconomic mobility. This view is championed by linguist David Crystal
in *English as a Global Language* (2003)
and by political theorist Philip Van Parijs in *Linguistic Justice for
Europe and for the World* (2011)
Despite their strong belief in the benefits of a global language, both
Crystal and Van Parijs express concern about the real and potential
negative consequences for other languages; thus, Van Parijs also supports
the territoriality principle, by which smaller languages have protections
in the states where they are the dominant or majority language. Crystal
p. 191) warns that if in 500 years, English is the only language left to be
learned as a second/additional language, “. . . it will have been the
greatest intellectual disaster that the planet has ever known.”

I have argued in Ricento (2015)
that while English in non-English-dominant countries is tied to global
economic forces and can provide an economic advantage to persons with the
right educational credentials and skills relevant to knowledge-economy
jobs, the particular histories and circumstances of nation-states and the
policies of their governments greatly influence, even determine, the role
and status that English and other global languages will have in society,
especially in the education sector. There is no doubt that the ascendance
of English as the dominant international language, especially since World
War II, has had a measurable impact on the status and utility of languages
in a number of domains where other languages previously had greater power. De
Swaan (2001)
describes what he calls the current “global language system” in which all
languages are connected by multilingual speakers in a strongly ordered,
hierarchical pattern.

The higher languages are in this hierarchy, the greater the number of other
languages to which they are connected through multilingual speakers. In De
Swaan’s model, English is the “hypercentral language” at the hub that holds
the entire constellation together. Below English are the “super-central,”
the “central,” and, finally, the “peripheral languages.” The eleven
super-central languages (in alphabetical order) are Arabic, Chinese,
French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Malay, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and
Swahili. All except Swahili have more than one hundred million speakers,
and each serves to connect the speakers of a series of central languages.
All languages are, in today’s *globalized* world, connected indirectly via (p.
224) chains of multilingual speakers. English may be the only language
connected to virtually all other languages directly, since every language
community contains some multilinguals with English in their repertoire.

Although the number of native speakers is not, by itself, a valid criterion
for the internationality or globality of a language, it is a rough
indicator of such a status. The number of non-native speakers also strongly
correlates with the popular intuition that, for example, English and French
are world languages compared to Hindi and Urdu, or even Chinese, even
though those languages have many more native speakers than do English or
French. Ammon (2010
p. 105) provides estimates from various sources on the number of non-native
learners of English; the estimates range from 750 million to more than 1
billion (although Crystal [2003]
estimates 2 billion users of English worldwide). Trailing far behind is
French, with an estimated 82.5 million learners, followed by Chinese with
30 million learners worldwide (although another source estimates the number
to be as low as 3 million [Ammon 2010
p. 105, n. b]). German learners are fourth at 16.7 million.

If we look at the number of native plus second-language speakers of major
languages worldwide, Ammon (2010, p. 109)
using data from *Ethnologue* (2005 [1984])
reports that in 2005 Chinese ranked first, with 1.051 billion speakers,
followed by Hindi + Urdu (588 million speakers), English (508 million
speakers), Spanish (382 million speakers), and Russian (255 million
speakers) in the top five places. Using 1964 as the base year for
comparison purposes, Ammon (2010
p. 109) shows that the following languages have declined in rank in the
number of native and native plus second-language speakers of major
languages worldwide: English, Japanese, French, Italian, and especially
German (from 6th place to 11th place), while the rest have maintained their

Comparison of the economic strength of speakers of different languages,
however, yields a different ranking. Relying on data from *Ethnologue*
(2005 [1984])
Ammon (2010, p. 110)
shows that if the GDP of native and second-language speakers is divided by
the percentage of the language’s native speakers in the country’s
population, in 2005, English ranked first at $12.7 billion, nearly three
times stronger than Japanese ($4.6 billion), and five times stronger than
Chinese ($2.4 billion). German moves from #11 in the number of native plus
second-language speakers (123 million speakers) to #3 in terms of its
economic strength ($4.35 billion).

Another indicator of the international power and reach of English can be
found in the number of countries and continents in which English is named
as an official language. English has official status, including co-status
with other languages, in 67 countries on all six continents, followed by
French with official status in 29 countries on five continents, Arabic with
official status in 22 countries on two continents, Spanish with official
status in 21 countries on three continents, and German with official status
in 7 countries on one continent (Europe) (Ammon, 2010
p. 112; updated figures on English from Wikipedia, 2015

(p. 225) English is an official or working language in virtually all of the
major international organizations, including the United Nations, the
Commonwealth, the Council of Europe, the European Union, NATO, the World
Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, and it is the only official
language of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and of
the European Free Trade Association.

In scholarly publications in natural sciences, social sciences, and
humanities, English is by a very wide margin the dominant language. Hamel
documented the dominance of English in the international scientific
periodical literature. He found that in 1996, nearly 91% of scientific
publications were in English, followed by 2.1% in Russian, 1.7% in
Japanese, 1.3% in French, and 1.2% in German. In some fields, English is
even more dominant; nearly 95% of all publications in physics between 1992
and 1997 were in English. In the social sciences and humanities, between
1974 and 1995, publications in English increased from 66.6% to 82.5%, and
the second most common language was French, which decreased from 6.8% to
5.9% during this period. If we consider shares of languages in publications
in the social sciences between 1880 and 2006, which includes overall
average percentage for anthropology, political science, economics, and
sociology, we find that in 2006, 80.8% of the publications were in English,
followed by 6.1% in German, 4.0% in French, 2.1% in Russian, 1.6% in
Spanish, and 0.9% in Italian (Ammon 2010
p. 116).

English and Economic Development

For some scholars, there is a tendency to view the current world neoliberal
economic order as justifying the promotion of global languages, especially
English, as a means of affording access to jobs and social mobility in
developing countries. Philippe Van Parijs is a political theorist who has
written extensively about the benefits of a lingua franca, such as English,
in playing a role in diminishing poverty in poor countries, mainly by
reducing the out-migration of highly trained, English-speaking citizens
(e.g., Van Parijs, 2000
In *Linguistic Justice for Europe and for the World* (2011)
Van Parijs claims that a lingua franca is urgently needed in Europe and
across the world because

[i]ts adoption and spreading creates and expands a transnational demos, by
facilitating direct communication, live or online, without the cumbersome
and expensive mediation of interpretation and translation. It enables not
only the rich and the powerful, but also the poor and the powerless to
communicate, debate, network, cooperate, lobby, demonstrate effectively
across borders. This common demos . . . is a precondition for the effective
pursuit of justice, and this fact provides the second fundamental reason
why people committed to egalitarian global justice should not only (p.
226) welcome
the spread of English as a lingua franca but see it as their duty to
contribute to this spread in Europe and throughout the world. (p. 31)

Following a similar line of argument, Brutt-Griffler (2002
argues that “exclusion from high proficiency [in] English [is] a prime
determinant of lack of access to wealth in the world they [poor South
Africans] inhabit” (2005, p. 29). She criticizes those who support the
teaching of mother tongues over English as being insensitive to the
economic aspirations of oppressed and impoverished people as they seek to
escape poverty with the aid of English.

In many postcolonial countries, English is a language for the elite,
specifically those who attend English-medium private schools and are
educated overseas or in elite national universities. In South Africa, for
example, the use of African languages for learning/teaching is restricted
to underprivileged schools, while privileged schools have English as the
language of learning. In a recent study, Casale and Posel (2011
p. 18) found that “English language proficiency [in South Africa] acts as a
signal to employers of the quality of education that the worker has
received, and hence, the worker’s suitability for employment.” Yet
English-medium instruction may intensify educational disadvantage. For
example, Rassool (2013
p. 53) reports that in Pakistan, “the country’s focus on English as the
medium of education has contributed to high levels of illiteracy amongst
the population as a whole—53% in 2005; 57% in 2009.” English-medium schools
are dominated by children from the upper-middle classes and predominate in
urban areas, while the urban poor and rural communities tend to become
literate in the regional languages. Thus English (with Urdu) is available
for the social and political elites, who run their own English-medium
schools (Rahman, 2002
while for the poor rural majority, the lack of qualified teachers of
English and limited resources restrict access to tertiary education and
employment in the formal economy, where English is valued.

In Rwanda, the anglophone Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) took control of the
country from the francophone Hutu-led government in 1994, and rapidly
instituted a process of anglicization, in part for the same reasons that
English has been adopted in many other countries: “Rwandans perceived that
the future of globalization is written in English, and they wanted to be
able to participate in that new world” (Samuelson, 2013
p. 219). Rwanda gained membership in the Commonwealth in 2009, despite the
fact that estimates of the total number of English speakers in Rwanda range
from only 1.9% to 5% of the population. Even though 99% of the population
can speak Kinyarwanda, the emphasis on English in education through
official government policies has blocked the use of mother-tongue education
that would allow students to develop literacy in Kinyarwanda while also
learning English (or French) as a subject in the early grades (p. 225).

In Rwanda, as in India, South Africa, Pakistan, Zambia, Tanzania, Malawi,
Zimbabwe, and many other countries in Africa and elsewhere, decision-making
about language policies in education tends to reflect the agendas of the
most (p. 227) powerful groups, who seek foreign investment and loans to
bolster their ability to maintain power, rather than to pursue broadly
based economic development policies. Thus Williams (2014)
summarizes the effects of the “Straight-for-English” policy in African
countries in this way:

To date . . . the evidence suggests that the dominant role of English in
primary schools has, for the majority, proved to be a barrier to education,
rather than a bridge. Students fail to acquire language capital, so human
capital is not accumulated, and no economic capital accrues. It is no
surprise, then, that whether one looks at development in terms of economic
progress or of human needs, poor countries such as Malawi, Zambia and
Rwanda that use ex-colonial languages in education have not hitherto made
great strides. . . . (p. 137)

Despite such cases, the economic power of English is often assumed and
often overstated. Although studies have shown that English can have an
important influence on trade and wages, if other factors are taken into
account, we find that English is just one factor in determining wages and
level of trade. The following studies show that conclusions about the
effects of English in trade and employment vary widely from one context to


   1. Ku and Zussman (2010)
   found that in a survey over a thirty-year period of 100 countries in which
   English is not a first language, the acquisition of English-language skills
   could be seen as enabling the promotion of foreign trade. They base their
   conclusion largely on mean national test scores on the Test of English as a
   Foreign Language (TOEFL) over a period of thirty years; controlling for
   other factors that might influence trade, they found that English
   proficiency has a strong and statistically significant effect on trade
   flows. Their study included both industrialized and developing countries in
   all regions of the globe.

   2. Using average TOEFL scores from fifty-four countries and GDP as the
   measure of development, Arcand and Grin (2013)
   found that widespread proficiency in English in countries in postcolonial
   Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia does not appear to be associated with higher
   levels of economic development, while widespread use of local languages
   positively correlates with economic development. They also found that
   English can covary with other variables, including income itself, and that
   English does not have unique effects on economic development or growth.

   3. In studies that looked at market returns associated with English,
   there is some evidence that for individuals, English proficiency in South
   Africa has a direct positive effect on labor returns. For example, Casale
   and Posel (2011)
   controlling for an individual’s amount of education, found that there is a
   significant wage premium for black South Africans with fluency in English
   literacy. On the other hand, Levinsohn (2007)
   found that English proficiency was more of an advantage for white South
   Africans compared to black South Africans.

   (p. 228) 4. In India, Azam and Prakish (2010)
   found that fluency in English (compared to no ability in English) increased
   hourly wages of men by 34%, and even a little proficiency in English
   increased male hourly wages by 13%; however, returns to English were lower
   for women, and were also significantly lower for members of India’s
   Scheduled Castes. They conclude that upward mobility does not come
   automatically with English skills in India; some obstacles, including
   long-rooted discrimination against low castes, impede low-caste group
   members even when they have a skill that is valued by the modern labor

   5. In a study on the relations between language diversity and foreign
   trade, Melitz (2008)
   found that despite the dominant position of English as a world language,
   English is no more effective in promoting trade than other major European
   languages. On the other hand, the major European languages as a group
   (including English) are more efficient than other languages in promoting

Scholarly Acceptance of the TINA Doctrine

The policies and values associated with global economic neoliberalism tend
to work against the very communal values that could benefit the
sustainability of local economic development and, along with it, the
sustainability of local languages, which are prerequisites for even minimal
conceptualizations of justice within a global demos. In my view, the
argument that “There Is No Alternative” (TINA) to global neoliberalism has
been implicitly accepted by scholars such as Van Parijs and Brutt-Griffler,
even though they may oppose the corrosive effects of neoliberalism,
especially in the most impoverished countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin
America. I concur with the sentiment expressed by Edwards (2003, p. 43)
who says, “. . . we should cultivate a clearer and broader awareness of the
real forces in the real world that bear upon language matters.”

However, as with Van Parijs and Brutt-Griffler, Edwards does not question
the impact of neoliberal economic policies on the fate of minority
languages and cultures. In fact, Edwards (2010
p. 16) takes to task those scholars “. . . who are philosophically
unwilling to find anything of moral value in modern, Western, capitalist
society . . .” (p. 16) and who lament the loss of “authenticity” in a
globalized economic system. He finds that a critique of neoliberalism “. .
. naturally extends to the scientific culture per se, indeed to the
generalities and ‘universals’ which many would see as the pivots of
progress” (p. 17). To back up his claim, Edwards cites the British
intellectual C. P. Snow, who concluded that “industrialization is the only
hope of the poor” (p. 229) (1959, p. 27), and Ernest Gellner (1968, p. 405)
who argued for the superiority of the “scientific-industrial” way of life
and claimed that modern society offered the best chances for individual
freedom and “material liberation” (cited on p. 17). (For a critique of this
view, see Saul [1992]

Edwards’s (2010)
position makes explicit a view that is widely held by scholars who, even if
espousing goals of social justice, tend to accept implicitly the TINA
principle, that is, there is no alternative to modern orthodox political
liberalism or its current global neoliberal economic instantiation. Yet the
core elements that characterize contemporary neoliberal orthodoxy, which
tend to reflect the interests of concentrated economic capital, are
generally served by language policies that align with those same economic
interests, including the promotion of linguae francae such as English. The
problem with the position of Van Parijs is that he downplays the
contradictions between the values and goals of economic neoliberalism and
the values and goals necessary to promote a meaningful “democratic world
order” in which economic justice can only be feasible if the debilitating
values and manifest negative effects of the current neoliberal global
regime—especially the lack of democratic participation in
decision-making—are reversed, or at least severely modified. In other
words, a global lingua franca is, or would be, an epiphenomenon of the very
system that is antithetical to the values of a global, participatory demos.

The shortcomings of political liberalism, as practiced within Western(ized)
political economies, have been apparent for a very long time (see Macpherson,
[1973]), but these shortcomings have become greatly amplified over the past
forty years. During this period, the decline of the distributive function
of governments—largely though policies that have transferred public wealth
to private corporations through favorable tax breaks, significant reduction
of subsidies for social welfare programs, protective tariffs, and the
financialization of natural resources and other goods and services,
including intellectual property—has strengthened the role and power of
corporate interests while reducing resources available to benefit the
world’s subordinate classes and shrinking the middle class in the
industrialized nations. As Sandel (1982)
puts it, liberals exaggerate the capacity for, and the value of, individual
choice in the contemporary world. In the domain of language, as Holborow
p. 55) observes, “[n]o one could fail to recognize the fact that real
language choice hardly exists anywhere in the unequal world of today.”

Proficiency in English (and in particular varieties of English), whether as
a first, second, or third language, may provide an advantage for careers
and employment in certain sectors of the global economy, but the number of
available jobs and the number of jobs being created that require English is
very small compared to the numbers of workers seeking jobs worldwide. The
policies of the rich countries, especially the United States and the United
Kingdom, supported and abetted by major international institutions, such as
the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade
Organization, seek to exploit countries with relatively lower wages,
limited workers’ rights and environmental protections, relatively stable (p.
230) governments, and taxation and repatriation policies that provide a
safe haven for foreign investors.

The jobs in these exploited countries are disproportionately very low-wage
jobs for which only minimal competence, if any, in English is required. In
cases in which a high degree of English is required, as with call centers
in India and elsewhere, relatively small numbers of educated workers who
also happen to speak, or can master, a variety of English acceptable to
American consumers (Blommaert, 2009
have an advantage over those who don’t speak this variety of English. But
given the limited beneficiaries of English-promotion policies, English
cannot be claimed to be a sufficient means to social mobility, let alone
global justice for most individuals. Indeed, it is instead essential to
address the underlying dynamics of transnational capitalism, particularly
its effects on employment and migration patterns that often work against
the development of local economies, especially in developing and poor

Neoliberalism, Employment in the Formal Economy, and the Role of English

Castells (2006
p. 58) estimates that only about 200 million of the world workforce of 3
billion workers (about 7%) find work through the 53,000 or so multinational
corporations and their related networks, yet this workforce is responsible
for 40% of global GDP and two-thirds of world trade (Williams, 2010
p. 50). Linguae francae are used in these companies, regardless of their
location, and English is by far the most common. Ammon (1995)
reports that the German Chambers of Commerce recommend the use of English
as the sole language of communication for transactions with 64 countries;
German is recommended as a co-language for 25 countries, and Spanish for
17. These data suggest that English is a global lingua franca for players
in the knowledge economy, and English, French, German, and Spanish are
European linguae francae. Given that trade involving Japan, the United
States, and Europe accounted for 50% of world GDP in 2000, the special
status of these languages appears to be justified from a purely macro
economic perspective.

The processes of neoliberalism and their globalized effects account for the
movement of skilled labor to countries whose state or national language is
English, or to companies who use English as the primary language of their
activities. European mergers and acquisitions exceeded $1 trillion during
2005. The United States alone accounted for another $1.16 trillion in the
value of mergers and acquisitions in 2005, followed by the United Kingdom
($305 billion). Many of these (p. 231) mergers involved technology
companies. Because these new mega-companies have no obligation to retain
their headquarters in the “home” countries, they increasingly move to
countries with the most favorable corporate taxation regimes. In 2005, the
most competitive countries with regard to taxation were Finland, the United
States, Sweden, Denmark, Taiwan, Singapore, Iceland, Switzerland, Norway,
and Australia (Williams, 2010
p. 30).

Only the countries that invest massively in education and research can
appropriate the foreign technologies necessary to catch up with the rich
countries. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
claims that the poorer countries are the origin of only 8.4% of the
spending on research and development (R&D) in the world, with 97% of this
being in Asia (cited in Williams, 2010
p. 33). Therefore, foreign companies are not likely to locate in these
countries, but rather will locate their head offices with high-paying jobs
in the rich industrialized countries. Clearly, English is the dominant
language in technology, and these countries have English either as the
national language or a language spoken by high percentages of the relevant
workforce. The trifecta of favorable corporate tax policies, a highly
educated workforce, and one that speaks English helps perpetuate and
increase disparities between poor and rich countries by attracting
corporations beholden to shareholders’ interests.

With outsourcing and offshoring, multinational corporations target certain
regions of the world to create production facilities in order to market and
sell products where they are produced. US facilities abroad produce $2.2
trillion a year for sales abroad and include factories and production
facilities in many developing countries in Asia and Latin America. However,
the outsourcing of New Economy activities requires a highly skilled and
educated labor market, and with wages lower than those in the “home”
country. Thus, India’s technology industry employs 800,000, of which
300,000 (38%) work in Indian call centers. Indeed, a study by Deloitte in
2003 predicted that by 2010 as many as 25% of workers in the technology
sector of the wealthiest countries would be de-localized into the emerging
markets, with the zone of de-localization to include India, South Africa,
Malaysia, Australia, and China, with India remaining the central point.

National governments in poor countries have had to choose between
supporting fair wages, worker rights, environmental protection, and
appropriate taxation policies on foreign investment, or the demands of the
multinational corporations and banks (often referred to as conditionality),
which oppose all of the preceding in order to ensure the greatest possible
returns on investment. Citizens in these countries typically have no voice
or vote in industrial policy (nor, in fact, do most citizens in more
developed countries). Also, many of the jobs created in developing
countries are temporary and without benefits, while fluctuations in global
consumer consumption and currency exchange rates mean that local economic
stability and growth is uncertain, as profits are repatriated to the rich

(p. 232) Conclusion: Language Rights and Language Policy

Brutt-Griffler accurately notes (2005, p. 31) that “*languages* do not have
either power or rights, their speakers do. Languages can serve or hinder
the purposes of their speakers, but on their own they are not social
agents.” In the neoliberal version of globalization, then, where does power
reside? Who has agency? Who decides which language has value? Who has
rights? The widely held tenets of contemporary neoliberalism offer answers
to these questions:


   • Corporations have more “rights” and protections, and certainly more
   power than individual human beings;

   • Corporations have the “right” to hire any workers they please,
   anywhere in the world, at any wage, with few benefits and no job security;

   • Individuals are on their own, each a disposable worker in a monetized,
   commodified system in which the only true right that remains, one that is
   virtually never questioned or opposed by the corporate media or economists,
   is the right to private property and the right to protect it at any cost;

   • The right of private property and private ownership of national
   resources is claimed by the leaders of capitalist governments to be a
   necessary condition for “democracy” throughout the world.

As Harvey (2005
p. 176) puts it, “Neoliberal concern for the individual trumps any social
democratic concern for equality, democracy, and social solidarities.” A
relatively few “world” languages serve the economic interests of large
transnational corporations and banks, even though the percentage of the
world’s workforce that benefits is disproportionately skewed toward the
most highly educated people from the richest countries, and especially
multinational corporations themselves. Even in Europe, only about 4.5
million European citizens (about 1.4% of the total population) with
tertiary-level qualifications are mobile across state boundaries within
Europe (Williams, 2010
p. 50). The massive inequalities in global wealth occur not because of
insufficient learning of English or other colonial languages, but rather
because many of the poorest countries play a particular and narrow role in
the global system, which is to provide cheap labor and natural resources to
richer countries to be used in the manufacture of finished goods, with rich
countries placing protectionist barriers on the exports by poorer countries
of locally manufactured products, such as textiles and agricultural

This system has the effect of retarding local economic development that
would require the use of local resources, including local/regional
languages (Romaine, 2015
The belief that expanding access to English will help poor people escape
poverty does not reflect reality on the ground. Even in poor countries,
small numbers of (p. 233) socially and economically advantaged citizens
benefit from neoliberal policies, because they have access to high-quality
education (for example, in India and South Africa, as discussed in Ricento,
and political power. “Free market” capitalism for the poor countries and
corporate socialism for the rich countries means that language policies
based on regimes of language rights will not succeed in reducing economic
and social inequality. Groups who already speak dominant languages and have
privileged access to education and cultural capital do not need more
rights, and those who speak marginalized languages and lack access to
high-quality education and cultural capital will not benefit by the
granting of such rights.

I have suggested that the preference for English as a global lingua franca,
especially over the past half-century, is conditioned by processes of
economic globalization and expansion of the digitalized knowledge economy
that disproportionately benefit some workers in some economic sectors and
geographical regions, but mostly benefit the corporations that employ those
workers. At this point in history, knowledge of certain varieties of
English, coupled with particular skill sets obtainable only through high
levels of education that are not universally accessible, is likely to
enhance the social mobility of some individuals. States that provide
affordable access to appropriate and high-quality English-language
education, and which have highly educated workers with skills in demand in
the knowledge economy, are in the game; states lacking in both will
continue to lag far behind. But English is merely the language of the
moment, not the inherent “hegemon,” not the de facto oppressor, and most
certainly *not* the ticket to social or economic mobility that it is
claimed to be, either overtly or implicitly, by supporters and apologists
for the current world neoliberal economic order.

Ricento, Thomas (2012), Political Economy and English as a “Global”
Language, *Critical Multilingualism Studies* 1, 30–52Ricento, Thomas (Ed.)
(2015), *Language Policy and Political Economy: English in a Global Context*,
Oxford: Oxford University Press

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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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