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Language Policy, Political Theory, and English as a ‘Global’ Language

Within the language policy and planning literature, coherent and explicit theories of politics and power are rarely evident.  Terms such as ‘dominant language’ and ‘minority language’ can mean different things in different contexts.  Other terms that tend to be under-theorized include globalization, market economy, and liberalism.  On the other hand, within the literature of political theory, a great deal of attention is paid to liberalism, justice, and fairness, but when these frameworks and their corresponding criteria are applied to matters of languages and language policies, normative approaches tend to ignore or mischaracterize the relations between language, identity, community, and the evolution of particular societies viewed from long-term historical perspective.  In this paper, I explore some of the ways that apparently incompatible claims from the LPP literature can be disambiguated and resolved by reference to political theory.  In particular, I will 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.  In analyzing the nature and effects of neoliberalism, as expressed in its globalized economic and political forms, I show 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 will address the following questions:  (1) where does power reside? (2) who has agency? (3) who decides which language has value? and (4) who has rights? 
Kymlicka, W. (1989).  Liberalism, community, and culture.  Oxford:  Oxford University
Ricento, T. (2010).  Language policy and globalization.  In N. Coupland (ed.),  The
Handbook of language and globalization, pp. 123-141.  Malden, MA:  Wiley- Blackwell.
Williams, G.  (2010).  The knowledge economy, language, and culture.  Clevedon:
Multilingual Matters.

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