English, the Lingua Nullius of Global Hegemony

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Purportedly democratic states have many unjust and undemocratic features. This is also true of the management of EU affairs, including its multilingualism. These weaknesses co-articulate with an increased use of English in globalisation, neoliberalism, and greater European integration. There has been a transition from European colonisation worldwide, ostensibly justified by the Western myth of terra nullius, to worldwide penetration of American imperialism as a cultura nullius, in McDonaldisation processes in many social functions that accompany military and economic empire. English is now increasingly marketed as a necessity, as though it serves all equally well, a lingua nullius. Some European Commission initiatives accord linguicist priority to English, or argue for it as a seemingly neutral lingua franca, in effect a lingua nullius. This obscures the forces behind the power of English. Its hegemony has serious implications for speakers of other languages and their cultures. This chapter documents some of the workings of the project to establish “global English”.
The operation of the supranational EU system, and of EU-funded activities in Member States, builds on the evolution of novel forms of linguistic governance, “integration through law” (treaties), and judgments of the European Court of Justice. These not only interpret law but are teleological: they extend supranational law and the scope of the Common Market. Another example of the extension of English linguistic hegemony is the way in which the EU administration of post-conflict Bosnia has failed to achieve its goal of creating a viable state, but has served to enshrine English as a new language of power. Noble human rights aims are aspired to, but are subject to the influence of the forces behind corporate empire, a project that unites the USA and the EU. The failure to create more just societies and to substantiate deliberative democratic principles confirms the analysis of scholars who assess that “international relations” are pathologically inadequate, and that we have reached the “endtimes” of human rights. English in global and EU governance strengthens particular interests that are obscured by the myth of it as a lingua nullius. Existential language policy issues should not be consigned to the mercy of the market.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Politics of Multilingualism : Europeanisation, Globalisation and Linguistic Governance
EditorsPeter A. Kraus, François Grin
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
PublisherJohn Benjamins Publishing Company
Publication date2018
ISBN (Print)9789027201362
ISBN (Electronic)9789027263612
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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