Languages in Public Policy, and Constraints in Academia

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The article explores evidence of public policy ignoring scholarly recommendations, and describes instances of this in the field of language policy at both supranational and national levels. One significant contemporary influence is that university autonomy and academic freedom are being constrained by neoliberal pressures. Evidence of this in the United Kingdom and Denmark is described. These trends are connected to the wider context of the transition from the practices and ideology of terra nullius to legitimate colonisation and global Europeanisation, and the concomitant dispossession of the territories of others, to global Americanisation processes, the universalization of a cultura nullius in commerce, the media, academia, and domestic life. This dovetails with the promotion and establishment of English as a lingua nullius, a language that should be learned by all worldwide, as if it serves the interests of all inhabitants of the globe, and is disconnected from the causal factors behind the expansion of the language. One speech by Winston Churchill argues for the maintenance of university autonomy and historical awareness. Another pleads for Anglo-American global dominance, including the promotion of English as a 'world' language. These competing pleas have had different outcomes: academic freedom and traditions are currently at risk, whereas US dominance and the promotion and expansion of English have thrived. The governments of the five Nordic countries have acted to ensure the maintenance of national languages as well as competence in 'international languages'. This is exemplified by a description of how universities should assure parallel competence and thereby a healthy balance between English and national languages. Soft power is never far from economic, political, and military power, all of which entail language use. China and Chinese are well launched on a comparable trajectory to the expansion of English.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLanguage Problems and Language Planning
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)286-311
Number of pages26
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Language policy
  • English as a lingua nullius
  • Academia
  • Denmark
  • United Kingdom
  • Supranational level
  • National level

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