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Multilingualism Seminar/Second Language Education Group

Linguistic Justice in Policy and Practice

11 February 2020, 17:00 – 18:30

Room 1S3, Donald McIntyre Building, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, Hills Road, Cambridge

Robert Phillipson, Emeritus Professor at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark.

Whether English ‘would continue to spread as a second language the world over, as a benevolent bonus or creeping cancer of modernity’ was raised by Joshua Fishman in 1976 (cited in Robert Phillipson's Linguistic imperialism, OUP, 1992, 11). ‘Universal’ human rights declarations aim at counteracting the injudicious effects of market forces, but language policy and language rights are weakly represented in them. There are measures to ensure linguistic justice in some EU functions and in policies in some member states. Whether the increasing dominance of English represents a threat to other languages or not needs empirical investigation in specific contexts. The learning and use of English is being promoted so energetically worldwide that it is essential to assess whether it serves as a panacea (strengthening multilingualism) or as a pandemic (marginalising other languages). The five Nordic countries (Scandinavia and Finland) have policies aiming to ensure a healthy balance between English and national languages, and recommend policies to achieve ‘parallel competence’ in higher education. This goal needs to be integrated into policies for ensuring linguistic justice for speakers of all languages.

Bunce, Pauline, Robert Phillipson, Vaughan Rapatahana, and Ruanni. F. Tupas (eds) 2016. Why English? Confronting the Hydra. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove and Robert Phillipson (eds) 2017. Language Rights. Four volumes. Abingdon: Routledge.

Phillipson, Robert 2018. English, the lingua nullius of global hegemony. In The politics of multilingualism. Europeanisation, globalisation and linguistic governance, ed. P. A. Kraus and F.Grin. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 275-303.

Phillipson, Robert 2019. Linguistic imperialism. Entry in The Concise Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics, ed. C. A. Chapelle. Online.

Phillipson, Robert, December 2019. Languages in public policy, and constraints in academia. Language Problems and Language Planning, 43/3.

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Robert Phillipson is an Emeritus Professor at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. British by origin, he studied at Cambridge and Leeds Universities, UK, and has a doctorate from the University of Amsterdam. He worked for the British Council in Algeria, Yugoslavia, and London, before emigrating to Denmark in 1973. His main books are Linguistic imperialism (Oxford University Press, 1992), English-only Europe? Challenging language policy (Routledge, 2003), updated and translated into French as La domination de l’anglais: un défi pour l’Europe (Libre & Solidaire, 2019), and Linguistic imperialism continued (Routledge, 2009). He has co-edited books on language rights and multilingual education, including Why English? Confronting the Hydra (2016) and Language Rights (four volumes, with his wife, Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, 2017). He was awarded the UNESCO Linguapax prize in 2010. Details of publications and CV: see

17:00 - 18:30


Room 1S3, Donald McIntyre Building, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, Hills Road, Cambridge

Free. No registration required. A drinks reception will follow the talk.
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