Strangers Meeting? Global Governance and Global English Debates

Globalisation and global governance have been major preoccupations of the social sciences for the last two decades. Yet the language dimension of the evolving global civil society relations has been neglected in the social sciences and policy thinking on global governance. Strikingly, the discipline of international relations has neglected the critical literature on globalisation and global English in postcolonial studies, sociolinguistics, and language teaching. Notably there are the fields of linguistic imperialism, informed by cultural imperialism theories, and ecolinguistics, informed by global ecological concerns, which seek to influence global politics. Meanwhile contemporary translation studies are addressing translation practices and translators’ experiences in war, and international translator and interpreter associations are developing codes of practices seeking to protect interpreters in war zones. Only isolated studies in International Relations have engaged with this significant growing body of critical studies on global English and global language politics.

Yet while the field of international relations has neglected the global language politics literature, sociolinguistics has been slow to consider critical international relations literature on global governance and global civil society. For while the linguistic imperialism literature condemns globalisation, its global linguistic human rights advocacy or human security ideas essentially see solutions in expanding global governance and expanding role of NGOs. Strikingly the linguistic imperialism literature even ignores fellow linguist Noam Chomsky’s critique of global human rights interventions as forms of neo-imperialism, or other critiques of evolving global interventions as ‘empire lite’. Indeed the proliferating fortified aid compounds dominating the local landscape explored by international relations scholar Mark Duffield might be compared to the Tower of Babel, which the philosopher Jacques Derrida explores as the original embodiment of linguistic imperialism.

Vanessa Pupavac is author of Language Rights: From Free Speech to Global Governance, Palgrave, 2012




Derrida, Jacques (2007) ‘Des Tours de Babel’, in Psyche: Inventions of the Other, Vol. 1. Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 191-225.


Duffield, Mark (2012)  ‘Risk Management and the Fortified Aid Compound: Every-day life in Post-Interventionary Society’, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, Vol. 4, pp. 453-474.

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