by Terence MacNamee

Heard of this word? It really exists. We have long had the word “Anglicization”, which meant the adoption – willing or unwilling – of English language and culture. This word no longer seems to do, for “Englishization” has been coined. Is it because something new is involved? Or can it be because the coiners don’t know enough English to know the established word? Anyway, there is a certain grim appropriateness to it: a barbarous word for a barbarous thing. What is it all about?

Englishization seems to refer to two different things: (1) teaching through the medium of English in universities, and (2) the influence of the English language on other languages, especially Asian ones. Thus one speaks of “the Englishization of higher education” but also of “the Englishization of Chinese, or Japanese”.

Sense (2) – influence on other languages – is easy enough to understand. It is mainly due to translation. Thus for example the “localization” of software into Asian languages results in English terms and even English ways of saying things being imported into those languages. This can hardly be avoided, though it can be resisted. If it is any consolation to Asians, Europeans are dealing with exactly the same thing – our languages too are being corrupted by English imports. But then again, Europeans always have been dealing with this. German, for example, has recently taken on a flood of English words, but three centuries ago it was taking on a flood of French words.

I will not spend any more time on sense (2), however, but will now talk about (1), because it is a huge phenomenon with huge implications.

Englishization of higher education in Asia is due to the preponderance of English in academic research and publishing in the world today. It is also due to the presence of large numbers of foreigners among university faculty and students, who don’t bother to learn the language of the country they are in, but do understand English. Thus the presence of Chinese students in Japan is used as an argument for teaching in English at Japanese universities, not (of course) as an argument for Chinese. This seems to be leading to a situation where all teaching and research in Asia would be done in English.

This is a lot to ask of millions of Asians, who would find it easier to study in their own language. It appeals to English-speakers, especially to academics who now find that they have vastly increased new career opportunities. Some English-speaking academics think it is not a great idea, however, as it represents a linguistic impoverishment of the world, and of Asia in particular.

The Englishization trend in higher education has already spawned a huge industry: ESL. Asian students are learning English in very large numbers so they can go to universities in the English-speaking world, and later be able to participate in English-medium research. But they are also learning it to go to universities in other countries in Asia where courses are taught in English. Before long, they may even be learning it to go to university in their own countries.

The cultural and even political implications of this trend can hardly be ignored. Is “Englishization” anything different from what “Anglicization” was in the old days?