What is it about?

The theory of Linguistic Imperialism is that powerful institutions - particularly governments - use language policy to maintain economic and political dominance, and to exert soft power. Some scholars have suggested that this theory is more like a conspiracy theory than an academic theory. This study compares the language used by Robert Philipson in his books and papers about his theory, with that used in other academic papers, and by conspiracy theory authors, to see where they overlap and whether there is the much similarity.

Featured Image

Why is it important?

When this study commenced it was partly inspired by the burgeoning public enthusiasm for conspiracy theory style content - particularly on social media. Since then we have come to hear the term "Fake News" used regularly. The allegations made against Linguistic Imperialism bare relevance to both of the above in that it is becoming increasingly important to gauge the legitimacy of information that comes before us. This study was a modest attempt to do so with regards to Linguistic Imperialism.


I first came to read articles about Linguistic Imperialism having already some familiarity with conspiracy theories, which seem to have proliferated since September 11th 2001. My immediate reaction was that it seemed silly to dub Linguistic Imperialism as a conspiracy theory. In the same period I also became familiar with the basics of Corpus Linguistics techniques - which enable the comparison of large quantities of text on a statistical basis. These tools seemed an ideal way to assess whether there was any commonality between Linguistic Imperialism and conspiracy theories in a less knee-jerk manner.

Sean Thornton
Toyo Daigaku

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Does a corpus informed analysis provide any insights as to why Robert Phillipson’s theory of Linguistic Imperialism is labelled by some as a conspiracy theory?, Pragmatics and Society, June 2018, John Benjamins,
DOI: 10.1075/ps.15065.tho.
You can read the full text:




The following have contributed to this page