English mania: the Trojan horse or ungrounded worry?

Having been worried about omnipresence of English, Mahatma Gandhi once said: “To give millions a knowledge of English is to enslave them”. However, not only Gandhi had concerns about the pervasive influence of English. Since many spheres (education, research, business, etc.) are rapidly expanding their scope beyond the geographical, social and racial boundaries, the question whether English could become a ‘gatekeeper’, especially in the field of education, fuels hot debates among researchers and educators.

Along with Gandhi, Phillipson (1992) in his book argued that English is a form of linguistic imperialism, saying that “the dominance of English is asserted and maintained by the establishment and continuous reconstruction of structural and cultural inequalities between English and other languages” (p. 47). Cooke (1988) underpins his idea, metaphorically referring English to the Trojan horse. It could be understood in two different ways. First, the comparison with historical event: the Trojan soldiers initially welcomed huge wooden horse, but, then it turned out to be an utter defeat. In modern version, it could imply a Trojan virus, where hidden programs can destroy all the data. Drawing parallel with English, it could mean the same: English may be welcomed initially in a country but then cause concern as it dominates the native language(s) and cultures. To cite an example, the elite stratum of Pakistan not only sends their children exclusively to English medium schools, but tries to speak English at home. Moreover, Mustafa (2012) in her article underscores that educated Pakistani people “have glorified the English language to the extent that all logic has been put aside”.

However, it is vital to mention, that there are many dissenters to Phillipson’s (1992) and Cooke’s (1988) views.  For example, Widdowson (1998) has cogently argued that “there is a fundamental contradiction in the idea that the language of itself exerts hegemonic control: namely that if this were the case, you would never be able to challenge such control” (p. 398). House (2003) also questions the assumption that English as a lingua franca (ELF) is a hindrance or even a threat to multilingualism by presenting two notions- ‘language for communication’ and ‘language for identification’. To put it in simple words, she claims that ELF should be considered as a ‘language for communication’ as it has the instrumental value, meaning people who do not share L1 could use English for communication. However, “in using ELF, speakers are unlikely to conceive of it as a ‘language for identification’: it is local languages, and particularly an individual L1(s), which are likely to be main determinants of identity” (House, 2003, p. 560).

Kazakhstan, where trilingual policy is currently being implemented, pays substantial attention to English. More and more Kazakhstani youngsters take fancy to learn English. More and more schools teach English from the first grade. Hence, should we be concerned that English one day will become Trojan horse in Kazakhstan?  Could it take the position of the official language in Kazakhstan?  Do you agree that English is becoming a ‘killer language’?


Cooke, D.  (1988). ‘Ties that constrict: English as a Trojan horse’, In A. Cumming, A. Gagne & J. Dawson (eds), Awarenesses: Proceeding of the 1987 TESL Ontario Conference, Toronto, TESL Ontario, 56-62.

House, J. (2003). English as a lingua franca: A threat to multilingualism? Journal of Sociolinguistics, 7 (4), 556-578.

Mustafa, Z. (2012). Pakistan ruined by language myth. Retrieved from: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/jan/10/pakistan-language-crisis

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Widdowson, Henry G. (1998). “EIL: squaring the Circles. A Reply.” World Englishes 17(3), 397-401.

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