Imperialism of English Language Introduction

Colonization not only changed the make-up of the world geographically, but it also changed (and continues to change) how humans interact. Think of our own country. The British came and “explored new territory” and established themselves in this “new land.” Two of the lasting legacies of British colonialism are school systems and the instruction of the English language. This legacy mirrors British colonization elsewhere as well, especially pertaining to the spread and growth of the English language. Now, English has a become a world language. However, people are learning more than just a language. They are learning (arguably) the world’s most dominant culture.

For my case study, I will be looking at the introduction and use of English in Kenya and Tanzania, two countries who have Swahili and English as their main languages, but English as an official language. This promotes the idea of neo-colonialism whereby one’s “mind” is becoming colonized with the expansion of English language & culture. This concept emerged when Ngugi wa Thiongo, a Kenyan writer, wrote a book called Decolonizing the Mind. He argued that people “are giving up their cultural
independence and abandoning the languages used by
the people of their nations.” Ngugi’s argument will prove to be important in my research, as well as to the ideology I decide to use.

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I will be comparing the roots of English in both countries, especially pertaining to colonialism and the effects of a totally British colonized country (Kenya) versus German/Britain intervention in Tanzania. I experienced the effects of the English language on East Africans during my semester abroad in Kenya (Spring 2012). With the combination of Swahili and English, a new form of speaking emerged called “sheng.” This tongue is spoken among the youth, creating a generation gap among their elders. I also experienced the cultural affects of English because of media (TV, movies, music). Popular American music and movies influence one’s appearance, which in turn relates to language and the notion of linguistic imperialism. Indeed, song lyrics and movie scripts paint pictures for Kenyans and Tanzanians and ultimately create new ideologies and perceptions of “being like the west” or copying the dominant culture. This is also apparent in the second-hand clothing markets (i.e. Toi Market) whereby locals can purchase popular American fashion that the see on their television or computer screens. Furthermore, I will be analyzing the effects of the Internet on language, especially with the idea that the Internet “shrinks” the world, allowing us access to virtually everything at the touch of a mouse.

Indeed, the English language spans across the globe. Yet, what does it mean for other peoples and cultures as English becomes a global language? Is this domination of language, and ultimately of culture, a threat to tradition?

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