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Use of the English Language in Politics and Education

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 6817 words Published: 2nd Apr 2019

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World Englishes: The adoption and use of English in European politics and education with reference to Brexit;

What is ‘World Englishes’?

“English is no longer just ‘one language’, it comes in many different shapes and sizes.” Schneider, 2011, p. 11

The term ‘World Englishes’ was devised by the sociolinguistic researcher Braj Kachru and is one of the most influential models in the discussion of the spread of English on a global scale. The word ‘Englishes’ is a term which means there is more than one type of the English language based on indigenised forms adapted for and from a variety of reasons which will be discussed throughout this paper. 

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The very idea of World Englishes (WE) is quite exceptional and one of which has turned into a fixation for current researchers such as Robert Philipson and Edgar W. Schneider. Sociolinguistic and regional variations of WE are being examined vastly by researchers to deepen their understanding of why English as a first, second or foreign language has become one of or if not, the most dominant language in the world. One could say that English has taken the place of languages such as Esperanto which sole purpose was to eventually become the world’s most commonly spoken language or the ‘lingua franca’.

With many theorists such as Cogo and Jenkins (2010), believing that English will benefit one of the world’s leading political unification, the European Union (EU), because it serves the purpose of a lingua franca (mutual understanding) for borderless communication, others such as van Parijs (2011, p. 220)believe that English as a lingua franca serves as a loss of ‘parity of esteem’.

In this essay, therefore, I will review areas such as the use and spread of English from nativisation and colonialism as it is first and foremost important to understand how English became the so-called lingua franca­­ in today’s modern society. It is also crucial to draw attention to one of the most groundbreaking approaches to the ownership and use of English as discussed by Kachru. The focus of the essay is the use of English in Europe; politically and socially. I will endeavour to address how English is used in the context of the European Union, education and the specific context of founding members; France and Germany with a specific focus on Italy. One of the other key topics that will be reviewed is the effect of Brexit on English within the context of Europe and any obvious effects this could have on the UK ‘Brexiting’.

Historical origins and spread of English

The types of colonisation by the British Empire meant different attached connotations in the use and spread of English; these can be defined as; settlement and exploitation. Nations in which explorers settled such as Australia and New Zealand, meant these territories were conquered, and natives were forced by settlers to use English. Other countries which were exploited by the British Empire, including many African and Asian nations, were used primarily as a means of harvesting labourers and obtaining natural resources to benefit Britain in its strive for global dominance. This meant English was used by the elitists and not by the natives of the country. Within the last century, the indigenisation and nativisation of English from the former British Empire colonies further expanded the use of English encompassing a sense of belonging to a particular region or culture; different types of English, or as discussed, Englishes (Schneider, 2011). The countries which were colonised by the British Empire were not preliminarily exposed and made to use English in some cases; it was in fact only used by settlers and expatriates. English is now a recognised first language of many former colonised nations around the world such as Singapore, Malaysia and Nigeria (Crystal, 2003)which are all territories which were previously exploitedby the former British Empire.

The English language was predicted by Follick (1934)to spread and be used internationally by nations to communicate and cooperate. It could be said that there was a natural shift in using English as a conventional means of communication because of its imperialistic background and because English had already been introduced to a number of British Empire colonies, such as India and South Africa. It was also being used by countries with strong international political and economic backgrounds, such as the United States and the UK (Schneider, 2011). English, having been introduced two centuries ago, already had a stronghold within African and Asian countries which meant that English had already been adapted to local dialects. This rapid spread and use of English meant that governments, education and the media within these former colonies were used to communicate and compete with other countries; English is perceived to be a dominant language as it allows for better job opportunities and prosperity (Crystal, 2003). Today through membership, any former British Empire colonies are known as the ‘Commonwealth of Nations’ in which the Queen is sovereign head of state which could still be impacting on the relation of English as a dominant language of former settled and colonised nations.  Kachrudeveloped ‘The Three Circles’ model to outline how English is used and continues to be used internationally in countries such as those in the commonwealth.

Kachru – The Three Circles

The model is presented concentrically; the Inner Circle, The Outer Circle and The Expanding Circle (Kachru, 1992). The overlapping circles are conceptualised as; English as a Native Language (ENL) – ‘Inner Circle’, English as a Second Language (ESL) being the ‘Outer Circle and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) presented as the ‘Expanding Circle’ (Schneider, 2011, p. 31). The Inner Circle includes countries such as the United Kingdom, The United States, New Zealand, Australia and Canada; the Outer Circle comprises of post-colonial nations such as India and Singapore, and the Expanding Circle contains the rest of the world (Crystal, 2003, p. 61).

Kachru’s socio-political way of thinking plays substantial importance on the Outer and Expanding Circles because he is sturdy of the opinion that ‘English belongs to all those who use it’ so there is no great need for ESL and EFL users to obsess over developing the perfect Inner Circle accent or way of thinking Kachru (1992). Furthermore, Kachru argues that because users of English in the Outer and Expanding Circles have as much ownership as those in the Inner Circle, they are allowed and should continue creating their own set of ‘norms’ which subsequently allows for the spread of varying types of English. Kachru’s modal identifies the Inner Circle as ‘norm-providing’, the Outer Circle as ‘norm-developing’ and the Expanding Circle as ‘norm accepting’. These principles, however, have been questioned by linguists by negatively depicting aspects such as the Expanding circle (Canagarajah, 2006). The fact that multilingual speakers in the Expanding circle do not apply the same norms as the Inner circle when speaking English implies that the Expanding circle is not norm dependent. As the use of English around the world continues to expand and become deeply rooted in many countries, there is a divergence in the way in which English is utilised.

English in Europe – Politics and Education

The European Union has a five-level language policy which encourages the use of all twenty-four official languages within the EU (Gazzola, 2016).The system ensures fair usage and publication of EU related materials to its members. The five-level policy includes; Non-legally binding documents, official documents from the European Commission, EU studies and reports, EU court documentation and the EU parliament (Wright, 2009)

One of the recurring myths surrounding the use of English within the EU is that English is only one of a selection of official languages used by the EU (Phillipson, 2017). Even though Irish and Maltese were upgraded by the EU in 2007 to have official language status, English is still used by these two counties (Phillipson, 2017). An indication perhaps that there is a preference to communicate in English.

English teaching was slowly introduced to western European and Scandinavian schools throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s (Council of Europe, 2002);central and eastern European countries including Russia and Italy started  English in the late 1980’s in the post-Stalinist period. This early introduction could perhaps be related to the growth of the UK and US economies and seen as an integral part of western European and Scandinavian countries growth and inclusion. Furthermore, all members of the EU made it compulsory  to learn another language at varying school age levels and at varying times up to 2001 (Eurydice, 2001). The teaching of English in European schools is evidence that perhaps suggests national governments recognised the importance of English as a means to better their socio-political stance on the world stage.

Focusing on Scandinavian countries, Sweden and Finland, it is clear that the then government of 1995 valued English as both countries made it their national policies to diversify their language teaching in schools to two languages instead of one, which was predominantly English (Bergman, 1995, p.178)

The context of EU language policy for learning is connected to socioeconomic achievement and objectives set out by the EU in the Lisbon agenda 2000-2010 and Europe 2020 (Krzyzanowski & Wodak, 2011).The goals the EU discuss are related to higher social cohesion as well as ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’.

The policy by the EU was designed to encourage ‘mother tongue’ speakers to learn another two languages which would increase the EU’s chance of more significant socioeconomic and political cohesion as well as better social mobility (Gazzola, 2016). That said, the European Commission (2016) published a report that the one language most likely to have an impact on inclusive growth within the EU is English since more people than not have ESL or EFL skills than any other of the twenty-found official EU languages. Although this is what the European Commission state, others disagree as it is estimated that between 45-80% of adults in the EU have no or very little knowledge of English (Gazzola, 2016). By contrast, 90% of secondary school students throughout the European Union studied English in 2012 (Eurydice, 2012) suggesting that perhaps adults of the future in Europe will have a better knowledge of English than their elders.  The preponderance of English

The evidence here indicates that even though the EU would like better social mobility and sustainable growth, perhaps the continued teaching and learning of English would be more beneficial in aiding their Europe 2020 agenda. Still, we are yet to see if there is any impact caused by Brexit. There will be a more detailed discussion and assessment of Brexit later in the essay.

The European Union, founded by France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg in 1957 (European Union, 2018),made French one of its official language for a number of aspects. French was spoken as an official language in Brussels and Luxembourg which is where the EU institutions are located. For this reason, the decision to use French for all internal communications was made. It seems natural to explore the use of English in three of the founding six members; France, Germany and Italy as a united Europe outline its values and aspirations, so do the governments from each country.

In what we know as modern Europe, it has been a haven of multilingualism for over 2.5 millennia (Wilton & De Houwer, 2011) so it should be no surprise that the growing use of languages continues today, most notably English. There are controversies, however, surrounding the use and adoption and adaptation of English in some European countries (De Houwer et al., 2011, p. 2).

Europe is the perfect example of the Expanding, and the Outer circle’s as discussed by Kachru (1992) and with that comes varying national and local needs within each country, and consequently, problems can manifest within a local, regional pr national context. An example of this is linguistic borrowing which is seen as a threat on the one hand and as a step towards greater acceptance of neighbouring or global cultures on the other.


The elitist language of the 19th and early 20th centuries was French. It dominated Europe and was seen as a ‘superpower’ in diplomacy and education; this, however, is no longer the case because France has transitioned from the superior global power to a minor power (Oakes, 2001, p. 154).This dramatic shift in power and use of language changed as one country surpassed France’s status as the most sort after language to show prosperity and wealth; The United States of America (US) (Oakes, 2001). Due to the US’ growth in aspects such as economics, culture and politics, this, in turn, helped a natural step towards the use of English (Oakes, 2001)

This increased use of English has led France to discuss the idea that the French language is under threat by the Anglicisation of their language. French was recognised as an official language when the United Nations formed in 1945 but has since taken a less prominent role and is currently not used as heavily as English. Whatsmore, France has taken action against the use of English by introducing laws which protect and encourage French nationals to use French rather than English. The French government placed restrictions on five key domains; commerce, media, education, work and government. This shows that sociopolitically, the use of English in France could be regarded as harmful since the laws and restricted use of English were introduced (Adamson, 2007).

Conversely, a survey conducted by French nationals revealed that their attitudes towards learning and using English are much more favourable than that of the governments (Adamson, 2007).The studied concluded that 98% thought it necessary to know English and 86% agreed that English should be taught from a young age which the French government advocated against (Adamson, 2007). That said, they did unanimously agree that where anglicisms exist in France, there are more often than not French equivalents but are not used.

When the UK joined the EU in 1973, French was still widely used within the EU; this began to change gradually. Between 1986 and 2000, the use of French dropped from 56% to 35% and the use of English rose from 26% to 52% English gained in popularity due to the EU’s interested in the UK’s science and economic outputs as well as more users of EFL and ESL. Learning English has been supported by the UK and US governments through a plethora of internationally established businesses such as the British Council, Cambridge English and International House (Bermel, Fergurson & Linn, 2015, p. 7).

It should be noted however that countries such as France where the fear of losing their mother tongue is considered a threat by natives because of the impact English are having in everyday life, usually means that their control of the language is far superior to other nations in Europe (De Houwer et al., 2011, p. 3). Since France have such strict regulations on the use of French as outlined above, it is therefore not surprising that France could be considered as more proficient than its other European counterparts.


German is the most spoken language out of the twenty-four officially recognised languages of the European Union (European Commision, 2018)with over ninety million native speakers within the European Union. So, why is it the most powerful economy in the European Union chooses to use English as a means of sustainability?

First and foremost, Germany has widely accepted the use of English as an ever-expanding source to maintain and improve its alliances with countries such as the US and UK as well as increase its scientific, technological and mass media output; thus rapidly improving and maintaining the country’s importance in a globalised world (Knapp, 2011).Conversely, the EU struggles to address the importance in using English within Europe and is acknowledged to a certain degree but is ‘sometimes even considered a taboo topic’ (Seidlhofer, 2006, p. 134)This is somewhat disparaging as the EU should perhaps be acknowledging the inevitable spread and increased use of English in Europe. Although, their Europe 2020 agenda, which in part was initiated to encourage EU citizens to learn two languages in line with the CEFR equivalent B2 level, is yet to be concluded meaning the results of could display signs of increased use of English plus another language. This could have an impact on better cohesion between cross-border communication as desired by the EU.

Secondly, English Medium Instruction (EMI) is a specific rationale that the German government introduced in the 1990’s (Knapp, 2011, p. 52). The introduction of EMI within Germany’s higher education sector meant they could compete for the ever-increasing numbers of international students flocking to the US and UK for EMI undergraduate and postgraduate taught degrees (Coleman, 2006:4ff in Knapp, 2011, p. 52). The German universities, such as the University of Seigan which was a pioneer of EMI, have since seen the rewards by Germany now taking 10% of the international student market, third only to the US and UK (Wachter & Maiworm, 2008).

However, attitudes towards the use of English on EMI courses by German students are evident and can be summarised by saying they see English as a way to better their careers and a means to communicate with others (Gnutzmann, Jakisch and Rabe, 2014). That said, students from the University of Braunschweig in Germany were asked whether or not they felt their identity was influenced by the EMI course they attended. The result of the question overwhelmingly concluded that 52% of students felt that their character was ‘greatly affected’because topics were often Anglo-American which meant they began to identify with these topics more than German (Gnutzmann et al., 2014).


During the fascist regime in Italy between 1921 and 1945, it was national policy, applied through authoritarianism, that there be linguistic purism meaning only Italian could be spoken. For this reason, not only were local dialects and minority languages restricted, but the use of any foreign language was banned, including English (Pulcini, 1994, p. 78).

As previously mentioned, when the US became the worlds economic and political supremacy, post World War II, Italians began to slowly embrace English through Americanisation by introducing Italian- English phrasebooks and dictionaries after the fascist regime collapsed (Pulcini, 1994).

The borrowing of English words in Italy has somewhat exploded in the past fifty years due to their similarities in origin from Latin (Pulcini, 1997, p. 79). Coined as ‘Itangliano’, meaning the use of English in Italy. However, the use of English in Italy was not supported by all, including the Italian delegator to the European Union in the 1980’s, Chiti Batelli, campaigned against the use of English in Italy due to its phonetic difficulty (as English has forty-four phonemes and Italian has only twenty-six).

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There is a plethora of evidence that suggests that the Italian education system is adopting a more globalized teaching policy by offering English only courses at universities on masters (MA) and PhD programs (Santulli, 2015, in Dimova, 2015). For instance, a university in Milan steadily introduced MA and PhD curricula from 2004 to 2007, offering thirteen MA’s to students by the academic year 2007 (CRUI.it) and by 2011 the number of programs offered to prospective students was forty-two. Perhaps a visible link here is that this could be to entice international students in order to compete with Germany, the US and the UK as mentioned earlier but also it is evident that the move by PoliMilano could be step towards greater social mobility which is something the EU setout in their Europe 2020 agenda. It seems the move to introduce English only taught courses may be to ensure Italian students wanting to study abroad, in fact can now study the same course in English in their own country. However, this move was met with criticism by Italy’s Academia della Crusca which is Europe’s longest running linguistic society (Santulli 2015, in Dimova 2015, p. 273). The board of members campaigned against the sole use of English policy at PoliMilano by gaining support from Italy’s Ministry of Education and in fact, the resolution was to run parallel courses in English and Italian.

In 1985, the Italian government implemented a national education policy which meant that Italian school students had to learn at least one foreign language to promote diversity and to encourage better communication with European countries (Pulcini, 1997, p 82). It also meant that Italy had followed other European countries like Sweden in the promotion of learning another language. The introduction of the national policy saw 60% of Italian school students learn English and since then, the use of English has steadily increased; until recent years where its use had rapidly increased due to the implementation of the Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) educational policy in Italy.

Italy’s CLIL revolution, was made law and rolled out in the national curriculum in 2012 (Martino & Sabato, 2012, p. 1). In order to train to teach a CLIL course in English in Italy, teachers are required to have a knowledge of B1 (four-year course) or B2 (two-year course). Not only is CLIL now seen by the Ministry of Education in Italy as an integral part of students learning for better economic prospects for their future, but also English teaching in primary schools to better prepare students for their learning of English in the future (Burns, Copland & Garton, 2013).When CLIL was intrduced in 2012, Eurydice published statistics that showed 98.9% of Italian primary school students were learning English with that figure far greater than the average figure of 73% across countries within the EU (Burns et al., 2013)Perhaps one reason the Italian government decided to set a minimum CEFR level of English for teaching CLIL is because 70% of Italian teachers reported an intermediate (B1) use of English(Burns et al., 2013).That said, Italy currently has one of the highest numbers of exposure to teaching English per student hour than other EU members, such as Latvia and Spain (Burnst al., 2013).Consequently, it is not surprising that Italy continues to value the importance of English teaching and continues to flourish even more so in the Southern regions, such as Sicily, where there are fewer job opportunities in comparison with the north of Italy.


A fascinating island off the coast of the mainland of Italy, historically, Sicily has been conquered and ruled by some different countries spanning more than two millennia (Dunbabin, 1968). Sicily was ruled by the Greeks, Romans, Arabic kingdoms, the Normans, the British and the Spanish. More recently, the US has had a heavy presence post-WWII as the co-military liberators of the island (Dunbabin, 1968).In Catania on the east coast of Sicily, it is considered to be much more cosmopolitan than the capital of the island, Palermo, due to the strong presence of Americans (Paglia, 2003).Since the liberation, American soldiers have resided in Catania at the army base, Sigonella.  Sicily has therefore also been an island with a high number of different cultures and languages and especially in Catania where exposure to English has often been higher than other parts of Italy. Perhaps then, this is why Sicilian attitudes towards learning English are mostly positive. This could be because there has always been fierce competition for jobs at the Sigonella army base in Catania and more often than not, a certain level of English is required for most positions (NAS Sigonella, 2018)

There are a number of English language centres across Catania including, Wall Street English, Yes! English, JM English, The London School, TuttoLingue and Giga International House, all of which are privately run businesses. First and foremost, this is an indication that there is a demand to learn English which can be coupled with the every growing number of students attending private language courses for a number of reasons. For example, studying abroad, travelling, working abroad, a local job opportunity with tourism or Sigonella jobs. The number of students increased by almost 25% at Giga International house from September 2016 to the new academic intake of September 2017 (P. La Rosa, personal communication, January 24, 2018). This increase could be owed to the fact that the government introduced the ‘Carta Del Docente’ to 16 to 18-year-olds. The Carta Del Docente was previously only available to teachers and can be spent on educational activities such as museums and teaching (Carta Del Docente, 2018).GIGA International House is the only private English language centre authorised to receive the ‘Carta Del Docente’ so this could also be a factor in the number of students enrolling at the school.

The increase in the number of enrolments to learn English at Giga International House in Catania is perhaps a telling sign that attitudes towards learning English are on the rise by enlarging in Sicily. The desire to learn English by people in Catania can also be evidenced by the number of contracts Giga International House has for local schools and universities. This could be owing to the need to achieve certain levels of English related to either CLIL, to study abroad or for local jobs. The school is also an approved assessment centre for Cambridge English Language Assessment exams and International English Language Testing System (IELTS). The school has also seen an increased number of students taking exams to prove test their level of English as students at the school express interests in studying at an EMI abroad in countries such as Denmark, Germany and the UK.

The Brexit effect

The invocation of Article 50 in the UK means it is due to leave at 11 pm on March 29th, 2019. The question that perhaps seems eminently unanswerable for the time being at least is what role English will play not only within the European Economic Area or the European Union but also the role with Europe as an entirety. Some theorists have made predictions about what impact, if any, the role of English has in the EU.

Certain members of the EU have predicted that the role of English will diminish and other languages will take on the role that English currently has within the EU.

Although Britain has only just started the process [Brexit], reports from Europe indicate that some member states are already positioning themselves to take advantage of the withdrawal of the UK. In France and elsewhere, for example, some want to believe that, with the British gone, English will no longer be an official language. Modiano, 2017, p. 315

The result of the EU referendum in the UK, 48% remain, 52% leave, had an immediate impact on EU members such as France who argued that without the UK as a member of the EU, there would be no need for the English language to be used since Ireland have recently opted to use the Irish language and Malta for Maltese (Modiano, 2017; European Commision, 2017). Since English is a working language of the EU, other members have since suggested that English should lose its status since it will not be recognised as an official language of the EU.

The role of English in the EU remains unclear; whether it will be used officially or unofficially, however, the European Commision clear on their current stance regarding the use of English in the EU:

We note the media reports stating that in the event of a UK withdrawal from the EU, English would cease to be an official language of the EU [. . .] This is incorrect. The Council of Ministers, acting unanimously, decide on the rules governing the use of languages by the European institutions. In other words, any change to the EU Institutions’ language regime is subject to a unanimous vote of the Council. Including Ireland. European Commission, 2016 in Modiano, 2017:316

For the time being it seems that the Council of Ministers support the use of English within the EU, however, it could be interpreted as there is to be no immediate change, but should there be a unanimous vote amongst the Council of Ministers against the use of English for official politics, then  it could change. It could also be worth noting that this idea in supporting the removal of English perhaps has further contributed to the people who voted to leave the EU (Modiano, 2017, p. 316).

It is believed that English will become embedded in the EU post-Brexit as it’s the language that has had the most investments and it is predicted to strengthen as there is no other common language like it in Europe, for the time being.

In terms of any impact that Brexit may have on the use of English as a means to communicate with other speakers of different L1’s, it is still too soon to establish any concrete ideas. That said, from the context of Catania, it seems that there has been the opposite effect of what was previously described regarding the decline and use of English.

Italy as a whole has never seemed too interested in pressing the use of the Italian language in the EU, but perhaps this is something that is about to change as some ministers in the Italian government have taken a keen interest in helping Italy rise as a co-piolet in the reform of official languages in the EU.

The impact of Brexit is predicted to affect the number of international students studying in the UK; mainly those coming from mainland European Union countries (Anderson, 2017). Brexit could have a grave impact on ESL instruction and assessment not only in Europe but around the globe. Cambridge English Language Assessment has forecast a loss of £10 million per year from 2019 (Anderson, 2017). This is coupled with the fall in number of students needing English to studying at a university in the UK as international student number decrease and the fact that a visa style entry system to the UK will deter people from learning English to move or work there.


Throughout history there has always been a more dominant and influential language which was used as a lingua franca whether it was Latin, Greek or French, the idea was to better communicate with other humans for a number of reasons. English is the acting ‘common language’ for people in today’s globalized modern society due to the rise of economic powerhouses where English in the main language, scientific research and breakthroughs and the influence of anglicised and Americanised culture through mass media. It is also important to remember that English is often associated with better job prospects, so unless this ideology changes and another language becomes of more importance, perhaps English will continue being the most desired language by people.

The instruction of English of English around the globe seems to be a continuing trend amongst schools and universities. If government policies on English education, like that of Italy’s through CLIL, continue to favour the language by making it mandatory to have  a certain level related the CEFR and by having almost 100% of school students learn English at school, then at present it would seem there is no reason why English will not continue being the ‘required’ language.

The impact of Brexit, however, is still quite unclear and perhaps there will be no clarity in the short-term. The EU, for the time being, will continue using English as an official language since there have been so many investments in the language and it seems to be the EU’s unofficial lingua franca. In years to come the effect of Brexit will become apparent but for now, there are only predictions, so nothing is certain. One thing is clear; the use of English across Europe seems to be growing, even if some governments are not content with the idea.

Countries such as France, Germany and Italy seemingly continue to invest in English even if the future of the language is unclear in Europe. One element is clear however, English is the language du jour and does not seem have had an immediate effect because of Brexit.

The ever-expanding number of students and language centres in Sicily certainly is an indication that popularity of the language is emerging. It is likely that this is linked to study, job opportunities and more recently for Catania, tourism. The popularity, desire and need to take exams to prove their level of English run companies such as IELTS and Cambridge English Language assessment also adds to the increasing popularity to learn English. The future of English in Sicily, perhaps for the near future, seems to be clear; it is in demand and gaining popularity.

One thing that cannot be ignored about English are the achievemnts and global success it has had, continues to have and perhaps will continue to have in the future. Arguments for and against the use of English wihtin Europe, beit at universities or in the EU, perhaps comes down to one unanswrable question; is the dominance of English a modern form of imperalism?


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