English and global media

Bibliographic details

Allington, D. (2012d) ‘English and global media’. In: Hewings, A. and Tagg, C. (eds.) The politics of English: conflict and coexistence. London: Routledge. pp. 219-245.

Extract in lieu of an abstract

Languages are used not only for communication between individuals, but for communication in what are called the mass media – publishing, radio, television, computer games, recorded music, etc. Only a very small proportion of the world’s languages are employed in this way even on a national level. If we focus on the production of media for transnational distribution, we find ourselves looking at a still smaller group of languages. Although these media are consumed worldwide, they are produced within particular nation states and are to a great extent the product of national media industries and cultures. For historical reasons, some languages are more widely distributed than others, with the result that there is a greater potential market for media in those languages. Again for historical reasons, some languages are used by national media industries wealthy and powerful enough to reach out into and exploit their potential markets overseas. One of the defining features of global media culture is that the language with the largest international market is also the language used by the world’s wealthiest and most powerful national media production industry, as well as by one of its closest runners up. I am talking, of course, about English, the US and the UK.

Notions such as linguistic and cultural imperialism do not adequately account for this situation: it might better be seen as the linguistic face of globalisation. Nonetheless, the historical roots of globalisation lie in the colonial period, and its effect has been to create a general flow of ideas and cultural products from developed nations in the global north to developing nations in the global south, and a general flow of capital in the opposite direction: the US produces almost all of the television content that it consumes, for example, while across Africa, television stations heavily rely on imported American and European content. As we shall see, however, these flows are not unchallenged.

Allington, 2012, pp. 219-220


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