The Discourses and Displacement of English in Turkey

by Eser Ördem (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection 156 Pages


This book examines the negative effect of English on other cultures and languages. English (or any colonial language) is closely related to the spread of neoliberalism and neocolonialism. Therefore, radical pedagogy and human rights are recommended as achieavable aims so that the dominant status of English can be displaced. Therefore, new discourses should be developed to oppose the colonial, necolonial and neoliberal discourses regarding English. The mandatory state of English in Turkey needs to be displaced through the inclusion of radical pedagogy which opens up space for participatory democracy. The new task of the non-English-speaking countries is to ban the neoliberal expansion of English. A world without a lingua franca is possible and could produce emancipatory sociopolitical spaces to support super diversity.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Preface
  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgements
  • Contents
  • Chapter One: Introduction
  • Chapter Two: Colonialism and English Language Teaching
  • Chapter Three: Orientalism, Occidentalism and Anglicism
  • Chapter Four: Neoliberalism and the Spread of English in Turkey
  • Chapter Five: Radical Pedagogy and Deconstruction of English
  • Chapter Six: Critical Linguistic Human Rights

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Chapter 1 Introduction

Abstract: This chapter attempts to show why the spread of English should be problematized and questioned. English language teaching originated in the colonized lands and is therefore intertwined with colonialism. The Orientalist discourses have also had a profound impact on the adoption of the English language in Turkey. Besides, Turkey’s Occidentalist tendency has ensured the expansion of English in the education system. The imperial and neoliberal policies endorsed by the West and particularly America have forced English to be dominant in Turkey. Resisting the spread of English is not sufficient by itself because English representing the legacy of colonialism, neocolonialism and neoliberalism is a threat to indigenous cultures and languages. Therefore, radical pedagogy, participatory democracy and critical linguistic human rights can be the main steps to oppose the expansion of English. Counter-discourses and critical practices can be developed to eviscerate the institutionalized domination of the English language.

Keywords: Colonialism, Orientalism, Occidentalism, Neoliberalism radical pedagogy

English is a weapon
British, then US, imperialism enlisted the English language
as a weapon to control and dehumanize Native Americans, throughout North America and as far as Hawai‘i, forcing them into assimilation through English-only academic programs that contributed to destroying their languages and cultures.

(Michel DeGraff, 2019, p. x)

The ideological discourses of the British Colonialism, Anglo-American imperialism and neoliberal state have gone unrecognized and unproblematized by some scholars in English language teaching considering the current unprecedented expansion of the English language in Turkey. The state of English has been an indispensable part of Empire (Anglo-Euro-America). English is the linguistic system and tool of this world order, Empire. Therefore, it should be deconstructed, opposed and displaced as it has been imposing linguicist practices on indigenous cultures and languages. English has been imposed on Turkey since the 1940s when the British Council was established in Turkey. The coup d’états from 1960 to 1980 were plotted to spread English through capitalist, neoliberal and imperial policies as peripheral or central practices. Other countries such as South Korea, ←15 | 16→Ghana, India, Hong Kong, Singapore and Guyana have experienced similar historical processes and interventions. In Turkey people often take for granted that English is neutral, natural and beneficial for all in the world (Pennycook, 2017), and therefore is hardly problematized. Even if it is occasionally problematized in the context of Turkey, it is based on nationalistic ideology that was also transferred by the so-called West or so-to-speak First World countries. However, what we need to understand is that English is a product of Empire, the British colonialism, neoliberalism and neocolonialism. Therefore, I believe that the current state of English as a compulsory lesson in Turkey is a scandal and deep-rooted problem that contain aporias and contradictions, which makes the solution of this aporetic problem more difficult.

This study aims to problematize the expansion of English language and English language teaching (ELT) in Turkey. The selected spheres of this problematization are British colonialism, Orientalism, Occidentalism and Neoliberalism. What have been avoided or ignored are radical pedagogy and critical (linguistic) human rights that could have provided the main opposition against the spread of English in Turkey because the advent of English into Turkey has been hailed as a great success and an important gateway to modernization, westernization and the west. Some scholars specializing in ELT have often perceived the spread of English as a positive movement and an indispensable part of globalization and modernity (Alptekin & Tatar, 2011; Atay, 2005; Dogancay-Aktuna, 1998; Kırkgöz, 2009, 2017; Zok, 2010). Thus, a sociological, cultural and critical perspective has largely remained lacking. Therefore, now I am attempting to assess the status of English in a wider perspective by providing reliable historical data to justify my claim. This problematization has been perfectly phrased by Pennycook (2002):

ELT is a product of colonialism not just because it is colonialism that produced the initial conditions for the global spread of English but because it was colonialism that produced many of the ways of thinking and behaving that are still part of Western cultures. European/Western culture not only produced colonialism but was also produced by it; ELT not only rode on the back of colonialism to the distant corners of the Empire but was also in turn produced by that voyage. (p. 19)

These striking statements show the deep impact of colonialism and the emergence of ELT in the colonized lands. For Pennycook (2002, 2017), colonialism is an ongoing process in different forms. Pennycook (2002) establishes a strong relationship between Orientalism and normalizing discourses. The main tenets of Orientalism are that the West and western languages are superior, logical and developed, whereas the East is backward, spiritual and stagnant. Orientalists ←16 | 17→study other languages such as Arabic and Indian to exert colonial control over them. Attempting to spread English in the colonized lands turned into a specific version of Orientalism, which is Anglicism. Pennycook (2002: 84) articulates that ‘Anglicism and Orientalism were complementary rather than antagonistic aspects of colonial discourse’. What has been expected from the British Empire has been that the whole support would be given to the expansion of the English language (Pennycook, 2002; Phillipson, 2008, 2017). Anglo-American policies have, to some extent, achieved this aim. Normalizing discourses have constituted myths regarding the state of English. Supporting the expansion of English is an unethical and problematic issue because English is overwhelmingly immersed in colonialism, slavery, imperialism and neoliberalism. English is the main tool for the so-called West to express itself in the (neo) colonized lands. The Western body needs a language to survive, manage and own others. English is their survival tool to ontologically make meaning. The existence of the West is dependent on these forced philological, linguistic and cultural discourses and practices. I believe that Anglicism and Orientalism are different types of cultural violence on others that the West humiliates and perceives itself superior to. In order to resist capitalism, neoliberalism, imperial and colonial minds and to construct Self, the expansion of English should be hindered. The transformation of colonialism and capitalism into neocolonialism and neoliberalism has both accelerated the spread of English and striven to institutionalize its state in other countries that are economically weakened by Empire. If the language of Empire is opposed, impeded, or destroyed, then action is possible to make room for other Selves. The West’s constructing itself as Self can be first deconstructed through the displacement of the English in other cultures. ELT is a huge industry and market that maximizes its profits in its neoliberal sense. ELT is a form of an Anglicist practice that exerts domination over other cultures through the English language. Empire claims that non-English speaking countries can be modernized and civilized if they are to be taught English to follow political, social, and cultural values of the West. This Occidentalist viewpoint has been adopted both in Turkey and West, which complicates the problem. The 19th-century philological Orientalism has turned into 20th and 21st century Occidentalism in the form of English linguistics and applied linguistics.

Pennycook (2002, p. 130) emphasizes that ‘the discourses of Anglicism spread through the discursive system of the empire and re-emerged in other contexts, particularly in Britain’. Orientalism, Occidentalism and Anglicism have been dominant in shaping the current state of English. Pennycook (2002, p. 130) also notes that ‘it was the discourses of Orientalism that prevailed as discourses informing British colonial language policy, while the discourses of ←17 | 18→Anglicism were in a sense redeployed as British constructions of language and identity within Britain itself’. The doctrine of Orientalism has been used for the interests of Anglicism. Orientalist and Anglicist discourses have been made into the myths that English is and should be the sole international language or lingua franca and that English can help non-Anglicist cultures advance themselves economically and politically. The boundary between discourses and myths is hard to distinguish. They are intertwined in a complicated manner. The global aspect of English is blurry and incomprehensible. It is hard to define what is meant by global and international. Phillipson (2017) questions this globality and internationality and believes that myths regarding the state of English are constantly made up. How can we claim that English is a global language if the majority in the world still cannot speak English? In addition, we need to ask what we mean by knowledge, competence and performance of English when somebody speaks it. The extent of this knowledge cannot be determined based on some grading prerequisites. Therefore, neither globality nor knowledge of English can be defined. Pennycook (2002: 130) aims to show how English has come to be called international and claims that ‘English and Anglicism have re-emerged in a new light’ and notes that ‘the discourses of Anglicism still adhere to English, but now to a new English, a global English, and an English in popular demand’. This demand is created through popular culture, consumer culture and culture industries such as Hollywood, Netflix and social media. The superiority of English is constantly reinforced.

The neoliberal focus on privatization and individual autonomy to maximize economic income has accelerated the spread of English through IMF, the World Bank and the British Council. Thus, economy centric approaches have also accelerated the marketing of English and the dominance of ELT industry. Therefore, ELT departments in Turkey represent this neoliberal policy and a systematic corpus of Orientalist discourses. They also produce knowledge of Anglicism and support ELT industries. Thus, the cultural production of Anglicist discourses and the implementation of neoliberal policies are appreciated and endorsed by ELT academics and political elites. However, the possible reasons for the practices of the academic and political elites lie in British colonialism and Orientalism. Therefore, a historical perspective to understand the history of the present is necessary. Colonial and Oriental histories are often forgotten or not used to develop a critical perspective towards or to take action against these colonial and neoimperial aims. ELT is a dangerous industry that ignores other Selves to maximize their profits and take advantage of the historical superiority acquired through colonialism and Orientalism.

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In order to deconstruct the discourses of English and displace English, radical pedagogy is desperately needed. Radical pedagogy aims to emancipate individuals in education from ideologies imposed on them by those in power. Schools are seen as places where counter-hegemony is possible. Au (2018: 86) notes that ‘there is hope in education as a site of resistance to oppression and as a site for changing the consciousness of individuals as part of broader mass movements’. Radical pedagogy deals with the effects of colonialism, capitalism, imperialism and neoliberalism to develop critical consciousness and transform communities. Freire (2000) believes that critical reflection and action lead to praxis that refers to a meaningful change. Opposing the expansion of English in Turkey is hardly observed. Taking for granted that English represents prestige, westernization, modernity, economic development and is a neutrally international language and a beneficial lingua franca seems to be the main obstacle to implement radical pedagogy. Another problem is hierarchical relations in education that divide subjects purely as teachers and students, which results in exclusionary practices such as hindering them from involvement in the preparation of the curriculum. Radical pedagogy entails ‘human intervention and action’ (Au, 2018: 87). However, the political elites in Turkey exclude academics that also ignore students’ involvement in emancipatory practices. Thus, political and academic elitism is retained to impede the development of radical pedagogy. Forgetting is reinforced, and disconnection from historical background and radical pedagogy is desired. I would like to show that acknowledging that the spread of English is normal and acceptable on a political, cultural, economic and academic level is a sign of false consciousness.

Radical pedagogy aims to struggle against this false consciousness to open space for social dialogue and discussion of this political issue. It is important to understand what is excluded by adopting the English language alone. What are excluded and ignored are other languages, cultures and possible inclusive practices. Therefore, radical pedagogy motivates individuals to be critically aware of the context that they are in and to change the context and situations if necessary. How is it possible to create changes if political and academic elites oppress students and if Empire represses non-neoliberal or non-English speaking cultures? Political elites’ decision on the spread of English poses a serious problem for indigenous cultures, academics, teachers and students. Resistance can flow from students and teachers to politicians that collaborate with neoliberal agencies with colonial legacies such as the British Council and ELT industry. Opposing these policies is an ethical issue and intellectual responsibility. This ethical responsibility is related linguistic human rights that emphasize the importance of diversity.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (March)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 156 pp.

Biographical notes

Eser Ördem (Volume editor)

Eser Ordem is a cultural study researcher and educationalist at Adana Alparslan Turkes Science and Technology University. He has published various articles on critical perspectives in cultures, humanities and linguistics. His studies focus on critical theory, cultural politics, radical pedagogy, language policies, human rights and cognitive linguistics.


Title: The Discourses and Displacement of English in Turkey