Languages and Empire

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionary


One of the defining aspects of the human species, language could not be left unaffected by imperial activities. The centrality of language to any human activity was reflected in the Greek word logos, which referred to both speech and reasoning. Revealingly, the Greeks referred disparagingly to those who did not speak their language as barbaroi (barbarian). With cultural prejudices underpinning imperial expansion in many cases, and given the practical implications of any linguistic unification, all colonizers had to face the issue of managing local languages and, in many cases, acculturating indigenous populations with the imposition of their own lingua franca (especially to ease the performance of administration). It is certainly not a coincidence if all of today's major world languages played, at some point in history, an imperial role: the map of world languages illustrates the way in which many empires contributed to the spread of a major language. The spread of the colonizer's idiom was forceful in many cases, and accidental on a few occasions, but it was an unavoidable outcome of imperial activity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Empire
EditorsJohn MacKenzie
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Jan 2016


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