Capital and English Language

by Pradip Kumar Nath 

There is a close relation between language and capital as capital is a social relation of production. Without a ‘language’, capital is unable to expand. It is from around 1600 we see the rise of England, and subsequently the gradual unfolding of the English Language as the ‘Lingua Franca of global commerce and finance. The historical account shows that the world system was managed by the British commercial and financial capital with the association of English as a language of trade and investment.

 The global spread of English and its ongoing dominance as a ‘normative form’ needs to be understood in relation to this global accumulation of capital. In this respect, English has acted as a vehicular ‘free rider’ upon capital and has become an almost default manner ‘structured in dominance’ in the world economy and system. It achieved this dominance long before 1945. So, it is the historical connection to capital that explains the present-day ongoing hegemony of English.
“The mechanism of hegemony allowed the modern world-system to become the first world-economy…. to survive and expand to encompass the entire globe. Without it, system would not have been able to survive…” (Wallerstein, 2011).
English as a language associated with ‘ideologized’ or ‘normative’ form is social in character being connected with production, circulation, or accumulation of capital and power.
Capital can, in the twenty-first century, be transposed at the click of a mouse, but language is still required for the semiotic mediation of the capital so transposed. Notwithstanding the technological advances, the application of meaning to the procession of capital remains a necessary procedure, just as it was four hundred years ago. It is this which has made it possible for English to act as a ‘capital-centric’ language to note.
It is, though, a linguistically established fact that English as a language has inner power and effect of its own. But English could not act of free-riding on capital if there would not have the process of the circulation of it and not be propagated and also not determined by the proximity of capital. Its historical determination by capital has been particularly strong, and it is this which has made it structurally hegemonic in the world system.
There are many kinds of free-riding that can occur in the economic sphere, that depend upon perspective. Whatever it may be, free riding is considered a ‘problem’ in economics and in the international political economy. This problem is still more heightened in the global context of cooperation between states and can often lead to disputes. But this is not precisely the conception of free riding. It has been seen the free-riding of English on capital more as a type of ‘symbiosis or even parasitism’.
English has given succour to the expansion and accumulation of capital, and capital has given succour to the expansion and accumulation of English. It is in these circumstances that English has gained global acceptance. Be in commercial or financial capital, money is invested or loaned in the market. But what’s about, again, the processing of the profits? It is the use of English accompanied and facilitated as a ‘transactional lingua franca, in which the movement of money is mediated by English at various points along the circuit – investment, management, collection, and processing. This is called capital circulation and free ride of the English Language.
 The knowledge structure, like the linguistic edge, is a significant one in this context. Knowledge is indeed a power, but it is power because the other structures are rendered much less effective without it. This is because the other structures in a hegemonic world system must be mediated according to the language needs of the hegemonic power, which in turn also mediate the knowledge structure.
Since 1945 these needs have been serviced through the medium of standard American English. Whatever the priorities of the hegemonic power, whether Britain or the US, the cleaving of the world system into a ‘lingua franca’ has been a constant for three centuries.
In respect of the epistemological priorities which exist within the present knowledge structure, it is technological knowledge over social knowledge, empirical knowledge over theoretical knowledge, and paywalled knowledge over free knowledge, which in a US-configured capitalist system is the most valued (O’Regan & Gray,2018)…. “Above all, perhaps, it is evident in the use of American version of the English language as the world’s lingua franca even for the French, the Russians, and the Chinese” (Strange, 1989).
The upsurge in approaches to linguistic diversity and in the documentation of that diversity in applied linguistics as represented by perspectives such as ELF, World Englishes, super-diversity, translanguaging, translingualism, and trans-spatial assemblage has to be set against the ‘longue durée’ of British and US structural power.
Over the last four centuries, English language has acted as a free rider on capital, thus facilitating its global spread. If money is exchanged for commodities that are sold again for money is the general formula for capital in circulation, then it may be proposed that  Mᴇ−Cᴇ−Mᴇ is the general formula for the free-riding of English on capital.
In the modern era, the nations of the semi-periphery (closer to the core of capital) like Brazil, Chile, India, China, Russia, Iran etc. have more developed and knowledge-structure-based education systems and promote English in spite of having a better portion of inequalities within their own land.
But a bipolar model probably just seemed a bit too polarized. The model of Kachru’s circles of Englishes (1985) utilized by Frank is better understood as a heuristic rather than an absolute (Brewer,1990).
i) Heavily indebted to O’Regan, P John (2021, Routledge)
 ii) M, Heller & A, Duchenne(Eds.), 2012, Routledge
 iii) Derrida, J,1976, John Hopkins University Press
 iv) Kachru, B. B. 1990, World Englishes
 v) Strange, S. 1989, Lexington Books
vi) Wallerstein,I. 2011c, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press
vii) Others
About the Author:
A teacher by profession with MA in English and MA in Linguistics Pradip Kumar Nath writes poetry and a short story for a long time in different periodicals with a publication of “Collection of Essays”. He may be contacted:

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