The commodification of language: English as a global commodity

Deborah Cameron

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of English

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199922765
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 The commodification of language: English as a global commodity

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  • Linguistics
  • Sociolinguistics
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics


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When languages are called “commodities,” it suggests the existence of a market or markets in which languages and language varieties, like other tradable commodities, have an economic exchange value. The concept of a “linguistic market” is not a new idea; linguists can trace it to the work of Pierre Bourdieu. This article focuses on the transnational or global linguistic market in which English is a highly-valued commodity. One area of activity in which languages have long been treated as commercial commodities is foreign language instruction; English has been commodified by the modern English Language Teaching industry. However, this is only one of the possible forms of language commodification. This article considers some other forms which are associated with recent processes of economic globalization, and how an analysis of them may contribute to rethinking the history of the English language. English has played, and is expected to continue to play for some time, a significant role in the new forms of capitalism which have emerged in the global era.

Keywords: English; commodities; linguistics; market; foreign language instruction; linguistics; commodification; globalization; capitalism; communication

Article.  4157 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Sociolinguistics ; Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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