“The universal language of the future" : decolonization, development, and the American embrace of global English, 1945-1965

Document Type

Journal article

Source Publication

Modern Intellectual History

Publication Date



Advance online publication


Cambridge University Press


The two decades following the Second World War were marked by geopolitical and pedagogical ferment, as researchers and policymakers debated the role of language teaching in a rapidly changing world. As European empires collapsed amid Cold War competition for global influence, limited colonial education systems gave way to new discourses connecting postcolonial educational expansion, international development aid, and language teaching. This article reveals increasing American interest in the connections between development and vehicular English from 1945 to 1965. Drawing on the work of anglophone reformers, American elites promoted English as a development tool, and institutionalized policies designed to spread it abroad. The rise of the idea of global English in the United States, the article shows, was rooted in an instrumental conception of language, which framed English as a politically neutral vehicle for communication, yet this discourse was contradicted by the United States’ strategic ambitions.



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Funding Information

Research for the article was supported in part by a Hong Kong Research Grants Council Early Career Scheme award.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017. Access to external full text or publisher's version may require subscription.

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Recommended Citation

Lemberg, D. (2017). “The universal language of the future": Decolonization, development, and the American embrace of global English, 1945-1965. Modern Intellectual History. Advanced online publication. doi: 10.1017/S1479244317000166