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Hegemony vs. Counter Hegemony: Power & Speech

Hegemony is commonly defined as a method of subordinating another population by forcing consent to domination and a foreign ideology. A key concept in hegemony is the naturalization of power relations by creating an illusion that the domination is status quo. Language and culture are common means of achieving this. Linguistic hegemony is more accurately defined as the suppression and replacement of people’s language (O’Connor 8). Meanwhile, counter-hegemony is a set of practices that are meant to disrupt that status quo, by revealing underlying assumptions and processes which aim to usurp a particular language. Counter hegemony can take on many forms but ultimately serves as a subversive expression of dissent and dissatisfaction by emphasizing self- and cultural identity that the hegemonic side is attempting to suppress (Do Nascimento 223).

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One of the most prominent examples of modern-day linguistic hegemony can be found in the borderlands between the United States and Mexico, where the duality of Spanish-American cultures and languages is leading a multiplex battle. It is particularly evident in education and where dual curriculums eventually turn to English and attempts by indigenous teachers to reverse Westernized identity in Mexican schools have failed. Furthermore, the general education reform on both sides of the border standardizes the curriculum to an extent where it pays tribute to the dual heritage but does not challenge dominant policy discourse (O’Connor 12). An example of counterhegemony can be rhetorical acts of resistance via wars of position which are expressed via protests and discourse in the public sphere. For example, Algeria which was colonized and dominated by the French for decades has a dual-language culture of French and Arabic. However, recently there has been a strong Arabization of the country, with the French language being strongly discouraged and its speakers facing violence (De Medeiros 25). The transition and way of life are experiencing counterhegemony against the linguistic and power hegemony that France has held over the country.

Linguistic hegemony in its relation to power is unique, as it provides power to some while inherently disempowering others. It is a relationship of power dynamics that reflects on political, socioeconomic, and cultural elements since language is the primary method of communication. In a globalized world, English has achieved linguistic hegemony largely due to the American influence as an international power and leader. Learning and understanding English is vital not only for career opportunities and economic development but having access to cultural objects as well. Thus, hegemony is being imposed as a discipline through education and testing, critical in any aspect from receiving a visa to getting a job offer. Linguistic hegemony serves as a method to decimate science, culture, influence, and control in a manner that no longer requires the use of force (Yoo and Namkung 223).

Therefore, it is understandable why some countries may resist this and attempt to use counterhegemony by all means in the global perspective. As an example, China which although supports the knowledge of English, also maintains strong control over its linguistic and cultural programs, ensuring that the population does not westernize beyond a certain point. This would threaten the political forces in the country, and it can be said that their methods are counterhegemonic. Language has a profound influence on political and cultural shifts, and some governments attempt to maintain the national identity by limiting access to hegemonic languages such as English.

Works Cited

De Medeiros, Ana. “An Interview with Assia Djebar: Filming the Stories of Algerian Women.” Wasafiri, vol. 23, no. 4, 2008, pp. 25-28.

Do Nascimento, André M. “Counter-Hegemonic Linguistic Ideologies and Practices in Brazilian Indigenous Rap.” The Sociolinguistics of Hip-hop as Critical Conscience, edited by Andrew Ross and Damian Rivers, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, pp. 213-235.

O’Connor, Brendan. “Linguistic Hegemony and Counterhegemonic Discourse in the Borderlands.” Association of Mexican American Educators Journal, vol. 12, no. 2, 2018, pp. 1-19.

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Yoo, Yeonhee, and Gon Namkung. “English and American Linguistic Hegemony: A Case Study of the Educational Testing Service.” The Korean Journal of International Studies vol. 10, no. 2, 2012, pp. 221-253.

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