Brexit as Linguistic Symptom of Britain Retreating into its Shell? Brexit-Induced Politicisation of Language Learning

Ursula Lanvers, Hannah Doughty, Amy Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Debates about the future of UK language learning in the context of Brexit intensified as soon as the referendum outcome was announced. This politicisation of language learning, evidenced recently also in the U.S. and France, falls upon an already difficult context of the UK in a 'language learning crisis', and an increasing social segregation between those who learn languages, and those who do not. In the Brexit-induced politicisation of language learning, some suggest that the UK's unwillingness to learn languages is indexical of Europhobia, while others contend that the 'global English' phenomenon is the root cause. We examine the evidence for these rationales.
Our data analysis uses Van Dijk's methods of macrostructure Critical Discourse Analysis, to examine 33 publicly available texts on the topic of Brexit and language learning in the UK that appeared in the immediate aftermath of the referendum (June - November 2016). The analysis reveals how different stakeholders frame language learning as a habitus associated with social markers, and thus either reinforce patters of the social divide in language learning, or challenge these. The conclusion proposes avenues of politicising language learning that might foster rather than hinder uptake in those currently disengaged from language learning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)775-796
Number of pages22
JournalThe Modern Language Journal
Issue number4
Early online date9 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018

Bibliographical note

© National Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations ,2018. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.


  • Brexit, language policy, CDA
  • language policy
  • Brexit
  • Critical Discourse Analysis
  • politicization

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