English in the OECD: transcultural tool or embodiment of symbolic power?

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The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) contributes increasingly to the generation and dissemination of public knowledge. Its publishing division and the OECD iLibrary provide access to around 219,700 publications. While the OECD offers translated summaries of some of its key titles in up to 25 languages, the majority of publications are authored in English, and are stylistically regulated in accordance with Anglo-Saxon writing standards, as set out in the OECD Style Guide. This article discusses the language effects (Pennycook 1994) – that is, the worldmaking implications – of the OECD’s predominant use of English in processes of knowledge production. It presents two contrasting perspectives: 1. (the OECD’s own view) that the English language standards imposed by the organisation mean that the knowledge generated becomes widely accessible, which in turn contributes to a transcultural knowledge world; 2. (an external critique) that the dominance of English language publications embodies the OECD’s symbolic power, so that knowledge can only be generated and accessed by accepting English as the legitimate language of authority (Bourdieu 1977). Attention will be drawn to the diverging role of translation in both scenarios, and to the concept of institutional translation (Koskinen 2008).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)404-415
Number of pages12
JournalThe Translator
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2017


  • English in the OECD, public knowledge, transculturality, symbolic power, institutional translation


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