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  • Language and nationalism in Europe ed. by Stephen Barbour, Cathie Carmichael
  • Ali Eminov
Language and nationalism in Europe. Ed. by Stephen Barbour and Cathie Carmichael. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Pp. xi, 319. $80.00.

Of the many secular ideologies that have moved people to political action during the last two centuries, nationalism has been the toughest survivor and remains widespread today. Nationalist movements aim to establish territorially bounded political units or states within which everyone would belong to a culturally homogeneous community or nation whose members would speak the same language. The premise of ‘one state, one nation, and one language’ has been and remains the slogan of most nationalist discourse. In this discourse the existence of multiple ethnic communities with disparate languages within a single state is seen as undesirable. The main role of a national language is to culturally homogenize the nation so that the state, nation, and language come to coincide with one another. Ever since the first nation-states emerged in Western Europe some two centuries ago, nationalist discourse has emphasized the central role of language in modern state formation. Moreover, the notion that a nation and a language mutually depend on one another has had and continues to have a powerful impact, not only in Europe but also elsewhere in the modern world.

All nation-states, some to a greater degree than others, are linguistically and culturally heterogeneous. If state, nation, and language are to correspond to one another, what is to be done with minority languages and their speakers? Nation-states have dealt with the status of minority languages and their speakers in various ways, ranging from maintaining the illusion of homogeneity by denying the existence of minority languages, trying to assimilate the speakers of minority languages into the majority culture and repressing their languages, trying to get rid of speakers of minority languages through population exchanges, expulsion, even genocide, or recognizing the existence of minority languages and granting the speakers of these languages certain linguistic and other cultural rights. One or more of these strategies have been used in all of the countries discussed in this volume at some point of their history.

The papers in this collection provide a detailed and comprehensive account of the different roles language(s) has played in nation-building in Europe. All of the papers are based on the contributors’ own research in different parts of Europe, which adds a fresh perspective to the presentations. The authors explore the links between nationalism, ethnic and national identities, language, and state formation. Over time, some languages die out or are pushed to the periphery while others achieve dominance, even spreading beyond the boundaries of their original territory. The main lesson of these narratives is that languages are in a constant process of change. Sometimes linguistic change is a response to general societal change. However, it frequently results from deliberate attempts by political and cultural elites to promote a particular language or dialect over another in support of various political goals.

The volume is bracketed by an introduction, ‘Nationalism, language, Europe’ (Stephen Barbour, 1–17), which discusses crucial concepts and theories necessary for understanding the linkages between nationalism, states, nations, and language, and a conclusion, ‘Language and national identity in Europe’ (Cathie Carmichael, 280–89), which summarizes the lessons learned from the contributions in this volume. Each of the remaining eleven papers is devoted to the examination of linguistic processes in a country or a region. These include: ‘Britain and Ireland: The varying significance of language for nationalism’ [End Page 215] (Stephen Barbour, 18–43); ‘France: One state, one nation, one language?’ (Anne Judge, 44–82); ‘The Iberian Peninsula: Conflicting linguistic nationalisms’ (Clare Mar-Molinero, 83–104); ‘Northern Europe: Languages as prime markers of ethnic and national identity’ (Lars S. Vikør, 105–29); ‘The Low Countries: A study in sharply contrasting nationalisms’ (Robert B. Howell, 130–50); ‘Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg: The total coincidence of nations and speech communities’ (Barbour, 151–67); Language and nationalism in Italy: Language as a weak marker of ethnicity’ (Carlo Ruzza, 168–82); ‘Contrasting ethnic nationalisms...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-0665
Print ISSN
0097-8507
Pages
pp. 215-216
Launched on MUSE
2003-05-01
Open Access
No
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