The History of Nationalized and Marginalized Languages.

I thought this AskMetaFilter question was interesting enough to repost here; I couldn’t think of relevant books offhand, and I’m sure some of my commenters can:

I know there was this process in the last few hundred years of European history where newly forming nations, trying to take hold of themselves, would decree one language official (French, Spanish), and try to squelch all of the many other languages/dialects (Occitan, Catalan) spoken within their borders. Where can I learn more?

Simple googling is not turning up enough to assuage my curiosity. I have a bunch of questions: is there a name for this process? How much resistance was there to it in Europe (like the modern Catalan independence movement)? How similarly did this process play out in Europe vs. other parts of the world (Russia, Japan, China)?

Thanks!

Comments

  1. Here’s one place to start: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vergonha

  2. This is a far-reaching worldwide phenomenon, but surprisingly it doesn’t seem to have a single name. “The spread of standardised national languages” is the closest I can think of to a single expression for it.

    It certainly played out in Japan — the adoption of genbun itchi (a unified written and standard language) in the 19th century and its propagation nationwide. Effects of the “one national standard” include the extinction of Ainu, the gradual standardisation of Japanese compared to the extreme dialect variation that prevailed beforehand, and the conversion of Okinawan into a “dialect” of Japanese and (I believe) its gradual weakening.

    It has also played out in China, with the adoption of putonghua (or guoyu) to take the place of Classical Chinese as a written language and as a “national language” for the entire country. This has led to the gradual marginalisation of dialects. For instance, unlike in Hong Kong, Cantonese is more just a “spoken language of everyday life” in China than it is in Hong Kong, where it has wider reach in the media, education, etc. The systems of multiple readings (colloquial and literary) for Chinese characters in southern dialects like Hokkienese are falling by the wayside because education in this tradition has ceased. People just use putonghua for reading pronunciations.

    The process is ongoing in places like Inner Mongolia, Tibet, and Xinjiang, where the authorities are systematically (and stealthily) expanding education in putonghua and restricting education in other languages.

    In Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang (keeping in mind the point above about the inroads of putonghua as the language of education and just about every sphere of modern life), the Xilingol dialect has been adopted as “standard Mongolian”. However, there is still huge variation in pronunciation and usage, unlike in Mongolia, where standardisation is well advanced. The script has been standardised, and the old todo script is no longer taught in schools to Oirat speakers.

    In Mongolia, a standard language (based on Khalkha) has been imposed on the entire country, including Buryat speakers. The Cyrillic script also plays a role since it mandates a single pronunciation where previously variant pronunciations were more common. (In Inner Mongolian there is still very strong variation, despite attempts to impose the Xilingol standard.)

    This is just scratching the surface! The process is still being played out in these three countries and will continue to be played out for many years to come.

  3. Of course I haven’t answered the question, which is where more information can be found. Regrettably, it’s hard to find information collected in one place. To get a full picture, you need to research each topic individually. For instance, there are books and articles about genbun itchi, but I’m not sure where you would find a book that would cover the entire spectrum of Japanese linguistic standardisation, including Ainu and Okinawan, the gradual loss of extreme dialect patterns with education, and the ways in which this standardisation has progressed or been resisted.

  4. Regrettably, it’s hard to find information collected in one place.

    That’s what I figured, and it’s odd considering the large numbers of monographs and essay collections about (I would have thought) just about every linguistic topic under the sun. There’s a vacancy to be filled!

  5. Well, there are plenty of books about the topic in Japanese. I assume the sane is true for China and so on. Maybe the bottleneck is knowing enough different languages to do a proper international treatment.

    Incidentally, Hat, didn’t you post a few years ago about a book you were reading about Ataturk and Turkish that might fit the bill?

  6. I always thought Standard Southern Mongolian was based on Chakhar dialect.

    Xilingol dialect is very close to Khalkha, in fact, Mongols of Xilingol used to be part of the so called Five Southern Khalkha tribe (they are said to have migrated to Inner Mongolia from the north in 15th century).

    Perhaps there is an ongoing shift of Standard Southern Mongolian to Xilingol dialect due to much greater contacts between Inner Mongolian region and republic of Mongolia.

  7. The standard dialect is “Chakhar”, but from what I’ve heard Xilingol is the basis for the Inner Mongolian standard, or at least is closest to the standard. I don’ t think this is a matter of “linguistic influence”; it’s an official decision. I rather suspect it was a way of ensuring that the Mongolian of Inner Mongolia didn’t drift too far from the Mongolian of Mongolia without actually saying so. I doubt it would have been acceptable in China to say that they were adopting a foreign standard!

    I’ll check and see if I can find sources. I don’t have time at the moment.

  8. -The Cyrillic script also plays a role since it mandates a single pronunciation where previously variant pronunciations were more common.

    If it does, then it does it very badly.

    Actual Mongolian pronunciation is quite divergent from prescribed Cyrillic spelling and the mismatch is growing.

    Plus there is a problem of alternate spellings for many words – people from different regions tend to spell same word differently.

    Classical example – ‘түвшин’ or ‘төвшин’?

    Half of Mongolians write ‘түвшин’ and the other half spell the word as ‘төвшин’. It is difficult to assess how they pronounce it, but I suspect spelling difference is caused by different pronunciation.

  9. Matt: The book is The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success, by Geoffrey Lewis. Both the Hat and I thought it excellent.

  10. Hello,

    i usually lurk but I have a couple of suggestions:

    The Emergence of Standard English – John Fisher
    http://www.amazon.com/Emergence-Standard-English-John-Fisher/dp/0813108527

    Mother Tongues and Nations: The Invention of the Native Speaker – Thomas Paul Bonfiglio
    I came across this one awhile ago while looking for something else. It seems like it might be related but I don’t speak academic well enough to determine if it is or not.
    http://www.degruyter.com/view/product/44173

  11. @ SF Reader

    there is a problem of alternate spellings for many words – people from different regions tend to spell same word differently.

    Classical example – ‘түвшин’ or ‘төвшин’?

    Yes, but this is phenomenon is much more common in Inner Mongolia, where such alternations are more widespread.

  12. For instance, Inner Mongolian standard allows both бөгд and бүгд.

  13. For Southeast Asia: Language, Nation and Development in Southeast Asia, ed. Lee Hock Guan & Leo Suryadinata (2007). The chapters on Indonesian are somewhat pedestrian but contain the basic facts. There’s more information in Indonesian: The Development and Use of a National Language, Khaidar Anwar (1980) which is dated but has lots of detail on the foundational period of Indonesian as a proto-national language.

  14. @SFReader

    I always thought Standard Southern Mongolian was based on Chakhar dialect.

    Most of my books are packed away, but I did find this in the 蒙汉词典 = Monggol Kitad Toli (Mongolian-Chinese Dictionary) of 1999, published by Inner Mongolian University Press:

    口语读法则主要根据标准音地区(以正蓝旗为代表的察哈尔土语)读音来标注。
    Roughly: Spoken-language readings are indicated based on readings used in the zone of standard pronunciation (the Chahar dialect as represented by the Plain Blue Banner).

    (It’s interesting that the concept of “readings”, analogous to the readings of Chinese characters, is used when talking about the way that words are pronounced.)

    The standard Chahar pronunciation is thus defined as that of the Plain Blue Banner, which is located in Xilingol League.

  15. I see why the confusion arose. By Xilingol dialect, I meant the speech of Shilinhot and areas to the north of it.

    I forgot that couple of Chakhar banners have been attached to Xilingol league in the south.

    But it would be misleading to say that speech of Chakhars of Xilingol is the speech of Xilingol league as a whole simply because most Mongols in Xilingol are not Chakhars.

  16. That must be a clever way for the standard language to look more patriotic than it actually is.

  17. An interesting book on Slovak might be Choosing Slovakia: Slavic Hungary, the Czechoslovak Language and Accidental Nationalism by Alexander Maxwell. I haven’t shelled out the $100 to acquire it, but I heard an interview with the author and it sounds interesting. I don’t think that book covers the 20th century though. A friend and I were just wondering today how the Slovak language managed to survive the Czechoslovakia era intact. My impression is that even today, more than 20 years after independence, the cultural pull is mostly all one way, with many Slovaks still watching Czech television or reading Czech language books and websites and very few Czechs showing any interest in Slovak culture.

  18. You don’t have to shell out anything for this book. Thank gods for samizdat open access.

  19. Incidentally, Hat, didn’t you post a few years ago about a book you were reading about Ataturk and Turkish that might fit the bill?

    Yes, and as John says, it’s an excellent book, but it’s about the “purification” of Turkish, not the squelching of other languages spoken within the borders of Turkey.

    KarenS, Ian, Vanya: Thanks very much for the excellent suggestions!

  20. I got it wrong, of course, that’s only the first chapter, but it’s already extremely interesting.

  21. J. W. Brewer says:

    Language standardization is mentioned fairly briefly in James C. Scott’s awesome book “Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed.” He treats it as a phenomenon parallel to e.g. the replacement of complex traditional systems of peasant land tenure with “modern” systems of land ownership involving surveyors, maps, and standardized paperwork/record-keeping and e.g. the requirement that everyone in a society have a surname, the common thread being that these are all not merely indicia of “modernity” or “progress” but all make the inhabitants of the land more “legible” (his term) to the government in ways that facilitate tax collection, military conscription, and similar activities that the speakers of a regional dialect not understood by bureaucrats from the capital city might be unenthusiastic about. But I think there’s a much larger scholarly literature on “nation-building,” both in Europe and elsewhere. I think that is a plausible and helpful context for this issue; the only question is whether those who have worked on the broader process of which this is perhaps a facet understand the linguistic issues well enough to treat it non-superficially.

  22. The Scott book is excellent but pessimistic. A passage from it that I keep coming back to is “No administrative system is capable of representing any existing social community except through a heroic and greatly schematized process of abstraction and simplification.”

  23. Alon Lischinsky says:

    For Europe, there is a fine (though woefully expensive, like everything else from JB) edited volume: Hüning, M., Vogl, U., & Moliner, O. (eds). (2012). Standard languages and multilingualism in European history. Amsterdam & Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.

  24. I’ve been wanting to read the Scott book for years; thanks for reminding me of it.

  25. In answer to the question “is there a name for this process?” – it is probably called language standardisation or cultural assimilation. Because in building up a school system and a national bureaucracy, one dialect prevails over others and also over the minority languages. Wikipedia is full of actual examples of this – refer to articles on: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russification, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magyarization, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germanization, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanization, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinicization, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grecomans.

    I query whether there is a name for the reverse process: In the last 20 years, we’ve seen on BBC the re-emergence of dialects and the demise of what was called BBC English. As far as I can tell this process has not yet happened in USA or Australia, but if it does what should this fragmentation of a standardised language be called?

  26. But is it right to describe the process of language standardisation as displacement by one dialect of other dialects and languages?

    Standard literary Russian, for example, is not and never was a dialect. It developed on the basis of old dialect of Moscow, true, but it diverged from it quite strongly (especially after imperial capital moved to St.Petersburg) and in the end, completely displaced the old Muscovite dialect.

    Same thing could be said about standard Chinese and Beijing dialect or standard UK English and various dialects of London.

  27. As I’ve often noted, I don’t believe the U.S. has ever had a standard accent. There is the broadcaster’s accent, but that is more of an artificial professional accent than a standard one; likewise, there was the theatrical (so-called “mid-Atlantic” accent), the pilot’s accent, and so on. Not only are these dying or dead, but they have never extended to other professions. No politician, with a very few exceptions like Ronald Reagan, could possibly be elected who did not have a regional (or otherwise non-general, like AAVE) accent, and it’s normal for professionals of all sorts (doctors, lawyers, and even Indian chiefs) to use their native accents.

    I don’t claim to know what all is happening in Australia, but I think it is shifting from a three-accent system (Broad, General, Cultivated) with Cultivated on top, to a system with General on top and the other two greatly reduced in range.

  28. what should this fragmentation of a standardised language be called?

    Maybe “decentralization” or perhaps more accurately in some cases “devolution” (as in “of powers”, not “the opposite of ‘evolution’ if the latter is misunderstood as a teleological process”). I say “more accurately in some cases” because a superficial reflorescence of diversity doesn’t necessarily imply a weakening of the standard’s authority, just less insistence on enforcing compliance in every single situation. (The “local figures can sound local, national figures cannot” approach.)

    But is it right to describe the process of language standardisation as displacement by one dialect of other dialects and languages?

    It’s not necessarily (intuitively I would guess not even often) displacement by an existing dialect adopted as-is and in toto. But even if the national standard starts life as a stitched-together Frankenstein*, if your national school system is effective enough, before long you’re going to have a generation of kids that speak it. Is there a better word for it at this stage than “dialect”? “H variety”?

  29. The following might not have much to say specifically about dialects, but they offer plenty of insights into language ideologies in modern Korea and Japan:

    – Koh Jongsok. Infected Korean language, purity versus hybridity: From the sinographic cosmopolis to Japanese colonialism to global English. Translated by Ross King. Amherst, New York: Cambria Press, 2014.

    – Lee Yeounsuk. The ideology of kokugo: Nationalizing language in modern Japan. Translated by Maki Hirano Hubbard. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2010.

    Koh’s book is a collection of thematic essays written in informal style. Lee’s is a historical study in a more standard academic format. On the relationship between language and the modernizing state, Lee argues that “the coerciveness of kokugo policy in modern Japan was a sign not of the strength of kokugo but of its weakness, just as the coercion of the Great Japanese Empire indicated Japan’s tenuous modernity.” (p. 212)

  30. DMT, thanks for bringing the publication of Koh Jongsok’s Infected Korean language in English translation to my attention. I must confess that I haven’t read the original, but have seen it alluded to a number of times in discussions about the Korean language. His expression “infected language (감염된 언어)”, the original title, has certainly entered the discourse.

    Koh is what you might call a public intellectual, having penned columns for major newspapers until a few years ago. He is somewhat controversial and seems to have a knack for chiming in where it might not be advisable. He has feuded with other public figures in Korea and most recently has attracted widespread criticism for his open letter to Emma Watson regarding her HeForShe campaign speech.

    Anyway, from what I can gather, Koh’s book is most successful when it criticizes linguistic purism and exposes the influences from other languages that has shaped the development of Korean throughout its history. But apparently, he also makes the case in the book that English could and perhaps should become an official language (공용어) in Korea. Again, I haven’t read the book, but based on the criticism I have seen, I think it must be a matter of poor word choice on the part of Koh. I think he actually means emulating the situation of the Nordic countries for example where the younger population by and large has a good command of English, not suggesting that English should become the language of administration in Korea.

    I don’t know if Koh’s book has much to say about language standardization in Korea, though. The dichotomy explored in the book seems to be native vs. foreign, not standard vs. nonstandard.

  31. I don’t know if there is a detailed treatment of the standardization of Korean available in English. A History of the Korean Language by Ki-Moon Lee and S. Robert Ramsey (itself based on Lee’s 국어사 개설 Kugŏ-sa kaesŏl “An introduction to the history of Korean”) condenses the standardization of Korean into a single section. Briefly, the Korean Language Society proposed a unified orthography of Korean in 1933 with the simple preamble: “The Standard Language is to be Seoul speech now generally used in middle-class society.” The next couple of years were spent on defining what this standard speech was, and the standard speech so established became the language taught in schools after the liberation of Korea from Japanese rule in 1945. The book goes on to explain:

    Ever since then, the public school classroom, along with migration (especially to Seoul, which is now home to a fourth of the South Korean population), public media, and military service, has served to bring the Seoul standard to all parts of the country.
    The Seoul dialect is now recognized throughout South Korea as the prestige variety of the language. It is universally understood, the primary medium of communication everywhere; it is rapidly displacing all regional dialects and usages, especially among the young. In North Korea much the same is true. There the government claims that the standard (called “Cultured Language” 문화어) is based upon speech in Pyongyang, but that statement is only partially true. Until 1945 Seoul speech was the standard there as well, and what is spoken today in the north has yet to diverge significantly, except in the official vocabulary used by the state. In any event, regional diversity is said to be disappearing even more rapidly there, in North Korea, than it is in the south.

    Pretty much all young Koreans of my generation can speak in Standard Korean based on the Seoul dialect. Some have recognizable regional accents, but plenty can hide their regional origins very well. The Southeastern dialect of the Gyeongsang-do province seems to be the most vibrant, as most young people from the region seem to speak it amongst themselves (displaying a degree of diglossia in switching between Standard Korean and the Southeastern dialect based on the audience), but this dialect is influenced more and more by Standard Korean so I suspect it is less and less like traditional pure dialect. On the other hand, the highly divergent dialect of Jeju Island (which some even describe as a separate language based on its low mutual intelligibility with other varieties of Korean) has practically disappeared among young people, completely replaced by Standard Korean.

  32. David Marjanović says:

    if your national school system is effective enough, before long you’re going to have a generation of kids that speak it

    That depends on parents’ attitudes. It has sort of happened in Vienna, where there’s an upperclass to imitate, but not in the rest of Austria.

    Frankenstein*

    “Intelligence is to understand that Frankenstein was not the monster.
    Wisdom is to understand that Frankenstein was the monster.”

  33. I’m gonna call that “not effective enough,” though. The goal is usually to school kids into model citizens/subjects/nationals whether their parents like it or not.

  34. Blowback: Linguistic Nationalism, Institutional Decay, and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka by Neil Devotta examines the Sri Lankan debacle. Here is an academic review. I have not read it but it has been recommended to me and I have put it on my to read list.

    (While I was googling to get the correct title for Devotta’s book, I came across a review of a book on the perils of polyglottism. It reminds me of something a Beijing Chinese friend said to me, that it’s all well and good to criticize Qin Shih Huang Di now but if he hadn’t been so brutally standardizing, China would be like India.)

  35. That’s a variant of “Say what you will about [dictator X], at least he [accomplished Y useful goal],” which I am never willing to buy. We have no way of knowing how China would have turned out without Shih Huang Di’s brutality, and I am not going to ease up on my condemnation for the sake of a hypothetical alternate universe. (Cf. the theory that Stalin’s brutal collectivization/dekulakization was necessary to get the USSR prepared for the inevitable war.)

  36. Well, I think her point was that there was an advantage to the standardization he instituted, and India paid a price socially and economically for linguistic diversity. I don’t know if it’s true, and it is an uncomfortable question. From the review I linked above:

    One solution is to impose an official language or languages on a multicultural society, raising the political and economic issue — standardization versus disenfranchisement. The authors ask whether linguistic standardization, for example, the imposition of one or a few languages on a linguistically diverse population, leads to stability; the more permissive nonstandardization clearly leads to linguistic and cultural diversity but may lead to economic disenfranchisement. Considering the late 20th-century history of Quebec or the more recent history of Sri Lanka might give one pause ere supporting monolingual standardization; however, taking account of all the economic factors discussed in How Many Languages Do We Need? one would likely come down on the side of standardization, as do Ginsburgh and Weber.

    Of course man does not live by economics alone.

  37. Right, something that economists too often forget.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    The goal is usually to school kids into model citizens/subjects/nationals whether their parents like it or not.

    Ah, then it depends on whether “can’t speak anything but the standard language” is considered part of being a model citizen/national.

    that it’s all well and good to criticize Qin Shih Huang Di now but if he hadn’t been so brutally standardizing, China would be like India

    I’ve never before encountered the claim that he did anything about linguistic diversity. Don’t all the mentions of the Hundred Yue peoples and the various Yuezhi come from considerably later? He famously standardized the script, but that’s something else.

    Considering the late 20th-century history of Quebec or the more recent history of Sri Lanka might give one pause ere supporting monolingual standardization;

    And then there’s Switzerland.

    Sure, Switzerland had its last civil war surprisingly recently, but that was a war of religion that cut straight through the language communities.

  39. Indeed. An economics professor is (or was) someone who always tries to hire female TAs, because that way he can provide employment for three students instead of two.

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