THE POLITICS OF LANGUAGE IN CENTRAL EUROPE.

Tomasz Kamusella, besides being an LH reader and commenter (see his very interesting contributions to this LH thread), is a scholar of language and nationalism, and his book The Politics of Language and Nationalism in Central Europe has now been published by Palgrave Macmillan (official pub date in the U.S. is January 20), and it looks like a valuable read for anyone interested in the subject (though at 1,168 pages and £125.00/$204.95 it’s quite an investment in time and money). From the publisher’s page you can download a pdf file containing the table of contents, 60-page introduction, and 86-page index. I’ll provide a few excerpts from the introduction, so you can get an idea of the kinds of things he discusses:

Although the Western European pedigree of politics of language is at present conveniently forgotten, the phenomenon of language politicization is said to be now most visible in Central Europe. It is so because after World War I, the formerly multilingual Western European powers of France and the United Kingdom with the support of the United States chose to delegitimize the existence of Austria-Hungary on the account of its multilingualism and multiethnicity. By the same token, the victorious powers legitimized various ethnonational (formerly, often marginal) movements, which defined their postulated nations in terms of language. The national principle steeped in the ideal of ethnolinguistic homogeneity allowed these movements to carve up Central Europe into a multitude of ethnolinguistic nation-states. What followed with vengeance was forced ethnolinguistic homogenization pursued to assimilate ‘non-national elements’ within a nation-state. The intensity and human costs of this project were much higher than in Western Europe, because there the process of ethnolinguistic homogenization was spread out over two or more centuries, and conducted mostly prior to the rise of the bureaucratic state and industry, which provided the means of making millions conform with the central government’s will. …
In the second half of the 19th century, European scholars and statisticians, confronted with the non-national character of Central and Eastern Europe, believed that the nations, which ‘had to exist there,’ could be brought out from the ‘ambiguity of multiethnic populaces’ using statistics. In the subsequent censuses, one had to declare one’s language, variously interpreted as mother tongue, family language, or language of everyday communication. The declaration of more than one language per person was not permitted, which by default excluded the phenomenon of bi- and multilingualism from official scrutiny. The logic of this exclusion stemmed from the conviction that a person can belong to one nation only. By the same token, declarations of variously named dialects, already construed as ‘belonging to’ a national language, were noted as declarations of this national language. …

At the beginning of the 19th century, the idea of popular literacy as the prerequisite of ‘civilizedness’ appeared in Western Europe (Astle 1784). During the 20th century, this concept extended to all the corners of the globe (Illich and Sanders 1988; McLuhan 1962). From that time on, it was insufficient just to speak and communicate successfully. People had to speak something recognized as ‘a language,’ reified by writing (Anderson 1991; Billig 1995: 31). The illiterate speech of those not conforming to this new communication pattern was dubbed as ‘a dialect’ and became subordinated to ‘a language.’ Dialects created in this manner were made into a language’s oral, that is, ‘uncivilized,’ patrimony or anachronistic offspring14 (cf. Bloomfield 1926: 162). …
Nowadays, in comparison to the majority of extant polities worldwide, most of the nation-states of Central Europe are unnaturally homogenous in their ethnolinguistic composition. Non-Polish-speakers constitute less than 1 percent Poland’s population, non-Magyar-speakers amount to 2 percent of Hungary’s inhabitants, non-Czech-speakers are less than 3 percent in the Czech Republic’s populace, non-Romanian-speakers constitute less than 11 percent of Romania’s inhabitants, and non-Slovak-speakers amount to less than 15 percent of Slovakia’s populace. But the vast majority of the minority non-national language-speakers could not help acquiring this language at school within the nation-state of their residence. In most cases, it will ensure their assimilation in the near future (Eberhardt 1996: 128, 135, 138, 244, 250). This unusual homogeneity was achieved at a stupendous human cost. The borders of new nation-states founded on the rubble of the destroyed multiethnic polities after 1918 were drawn and re-drawn after both World Wars. These ethnonationally motivated and legitimized changes made tens of millions into foreigners without their need of moving to a different country and tossed tens of millions across the changing borders in forced population exchanges, internationally agreed expulsions, unilateral schemes of forced emigration, deportations, internal dispersals, and due to the denial of citizenship, among others. The interwar descent of the region from democracy into authoritarianism, the wartime Holocaust of Jews and Roma perpetrated by the Third Reich, and the post-war imposition of Soviet totalitarianism facilitated this process of ethnolinguistic homogenization by loosening and nullifying established social bonds and absolving national leaderships from observing the conventional moral norms. Finally and ominously, one could be true to one’s nationalism, which made one’s own nation into the highest good to be fortified and cherished at whatever cost and suffering it could mean to other nations and national minorities (Magocsi 2002: 191; Ther and Siljak 2001).

I was amused by this anecdote:

When I did research in Vienna in 2005, I ran a small experiment. I asked Austrian, German, and other Western colleagues in the Institute of Human Sciences (Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen) how far Vienna was from Bratislava. The usual guesses were 200 to 500 kilometers. In reality, it is 66 kilometers by car from city center to city center.
This clearly shows how much even an educated Austrian or German sees her or his country as part of the West, even to the defiance of actual geography.

And I was thunderstruck by the parenthetical remark at the end of this:

All other post-Soviet states still aspire to the ideal of ethnolinguistic homogeneity, including the Russian Federation, where Russians make up more than four-fifths of the population, and practically all non-Russians speak Russian and are not allowed to use any other script but Cyrillic for writing their national languages as long as they enjoy their own autonomous republics. (The Jewish Autonomous Region Birobidzhan is the sole exception, as Yiddish written in the Hebrew script is employed there in official capacity.)

But sure enough, the Wikipedia article on Birobidzhan (Russian: Биробиджа́н; Yiddish: ביראָבידזשאַן) says that “Yiddish and Jewish traditions have been required components in all public schools for almost fifteen years, taught not as Jewish exotica but as part of the region’s national heritage.” Somehow I thought the whole “Jewish Birobidzhan” thing was a Stalinist initiative that failed half a century ago. (Of course, there are only 4,000 Jews in Birobidzhan, but that’s a lot more than I would have expected.)
The book seems to be quite well proofread, but in that long a book there are bound to be typos, and here are a few I noticed that should be corrected in the next edition: “In 1774, Austria annexed northern Bukovina (today in southeastern [should be southwestern] Ukraine)”; “southern Kosovo went to Italy, which had already annexed Albania and the northern Greek territory around Prága” [s/b Párga]; “Chereso [s/b Cherso] (Cres)”; “Thessalonicae” [s/b Thessalonica]; “ruskaia dusha” [s/b russkaia]; “Tuscanian” [s/b Tuscan]. This isn’t a typo but a misleading geographical designation: “Between 1555 and 1713, Spanish was the official language in the Low Countries” [s/b in the Spanish Netherlands]. Also, in an English-language book it’s odd to see Preßburg rather than Pressburg for the German name of Bratislava.

Comments

  1. $200? Damn. As much as I’d like to feed my Austro-Hungarian nostalgia, this is way out of budget.

  2. John Emerson says:

    A topic of enormous interest.
    I will first make my customary plug for Wixman’s Language aspects of ethnic patterns and processes in the north Caucasus about multilingualism in the Caucasus (which cannot be called “Caucasian multilingualism”, for stupid reasons.)
    Scattered notes:
    The composer Bartok was Hungarian, but after WWI the places where he had grown up belonged to Slovakia, Rumania, and the Ukraine (as I remember). Bartok started as a Hungarian nationalist but as an ethnomusicologist did work on Rumanian, Slovak, Bulgarian, and many other folk musics, and he spoke against discrimination against non-Hungarian minorities. He was really an “originalist” rather than a nationalist — he went to folk music to find precious relics of the past, rather than national essences.
    The much-underrated scholar Ernest Gellner was a German Jew from Czechoslovakia. After WWII he and his family would have been happy to be Czechs, but found that that was not possible. He ended up a Brit. He’s written a lot on nationalism, and ended up advocating a technocratic non-national world government, with nations existing only as culture-fostering entities. He explicitly modeled this on Austro-Hungary.
    Elias Canetti, a polylingual German author of Bulgarian origin, told some anecdotes about how people in that area vied to learn as many languages as possible. In one case a murder was prevented because one passenger on a train happened to know a little Greek.
    In “The Martians of Science”, Hungarian Jews of German origin living in the US identify themselves as Hungarians. Apparently assimilation was quite extensive, despite Hungary’s relatively inferior status as a culture language.

  3. John Emerson says:

    Gellner: “after WWI”.

  4. John Emerson says:

    One group of Eestern Mongols wente through 3 or 4 scripts in about 20 years or so around 1930-1950.

  5. John Emerson says:

    One group of Eestern Mongols wente through 3 or 4 scripts in about 20 years or so around 1930-1950.

  6. John Emerson says:

    From the link:
    “Skull” is czaszka in Polish. The same word in Russian means “cup” as in “cup of tea”.
    The Scyths did not make pottery and were thus forced to drink from their enemies’ skulls. This explains their warlike nature. Polish culture derives from Scythian culture.

  7. John Emerson says:

    From the link:
    “Skull” is czaszka in Polish. The same word in Russian means “cup” as in “cup of tea”.
    The Scyths did not make pottery and were thus forced to drink from their enemies’ skulls. This explains their warlike nature. Polish culture derives from Scythian culture.

  8. I have been told that Danish/Norwegian/Swedish skål (cheers) means “skull” as in something like “I toast our upcoming marriage by drinking from the skull of your dead husband.” I know for sure that the Vikings drank from horns (religious symbolism) and they drank from cups (ordinary non-ritualistic drinking), but I have never heard this drinking from skulls thing documented anywhere.

  9. Here you go. Not the Vikings, it seems, but lots of other guys.

  10. I have to say that my hackles went up a bit when I started reading the quote about “the formerly multilingual Western European powers of France and the United Kingdom with the support of the United States chose to delegitimize the existence of Austria-Hungary on the account of its multilingualism and multiethnicity.” But that’s because I live in Russia, where blaming the US for everything — and I mean EVERYTHING; most recently we were accused of starting WWI and WWII to achieve world hegemony — is a neat way of absolving oneself of responsibility for one’s past and present. But… that’s not fair of me.
    I, too, rue the cost, but may have to buy it. I happen to be half-Lemko, one of those small ethnic groups/nationalities with its own language/dialect (depending on who you are talking to; the wrong word will get you punched in the face) that was once in the Austro-Hungarian empire. My Lemko grandmother’s citizenship papers listed Galicia as her homeland. This part of the world — Transcarpathia — is heating up and trying to secede — or gain autonomy — from Ukraine these days. Language, ethnicity/nationality, religion (and “jurisdiction” of Orthodox churches)are part of the mix. I confess I don’t understand much of it at all.
    So thanks for the info, Hat! Can Mr Kamusella provide an LH reader discount?

  11. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Some years ago I organized a special issue of a journal in memory of a distinguished colleague who had died a little earlier. He worked in Edinburgh, and had been educated in Northern Ireland, but he had a Hungarian name and was born in Roumania to German-speaking parents. I managed to find a Roumanian contributor to send me a photograph of the birthplace and to write a few words about it. This greatly offended another contributor, who was Hungarian, and objected to the place being identified as being in Roumania. She was only partially mollified when it was pointed out that although another place with a similar name exists and was once part of Hungary, the place in question had never been Hungarian-speaking.
    All this to say that although it’s certainly true to say that the policies pursued by France and the UK have a lot to answer for, I think the fierce nationalism of the speakers of minority languages had a lot to do with it as well.

  12. AJP Crown says:

    What an interesting and wonderful book. It also shows just how important and useful historical linguistics is, I’m guessing this was not written simply for other linguists to consume. I do hope the LRB and so on have been given the opportunity to review it. I wonder if people from the UN and Nato will see it. Too bad about the price, can’t more of it be made available at some point on the internet?

  13. I wonder about this (from Wiki):

    The name “Lemko” derives from the common expression Lem (Лeм), which can mean “but”, “only”, or “like” in the Lemko dialect. “Lemko” came into use as an endonym after having been used as an exonym by the neighboring Boykos and Hutsuls, who do not use that expression in their respective dialects…..The term “Lemko” is from a pejorative description for any person who excessively uses the word LEM.

    The Chukchis of NE Siberia, who appear in a lot of jokes, are famous for their use of the word “odnako”, however.

  14. I wonder about this (from Wiki):

    The name “Lemko” derives from the common expression Lem (Лeм), which can mean “but”, “only”, or “like” in the Lemko dialect. “Lemko” came into use as an endonym after having been used as an exonym by the neighboring Boykos and Hutsuls, who do not use that expression in their respective dialects…..The term “Lemko” is from a pejorative description for any person who excessively uses the word LEM.

    The Chukchis of NE Siberia, who appear in a lot of jokes, are famous for their use of the word “odnako”, however.

  15. Jarek Hirny says:

    Just for your information — amazon.ca lists this book for 150 CAD, which today equals to something around 125 USD. A little bit more affordable price…

  16. Yes, A C-B, Lemko nationalism vis-a-vis Ukrainians makes Ukrainian nationalism vis-a-vis Russians seem like a Kumbaya song-fest in the park.
    John, not so sure about the LEM bit… did I mention that we Lemkos are fiercely proud and nationalistic? Well, calling our language a dialect gets you popped in the nose.
    Just kidding…

  17. As Emerson notes, Gellner wrote knowledgeably about nationalism– but he also wrote the funniest book I ever read about Linguistic Philosophy, “Words and Things”, which recently came out in a new edition.

  18. Gellner also wrote about anthropology and state formation. He was drummed out of the profession for “Words and Things”.

  19. Gellner also wrote about anthropology and state formation. He was drummed out of the profession for “Words and Things”.

  20. In “The Martians of Science”, Hungarian Jews of German origin living in the US identify themselves as Hungarians.
    No surprise there, considering the fierceness of Hungarian nationalism.
    The name “Lemko” derives from the common expression Lem (Лeм)
    Funny, that word is also found in my dialect, though only meaning “but, only” and not prone to be used excessively.
    I love the Vienna-Bratislava story. It reminds me of a similar one from the nineties. It was during the Mečiar years when Slovakia was going to hell in a handbasket and at that time, the perfect example of a country that has already taken that trip was Romania. People used to say things like “Pretty soon we’ll be fucked like Romania is” or, if they were of the optimistic persuasion, “Well, at least we’re not Romania.” Someone then pointed out that it’s actually only about 80 km from the southeasternmost corner of Slovakia to the northwesternmost corner of Romania.

  21. I love the Vienna-Bratislava story
    Me too. What an intelligent man.

  22. non-Slovak-speakers amount to less than 15 percent of Slovakia’s populace
    The thing is, it’s not that clear. First of all, the actual numbers according to the last census (2001) are the following:
    Total population: 5,379,455
    Native speakers of Slovak: 4,512,217, i.e. 83.88%
    Native speakers of languages other than Slovak: 867.238, 16,12%
    I suspect Tomasz was using the ethnicity data where the those who checked the box ‘Slovak’ do indeed make up 85,8% of the respondents. The main problem with these sets of data, however, is that both ethnicity and languages spoken are self-reported. Thus according to the 2001 census, there were less than 90.000 ethnic Roma and less than 100.000 speakers of Romani. And that definitely doesn’t sound right. Roma activists and government officials estimate the actual number of Roma at 300.000-500.000, of which at least the half are speakers of Romani and at least 5% speakers of Hungarian. That would mean that in reality, about 20-25% of Slovakia’s households use a language other than Slovak. Or not, since the real problem is that the census takers ask what you’re native language is and not what language you speak at home. And that’s a whole other can of worms.

  23. Yeah, and I imagine it’s very hard to get useful figures, since both the government and the respondents have agendas that might skew the results.

  24. Somehow I thought the whole “Jewish Birobidzhan” thing was a Stalinist initiative that failed half a century ago.
    And you were right, Hat.

  25. David Marjanović says:

    Considering Vienna and Bratislava, I recommend asking people if Prague is further east or further west than Vienna.
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    West. Far west. About 200 km.

  26. Stockholm is about as far east as Budapest, and Helsinki is farther east than almost all of Greece.

  27. Stockholm is about as far east as Budapest, and Helsinki is farther east than almost all of Greece.

  28. michael farris says:

    I was talking with a professor from Norway who’d visited Poznań a few times and he pointed out that when he lived in Tromsø he actually had to travel westward to get here.
    (He also said that traditional maps make Norway look like a North-to-South country (like Chile or Italy) but it’s actually laid out more on a SW to NE axis.)

  29. AJP Crown says:

    And it’s the same distance from Oslo to Tromsø as it is from Oslo to Rome, so I’m told.

  30. He also said that traditional maps make Norway look like a North-to-South country (like Chile or Italy)…
    Ah, but in fact Venice is further west than the whole island of Sicily. Why should we think that Italy is a “North-to-South country”? Is it not as much a “West-to-East country”? And why do we not call the North Island of New Zealand the “East Island”, or for that matter North America “West America”?

  31. AJP Crown says:

    I think it was Stuart and I who discussed, a little while ago, the possibility of setting globes with their N-S axis horizontal and the E-W plane upright. It would solve the current unfairness of having half the world hidden all the time as well as getting rid of the implication that the view with North up is more important or useful than any other.

  32. mollymooly says:

    Putting South on top is as good as putting North there, but the globe has no East Pole or West Pole. Rotation provides North and South as poles of the axis, but East and West only as directions.
    Cities by latitude
    Cities by longitude

  33. AJP Crown says:

    I said East-West PLANE, not Pole, silly. And, obviously, if you put South on top you run into the same problem as when North is on top.
    If you were to rotate a globe (its N-S axis) through approx. 90 degrees you would have the spin moving in the same plane as a car tyre. Say it were to take the globe 24 hours to rotate, no part of the earth’s surface would remain close to ‘the bottom’ (or in darkness, in other words) for more than 6-8 hours.

  34. AJP Crown says:

    I see under Cities by Latitude, someone has slyly manipulated the facts to lodge some godforsaken Canadian hut at the top of the list. They are claiming it as the northernmost inhabited place on Earth. Well, “inhabited place” is not the definition of city.
    In fact Longyearbyen in Svalbard, Norway is the northernmost city in the world. As any fule kno.
    Canadians are simply shameless in their strutting chauvinistic disregard for the feelings of others.

  35. Longyearbyen er den største bosetningen på Svalbard
    Alert, Nunavut, is the most northerly inhabited settlement in the world.
    … as any fule kno.

  36. AJP Crown says:

    As any fule kno, a settlement is not a city. Do you call London the capital settlement of England? I think not. The name of the piece is Cities by Latitude, not Huts by Latitude.

  37. AJP Crown says:

    Og Longyearbyen er ikke bare en bosettning som denne dumme kanadiske hytte, Longyearbyen er en by.

  38. As any fule kno, a settlement is not a city.
    Kinda stepped on my point there.
    Og Longyearbyen er ikke bare en bosettning som denne dumme kanadiske hytte, Longyearbyen er en by.
    The Governor of Svalbard curiously omits this line from his site.

  39. Didn’t “settlement” used to mean something specific? I seem to remember a book of settlements.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landn%C3%A1mab%C3%B3k
    It sounds like this Canadian weather station thingy isn’t someplace where people actually live, even if it’s inhabited year round. It’s more like they get stationed there for a rotation.

  40. Talking of anti-intuitive geography, mollymooly’s link confirms that Edinburgh (east coast of Britain) is further west than Liverpool (west coast of Britain).

  41. I see my computer is still making odd-looking URL’s, so I’ll be nice and post a link to the medieval Icelandic Book of Settlement (Landnáma) as well as something about settlement in Iceland.

  42. Denmark and England are at the same latitude.

  43. AJP Crown says:

    As are Madrid, Beijing and New York.
    I happen to know a little bit about Longyearbyen, because my wife worked just outside it on the global seed vault (the artist) so she spent some time there last year. We even still have a subscription to the Svalbardposten, the local newspaper (‘world’s most northerly newspaper’). Although it was set up as a port for the coal mines, Longyearbyen is not the hick town you might expect. Svalbard’s a top tourist destination in winter for the Norwegian & int’l ‘been there, done that’ crowd and that mostly means going to Longyearbyen. It has very high quality wine and food at the hotels. Though it’s not cheap, there is no duty paid in Svalbard, which is very exciting for the heavily-taxed visitors from other parts of the country. Longyearbyen’s the location of a little, scientific university campus, with a bunch of foreign students & faculty as well as Norwegians.
    So, yes, Longyearbyen’s a city, or at least a ‘town’, in English — Norwegian hasn’t needed to make exactly the same distinction — even if it does have an occasional polar bear walking down the main street.

  44. AJP Crown says:

    One advantage (of many) of having my globe with a horizontal N-S axis is that I can now see that the landmass of Australia is very much closer to the Equator than is the USA, for example (and making the name ‘antipodes’ seem a bit wrong even for globes with England & co. on top). Honestly, even though the writing is in the wrong direction for the convention, I recommend all globe owners make this 90 degree adjustment. My life is fabulous now.

  45. Does the occasional polar bear REALLY walk down the street? Cool.
    But how did we get from Transcarpathia to the North Pole? Who hijacked this thread?

  46. mollymooly says:

    “I said East-West PLANE, not Pole, silly.”
    To be fair, “setting the E-W plane upright” makes no sense geometrically. But now I see what you REALLY meant, it is a good idea. Any good globe will have an adjustable axis, so what you’re advocating is a ban on cheap globes. Amen to that.

  47. AJP Crown says:

    Does the occasional polar bear REALLY walk down the street? Cool.
    Yes, it may not stop for a chat every morning on the way to the store but it did happen while my wife was there. She (my wife) had to carry a gun too, in case she met one. Not that this is Palin country, the police conduct a full inquiry and there’s an autopsy any time a bear is shot

  48. Polar bears are completely harmless unless someone bothers them, or if they’re hungry. They won’t just kill you for no good reason, and if a polar bear could talk, he’d tell us his reasons.

    But we wouldn’t understand him. We’d think “I don’t know what that guy’s trying to say, but he seems to be unreasonably annoyed”.

    – Ludwig Wittgenstein

  49. Polar bears are completely harmless unless someone bothers them, or if they’re hungry. They won’t just kill you for no good reason, and if a polar bear could talk, he’d tell us his reasons.

    But we wouldn’t understand him. We’d think “I don’t know what that guy’s trying to say, but he seems to be unreasonably annoyed”.

    – Ludwig Wittgenstein

  50. AJP Crown says:

    what you’re advocating…
    It would be nice to have the names running N-S too. I think it affects how you perceive it because to some extent you read ‘downwards’, as if the surface were a page.
    The main advantages are that a ‘vertical’ Equator makes the earth’s land masses look totally different from the usual globe, and that no country is at a big disadvantage because of its location on earth (more prominence seems to me to be given to places closer to the Equator, but I find that to be an improvement) .

  51. AJP Crown says:

    Come on John! Don’t you carry a gun in case you meet someone who’s grumpy?

  52. @Nijma
    While it is clear that english skull and scandinavian skål are cognates, the scandinavian toast has nothing to do with drinking from a skull.
    Skål in the Scandinavian languages also mean bowl and the toast has its origin in a viking tradition of washing your face with water from a wash bowl, that was passed around before eating supper.

  53. a viking tradition of washing your face with water from a wash bowl, that was passed around before eating supper.
    So said Ibn Fadlan, but it was the Rus and an all male camping trip at that. My own relatives in Aarhus don’t do that, but they do say skål when drinking wine.

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