National languages

I have always found people’s need for a “national language” quite strange. And this whole april08tlemarkparisicartoonoffthemarkcomplaining that people don’t speak “our” language. Why do people care? I know, I know, it is tied up with other factors, but still. The idea that there should be a national language is fairly new, as is, I suppose, the concept of a nation in general. But here are some excerpts from a book talking explicitly about this phenomenon, and some of the disastrous (and ridiculous) irredentist consequences of it.

We still have this problem in multilingual states. Wales sometimes seems almost as secessionist as Scotland. Quebec has the persistent Bloc Qebecuois. China has Tibetan/Uighur troubles. Belgium is being torn apart. I guess Switzerland and India are the exceptions. Any ideas on why this is? Anyway, I liked this take on the issue:

Although there is more to nationalism than just language, the idea of identifying a political state with a single language is a central idea of nationalism. When you contemplate why it is that today we expect any state to have a single language and think of Canada or Belgium as “weird” (and don’t forget Switzerland), what you’re really contemplating is why the nation-state has become dominant in the modern world.

Among those who study such things, the standard and mainstream thesis is that there is a fundamental incompatibility between a multinational state and a modern state.

But as they say, a language is a dialect with an army and a navy.

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