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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


MALAN, Koos. Language deterioration with specific reference to the ideologies and practices of statism. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2014, vol.54, n.3, pp.462-480. ISSN 2224-7912.

It is argued in this article that the ideology ofstatism has been playing a major part in the accelerated rate of the deterioration and extinction of languages. Beginning with some general observations on the reason for language deterioration and extinction the emphasis subsequently shifts to the ideology of statism as a major factor determining the fate of minority languages. Statism refers to the territorial state with its single largely industrialised economy spanning the territory of the whole state and organised in terms of its own distinctive statist ideology, that reinforces and justifies a state-wide homogeneous nation and the monolingualism of a single dominant (state) language to the detriment of all other (minority) languages. The statist ideology might be slanting to the left, the right or the liberal centre but it always acts in defence and in support of the homogenising monolingual territorial state. The statist ideology and the dictates of the industrialised economy are interdependent and mutually reinforcing, both working towards the homogenisations and monolingualism of the territorial state. Statism harks back to the consolidation of the modern territorial state in England and France in the sixteenth century, soon followed by the other European territorial states and thereafter in the rest of the world. The advent of the first territorial states was accompanied with the emergence of large scale industrial homogenising economies in the place of the erstwhile localised agrarian economies. In discussing the homogenising and particularly monolingual consequences of the state-wide industrial economy the elucidating insights of Ernst Gellner are discussed in some detail. The ideology of statism comes in a variety of mutations spanning the entire ideological spectrum from left to right, however consistently having the same homogenising goal and effect also as far as language is concerned. All these ideologies, regardless of how divergent they are, are in the final analysis species of the same larger genus, namely the ideology of statism. In dealing with these species the French position with a more specific emphasis on the Jacobin and nationalist policies in relation to languages since the French Revolution is first dealt with. This is followed by an assessment of the position of language in terms of the right-wing nationalist approach in Spain which reached its zenith under the dictatorship of Franco. Thereafter the approach to language in Britain is discussed with reference to the impact of Anglicisation upon the Celtic languages of the British Isles. This approach was at least in part founded upon and received further momentum in the convictions articulated by some of the foremost liberal political theorists such as John Stuart Mill. The American approach - seemingly the purist liberal one - is then discussed with reference to the impact of monoculturalism on the minority languages of the United States. Subesequently, the focus shifts to the other extreme of the ideological spectrum when the Leftist approach to language with reference to Marx and Engels is assessed. The discussion reveals that the approaches in relation to languages were, if not in theoretical design, then most certainly in purpose and effect essentially the same in terms of all these ideological positions irrespective of the ideological orientations of their authors. What all of these approaches share - whether pursued from the left, right or the liberal centre - is the statist ideology which serves as the common foundation for all of them. The conclusion drawn from this is that smaller languages, that is, languages with minoritised linguistic communities stand in the way of an encompassing collection of modern ideologies that share the common ideological matrix of statism. Smaller languages and their communities are therefore imperilled by the broadly encompassing ideology of statism and not merely by an ideological assault forthcoming from a right-wing, left-wing or similarly distinctive ideology that occupies a specific position on the ideological spectrum. It is this encompassing challenge of statism that smaller linguistic communities need to overcome.

Keywords : Statism; Jacobin; Liberalism (English and American); Ernst Gellner; homogenisation; monolingualism; territorial state; industrial economy; leftist ideology; nationalism.

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