Don’t assume language or dialect is locked to a particular place

In an age of globalisation with unprecedented levels of mobility and communication, the world is often described as a “global village”. But this metaphor has implications for how we understand the geographical place around us.

There are clearly emotional meanings connected to the concept of place. An expression such as “do you want to come to my place?” refers to place as a space we own and belong to. When we refer to someone feeling “out of place”, we’re usually referring to their lack of ability to fit in or adjust.

But place has a national meaning, too. Our national ideologies are reinforced every day by little reminders and signals – for example, when we’re reminded of our geographical location by looking at the map on a weather forecast or when football commentators refer to “we” when commenting on their home team.

This is something the social psychologist Michael Billig called “banal nationalism”. These little reminders reproduce a national ideology that links a geographical place with an imagined community called a nation – be that France, England or Germany. Because nation states have been a common political structure in Europe since before World War I, place has historically been associated with the geopolitical borders between countries and is now firmly linked to nationality and citizenship of a particular country.

It’s because of this that connections have tended to be made between nations and their languages. Back in 1794, during the French revolution, Bertrand Barère, a prominent member of the National Convention said that: “For a free people the language must be one and the same for all.” A similar message was found in a 1919 letter by the American president, Theodore Roosevelt, who said: “We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language.”

Many nationalists believe that a nation state should ideally be a monolingual entity. The “one language one nation” ideology underpins loyalty to an “imagined, homogeneous” nation and subsumes a rather monolithic cultural and linguistic life.

A more recent example was the call by the UK government’s former integration tsar, Louise Casey, to set a deadline by which everybody in the UK should speak English. While English is of course important for communication and relationship building, such a proposal ignores the multilingualism and hyper-diversity that characterise urban centres in the UK.

Read more: The Conversation

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