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Review of  Language and Nationalism in Europe

Reviewer: Donald Reindl
Book Title: Language and Nationalism in Europe
Book Author: Stephen Barbour Cathie Carmichael
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 12.1554

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Barbour, Stephen, and Cathie Carmichael, eds. (2000)
Language and Nationalism in Europe, Oxford University
Press, hardback, 336 pp., 4 maps, 1 fig., $70.00, ISBN:

Announced in Linguist List 12.1005 (April 10, 2001)

Reviewed by: Donald F. Reindl, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA

"Language and Nationalism in Europe" is an edited
collection of eleven articles, plus introduction and
conclusion, addressing the interaction between languages
and nationalism across various geographical regions of
Europe. The introduction defines the scope of the study,
followed by chapters addressing, in turn, the British
Isles, France, the Iberian Peninsula, Northern Europe,
the Low Countries, the German-speaking lands, Italy,
East-Central Europe, the Balkans, Greece and Turkey, and
European states of the former Soviet Union. The
concluding chapter examines some of the issues common to
each chapter.
Stephen Barbour's introduction (pp. 1-17),
appropriately titled "Nationalism, Language, Europe",
defines each of these concepts, delving into the
distinctions, on the one hand, between "nation", "nation-
state", and "ethnic group"; and, on the other hand,
"language", "dialect", and "language family". The concept
of "Europe" excludes, for the purpose of this study, the
Caucasus, Malta, and Gibraltar. The study also excludes
minorities without a definable territory, such as Turks
in Germany. The philosophical underpinnings of our modern
conception of the relationship between language and
nationhood (e.g., Herder, Fichte) are briefly addressed.
The chapter on the British Isles (pp. 18-43), by
Barbour, presents a two-tiered approach to national
identity in Great Britain: an overarching British
identity, coupled with a second-level identity as
English, Scottish, or Welsh, derived from--at least
historically--linguistic bases. Both the UK and Ireland
are, as Barbour points out, in linguistically rather
unusual circumstances. The former, because the UK
comprises only a minority of the English-speaking world
(unlike, say, Estonia being home to the majority of
Estonian speakers), and the latter, because the first
language (Irish) of the sovereign state (Ireland) is
spoken by only a minority of the population. Barbour also
devotes space to Welsh, Cornish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx,
and Scots, as well as the historical roles of Norse and
Anne Judge's chapter on France (pp. 44-82) gives a
lucid overview of the linguistic mosaic that comprises
France today--both Romance languages (langues d'o�l,
Occitan, Franco-Proven�al, Catalan, Corsican) and others
(Alsatian, Flemish, Breton, Basque). Her summary of the
historical processes that created the current linguistic
situation is particularly cogent. As she points out, much
linguistic policy in France is still able to be
characterized in terms of the Girondin (regionalist) vs.
Jacobin (centrist) opposition of the Revolution, with its
fundamental conflict between linguistic "libert�" and
"�galit�". Judge also traces the evolution of the conceit
of French as a "perfect" language, starting in the
sixteenth century, and the consequent shame often felt by
speakers of regional languages.
The article on the Iberian Peninsula (pp. 83-104),
by Clare Mar-Molinero, concentrates on the relationship
between language and nationalism in Spain, as the author
does not consider language a significant factor in
Portuguese nation building after 1640. The chapter
therefore focuses on Castilian and its interaction with
Catalan, Galician, and Basque. Particularly interesting
is the contrast, on the one hand, between language as a
unifying factor with regard to Catalan nationhood, and,
on the other hand, the traditional emphasis on race in
defining the Basque nation. The ambiguous relationship
between Galician and Portuguese is dealt with
insightfully, from the perspectives of political history
(the shift of political power south to Lisbon),
historical linguistics (the effect of Mozarabic influence
on the latter), and sociolinguistics (competing
reintegrationist and isolationist movements in Galicia).
Lars S. Vik�r's chapter on Northern Europe (pp. 105-
129) addresses the national languages of Finland, Sweden,
Denmark (excluding Greenland), Norway, and Iceland, with
special attention also to the �land Islands and Faroe
Islands. In addition, the S�mi--who were essentially
linguistically and culturally oppressed until the 1980s--
are also covered in a special section. Vik�r's synopsis
of the formation and differences between the competing
Norwegian literary languages of Nynorsk and Bokm�l is
extremely clear. He examines the competing notions of a
supranational Nordic vs. national identity, which is
paralleled in miniature in Norway's strong sense of
regionalism without separatism, or unity in diversity.
Vik�r concludes by identifying three controversial
challenges to linguistic and national identity in
northern Europe: Nordism (which fosters the larger
languages at the expense of the smaller), the
encroachment of English, and recent immigrant
The Low Countries are addressed by Robert B. Howell
(pp. 130-150). This chapter is largely the story of
Dutch, in both Belgium and the Netherlands, inasmuch as
French is extensively treated in chapter 3. According to
Howell, it was largely the forces of economics and
demographics, rather than nationalism, that resulted in
the standardization of Dutch. The rapid and astonishing
level of early urbanization of the Low Countries, coupled
with trade, interregional communication, and internal
migration, all contributed to the rise of supra-regional
written standards. The subsequent 1648 partition of the
Netherlands was followed by sufficient linguistic change
such that, when the Netherlands were reunited in 1815,
language was a significant factor in repartition of 1831.
Nonetheless, standard Dutch eventually prevailed over
local Flemish dialects for literary purposes in northern
Belgium. Language policy regarding the Walloons and
Flemings in Belgium is treated in some detail, as is the
state of Frisian in the Netherlands.
Barbour's contribution on the German-speaking lands
(pp. 151-167), comprising Germany, Austria, Switzerland,
and Luxembourg, concentrates on the puzzling question of
why German has remained a single language, despite its
regional heterogeneity and the socio-political
differences among its speakers. Barbour also defines and
utilizes the competing concepts of "Kulturnation" and
"Staatsnation" in investigating this issue. No clear
answer emerges, despite the vague sense of alienation of
some geographically peripheral groups (e.g., the Swiss,
the Luxembourgers) from standard German. In addition to
German and its variants, Barbour examines the position of
Frisian in Germany in some detail, but gives only passing
mention to the situation of Upper and Lower Sorbian
(Germany), Romansch (Switzerland), and Slovene and
Croatian (Austria). Nevertheless, his coverage of the
Germanic languages of this region is clear and cohesive.
The chapter on Italy (pp. 168-182), by Carlo Ruzza,
although the shortest in the collection, nonetheless
makes a convincing argument for the author's thesis that
language is a weak marker of Italian national identity.
This argument is based on the substantial linguistic
differences between dialect groups in Italy and local
populations' preference for these over standard Italian,
as well as the potency of ideological and religious
identities and the relatively late formation of the
Italian state. According to Ruzza, this is also
associated with the demise of Fascism, which promoted
standard Italian. Much of this chapter deals with the
politics of the "Lega" (Lega Nord), which has, however,
recently backtracked on its exploitation of dialect
politics. Only brief mention is made of Sardinian,
Catalan, Franco-Proven�al, Romansch, German, Slovene,
Albanian, and Greek communities in Italy.
Barbara T�rnquist-Plewa covers Eastern Central
Europe (pp. 183-220), comprising Hungary, Poland,
Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. The irreconcilable
differences between the linguistic and politico-
historical identities of the Hungarian state, coupled
with Magyar politico-linguistic chauvinism and active
manipulation of historical linguistic consciousness,
adequately account for the failure to create a supra-
ethnic Hungarian state-national identity. T�rnquist-Plewa
outlines the effects of Latin, East Slavic languages, and
political partition on the formation of Polish, and gives
a concise sketch of the position of Kashubian. The Czech
Lands and Slovakia are also treated in separate sections,
in light of their very different histories. She
perceptively observes that the idea of a common
Czechoslovak nationality was promoted, in part, to weaken
the power of the German population (who outnumbered the
Slovaks) in the interwar Czechoslovak state.
Cathie Carmichael admits, at the beginning of her
chapter on the "Balkans" (pp. 221-239), that this is a
problematic term, artificially including Slovenia and
Croatia, and artificially excluding Greece and European
Turkey. This chapter is perhaps the most heterogeneous in
the volume, addressing six states with Slavic majority
languages (Bulgaria, Macedonia, Yugoslavia, Bosnia-
Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia), Romania, and
Albania. Carmichael gives concise linguistic profiles of
the individual states, and then examines "Serbo-Croat" as
a case study of the area. Although she adequately
addresses the interface between language and ideology in
(Slavic speaking) Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and
Yugoslavia, illustrating her points with salient examples
and quotes, the circumstances for the other states and
languages of the area differ to the extent that the case
study gives us little insight into the complex and
specific politico-linguistic issues at work there. Given
her space limitations, however, it is difficult to see
how she could have treated the topic differently.
Greece and European Turkey are covered by Peter
Trudgill (pp. 240-263). In many ways, Greece is
particularly illustrative of the interaction of language
and nationalism at their extreme. There is the dizzying
alternation between the two Greek literary languages,
"Katharevousa" and "Dhimotiki", often dependent on the
politics of the regime in power and correlated with the
opposing ideologies of "Ellinismos" (focused on the
classical past) and "Romiosini" (stressing Byzantine
heritage and peasant culture), respectively. This is
coupled with a militantly non-objective stance against
minorities and their languages, in both government and
academia, that distorts or even denies the linguistic
diversity of Greece to the point of paranoia. Only in
such a context can one understand the bizarre incident in
which a 1903 Dhimotiki translation of a classical Greek
play led to riots and chants of "Death to the Slavs!" (p.
250). Trudgill does an admirable job covering the other
major language of the chapter, Turkish, as well as the
host of smaller languages spoken in the area, including
Romani, Macedonian, Bulgarian, Ladino, Armenian, and,
particularly, Vlach (Balkan Romance) and Albanian.
Carmichael's chapter on the ex-Soviet states (pp.
264-279) is something of a catch-all category, covering
Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Moldova, Estonia, Lithuania,
and Latvia. Carmichael starts out by admitting the
impossibility of adequately addressing the role of
language in national identity for such a broad area, but
is nonetheless able to give a broad overview of the
formation of the East Slavic languages, the effects of
Russian hegemony expressed through Tsarist and Soviet
linguistic policies in the area, and the strengthening of
national identities in the post-Soviet period. Similar to
chapter 10, Carmichael chooses a single entity, Ukraine,
as a case study for the area. Again, however, this can
only hint at the vast range of factors at work across the
territory, and important details such as the current
Russification of the Belarusian school system or Russian
separatism in Moldova's Transdniester region had to be
left by the wayside.
The concluding chapter (pp. 280-289), by Carmichael,
ties together some of the themes that run through the
various chapters, including the ascendancy and perceived
threat of the English language, globalization, concurrent
processes of political integration and disintegration,
and the current blossoming of regional identities and
concomitant European renaissance of minority languages
within the framework of the European Union. The work
concludes with the observation that nationalism,
instrumental in shaping modern Europe, remains an
effective force reshaping the linguistic landscape of
Europe today.
Other common themes in the contributions to the
volume include the overwhelming importance of historical
information for understanding contemporary situations,
the significance of Bible translations in shaping many
literary languages (e.g., Czech, Swedish, Danish), the
stress on differentiation (orthographically or through
adoption of a dialect base) from neighboring languages in
the process of establishing literary languages, and
frequent attempts to denationalize minority languages
that are ethnically identified with nearby states--
whether accepted by the speakers of these languages or
not. This latter trend includes the labeling of German as
Alsatian (France), Dutch as Flemish (Belgium), Albanian
as Arvanitika (Greece), and so on, a situation aptly
characterized by Judge (p. 66) as "tip-of-the-iceberg"
The study's emphasis on history would make the book
a good companion text or resource for a course on the
historical development of literary languages. Also, the
large number of succinct definitions of relevant
linguistic and sociological terminology, such as
superstratum vs. substratum, Kulturnation vs.
Staatsnation, initial mutation, canonical word order
(e.g., VSO), nation vs. nation state, etc., make the book
well-suited to students and accessible to non-linguists.
The combined list of references at the end of the
volume is a wealth of bibliographic sources for anyone
who wants to examine the primary sources firsthand. On
the other hand, the index could have been more
systematically constructed, as it often includes items
that are ancillary to the discussion at hand, such as
"Yemen (South)", and "Mozambique language [sic]", while
omitting more relevant terms, such as "Panslavism",
"Greater Moravia", or "Picts".
The basic divisions of the book are geographical,
rather than linguistic--and, as many of the authors
remind us, geographical and linguistic borders rarely
coincide perfectly. The result is that quite a few
national or linguistic groups (e.g., Francophones, the
Slovenes, the Basques) cross the geographical divisions
of the study. Nonetheless, careful planning and editing
appears to have prevented any significant duplication. Of
course, a book organized along linguistic divisions would
have encountered the mirror-image of this potential
In broad terms, the layout of the study betrays a
clear progression, and perhaps also an implied
preference, of west to east and north to south, dividing
Europe into four great vertical strips. There is also a
corresponding progressive increase in the area and
linguistic diversity of the regions studied, so that at
the beginning of the volume the British Isles are
comfortably covered in some 25 pages, while the
linguistic and national complexities of larger areas of
Europe east of the former Iron Curtain are addressed in
chapters of comparable size. Editors must make choices,
of course--often dictated by space constraints, but
separate chapters focusing on the former Yugoslavia and
the Baltics would have been welcome.
In addition, a separate chapter on the special
problems faced by stateless, or multi-state, groups, such
as the Roma, Yiddish speakers, the Vlachs, the S�mi,
etc., would have been an interesting contribution to the
volume. As mentioned above, the situation of the Vlachs
is covered quite well in chapter 11, but the Roma are
addressed in several chapters throughout the volume.
In general, the book displays a commendable accuracy
in the spelling of non-English words, considering the
great variety of languages and diacritics included. The
relatively few typos, such as "Shk�der" (p. 232),
"Talinn", "Tatu" (p. 274), "Piludski" (p. 316), and minor
inconsistencies, such as the repeated alternation between
"Ukraine" and "the Ukraine" (chapter 12), are
distracting, but do not detract from the quality of the
One final addition that would greatly enhance the
collection would be the inclusion of more maps. The four
simple maps in the volume--one each for Great Britain and
France, and two for Greece--greatly aid in explaining the
linguistic situation in these areas. Similar maps for the
remaining chapters would have enhanced their
presentations, particularly considering the large number
of historical geographic details in most of the studies.
All in all, "Language and Nationalism in Europe" is
a well-written, well-edited volume, with a wealth of
information for linguists and non-linguists alike.

Donald F. Reindl is a doctoral candidate in Slavic
linguistics at the Department of Slavic Languages and
Literatures at Indiana University, Bloomington, USA. His
research interests include historical linguistics,
language planning, and language contact. He is currently
working for the Slovene Ministry of Defense in Ljubljana,
Slovenia, providing services in language instruction,
course development, and translation.