Language & Identity in
Multilingual Environments
HIF 3620
Representations & Self-Representations
Laura A. Janda
• National identity linked to language
– History of nationalism
• What is a language?
– Why is it a core factor of identity?
– How many languages & countries are there?
• Matrix vs. embedded languages
– Colonialism & post-colonialism
– Group vs. individual interests
Nation, Nationality, and Nationalism
• Are innovative, recent concepts,
artifacts created in late 18th century in
W. Europe (Anderson 1991)
• Prior to the advent of nationality, and
in the absence of technologies such
as print, railroads, automobiles, how
were human societies organized?
Local communities
Dynastic realms
Religious communities
Local Community
• Defined by place – people who are close
enough for face-to-face contact
• Can be multilingual
Religious Community
• Defined by faith, but could potentially reach all
• Often used a sacred language, “superior” to
Dynastic Realm
• Defined by loyalty to royal leader
• Eventually took on nationalist features in W.
Nationalism – A product of W.
European Romanticism
• Three German philosophers:
Gottfried Herder
Wilhelm von
Johann Gottlieb
Nationalism – A product of W.
European Romanticism
• Three German philosophers:
Gottfried Herder
“Has a nation anything
more precious than the
language of its fathers?”
Nationalism – A product of W.
European Romanticism
• Three German philosophers:
Wilhelm von
Language is the
exhalation” of the
Nationalism – A product of
West European Romanticism
• Three German philosophers:
Johann Gottlieb
“Men are formed by
language far more than
language is formed by
German nation and
language are superior
A modern definition of nation
(Anderson 1991)
• An imagined political community that is both
limited and sovereign
• Imagined because members cannot all know
each other
• Limited because no nation encompasses all of
mankind, nor even aspires to
• Sovereign because nations came into being
during Enlightenment and strive for freedom
• Community because a nation is conceived of as
a horizontal comradeship of equals
What do the people of a nation
A name
An “ideal” nation-state
A language
A territory
Myths & memories ONE nation = ONE state
A culture
An economy
Rights and duties
Q: Which are necessary? Which are un/chosen?
Which are objective/discrete?
Language (Andersen 1991)
• A language is a powerful means to root a
nation to a past because a language
looms up from the past without any
birthdate of its own, and suggests a
community between a contemporary
society and its dead ancestors
• Poetry, songs, national anthems create a
simultaneous community of selfless voices
Why is language a key factor in
identity? (Janda forthc)
• Vehicle for culture (both “C” and “c”)
• Vehicle of transmission for “wordless”
media (dance, cuisine, handicrafts)
• If language is lost, access to culture is also
• Cultural concepts are embedded in
• Language and culture co-evolve, are
continuously tailored to each other
What is a language? A dialect?
• Mutual comprehensibility?
– This works for some
situations, but are there
• It doesn’t work for :
– German (incomprehensible
– Norwegian,Swedish,Danish
– Slavic (both situations)
– Chinese
See Ethnologue's criteria
Q: What’s going on?
Problem with the
“ideal” nation-state
• Q: How many
countries are there in
the world?
• A: 192.
• Q: How many
languages are there
in the world?
• A: At least 6912.
Why are languages important?
(Harrison 2006, Janda forthc)
• They contain information about
Languages are
culture and human interaction
repositories of
• They contain information about
sustainable use of niche
• They contain information about the
human brain
Most languages of the world belong to indigenous
Most of human knowledge is in the hands/mouths
of indigenous peoples
Matrix and Embedded Languages
• Matrix – a language that is connected to
political structures, that serves purposes of
national or regional communication
• Embedded – a language that is used
within a single ethnic group, that is under
pressure from a matrix language
Nearly all indigenous languages are
embedded languages
Colonialism & Post-Colonialism
• Colonialism has
– Created “new” boundaries and identities that
persist in post-colonial era
– Treated indigenous peoples and their
languages in different ways
– Sometimes shifted the identity of languages
as matrix vs. embedded
Group vs. Individual Interests for
Indigenous Languages
• Group Interests
– Preserve indigenous language
– Have monolingual speakers, transmission to
young generation
– Have education in native language
• Individual Interests
– Social and economic upward mobility
– Fluency in (one or more) matrix language
• Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined
Communities. London/New York: Verso.
• Edwards, John. 1985. Language, Society and
Identity. Oxford: Blackwell.
• Harrison, K. David. 2006. When Languages Die:
The extinction of the world's languages
and the erosion of human knowledge. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
• Janda, Laura A. Forthcoming. "From Cognitive
Linguistics to Cultural Linguistics", to appear in
Slovo a smysl/Word and Sense.

Language & Identity in Multilingual Environments