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Metalinguistic Perspectives on Germanic Languages

European Case Studies from Past to Present

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Edited By Gijsbert Rutten and Kristine Horner

In what ways has language been central to constructing, challenging and reconfiguring social and political boundaries? This volume traverses space and time to explore the construction of such boundaries. Focusing on the ways that language functions as an inclusive and divisive marker of identity, the volume includes case studies on Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Belgium  and Luxembourg. It also explores the northern and southern borderlands of present-day Germany as well as the city of Cologne and the surrounding Ruhr area. The chapters critically engage with focused accounts of past and present language situations, practices and policies. Taken as a whole, the volume stresses the importance of studying metalinguistic perspectives as a means of enabling detailed analyses and challenging generalizations.
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6 Reconsidering Purism: The Case of Flanders

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1 Introduction

There is little doubt that linguistic purism today has a tarnished reputation. At its best seen as a patronizing preoccupation, it is more often than not associated with nationalist sentiments and intolerant, if not xenophobic, delusions and provincial backwardness. When former Belgian Prime Minister (1999–2008) Guy Verhofstadt in January 2010 attacked the advancing ‘identity paradigm’ in France and elsewhere in Europe, he conveniently exploited this image by criticizing as ingredients of nationalist ideologies the ‘banning of words with a foreign origin’ together with ‘celebrating one’s own national character’ and ‘reverting to the past’.1 In an earlier and similar move, Alain Finkielkraut reproached Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803), the German philosopher generally considered the father of cultural and linguistic nationalism, for fanning hostility towards the rationalism of Enlightenment. Finkielkraut (1995: 10), too, associated Herder’s ideology with linguistic purism, and in so doing warned us of its reactionary and anti-rationalist implications.

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