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Language and History, Linguistics and Historiography

Interdisciplinary Approaches


Edited By Nils Langer, Steffan Davies and Wim Vandenbussche

What are the points of contact between the study of language and the study of history? What are the possibilities for collaboration between linguists and historians, and what prevents it? This volume, the proceedings of an international conference held at the University of Bristol in April 2009, presents twenty-two articles by linguists and historians, exploring the relationship between the fields theoretically, conceptually and in practice. Contributions focus on a variety of European and American languages, in historical periods from the Middle Ages to the present day. Key themes at the intersection of these two disciplines are the standardization and classification of languages, the social and demographic history of medieval and early modern Europe, the study of language and history ‘from below’, and the function of language in modern politics. The value of interdisciplinary collaboration is demonstrated in a wide-ranging set of case studies, on topics including language contact in Northern and Central Europe, the relationship between peninsular and transatlantic Spanish, and new approaches to the recent histories of Nicaragua, Luxembourg and Bulgaria. The volume seeks out the interdependencies between the two fields and asks why exchanges between linguists and historians remain the exception rather than the rule.


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2 Standardization and Authenticity 127


Part 2 Standardization and Authenticity Robert Evans Of ficial Languages: A Brief Prehistory1 Abstract Historians of politics and administration have largely remained distant from the con- cerns of historical sociolinguistics, whereas practitioners of the latter have tended either to neglect the politics of language or to use vague and sweeping terms like ‘national’ and above all ‘of ficial’ language. This article examines some cases of how languages came to be formally recognized and regulated by dif ferent states or governments. It argues that the process was much slower than has often been assumed, precisely because languages which were dominant in social and cultural terms long needed no of ficial mandate, especially when mechanisms of authority were comparatively little developed. Historians always have to do with language; but they have made slow progress towards any real interdisciplinary dialogue with linguists. So far it has been mainly social and literary aspects of their common territory which have attracted attention (Burke, 2004). Nowadays the worlds of (shifting) semantics and discourse are also coming into play more fully – as the present collection will confirm. Yet traditional ‘mainstream’ history, especially of the political-administrative kind, has remained distant. And this distance seems to be mutual, shared by historical sociolinguistics, which either neglects the politics of language or is given to vague and sweeping usage of terms like ‘national’ and above all ‘of ficial’ language (cf. Haarmann 1975: 92–119, a useful compendium for its day, but superficial). That ref lects an underlying incongruity. Languages nowadays rep-...

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