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Invisible Languages in the Nineteenth Century

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Edited By Anna Havinga and Nils Langer

The great linguistic diversity of spoken languages contrasts greatly with the much smaller number of languages used in written discourse. Many linguistic varieties – in particular, regional and minority languages – are not deemed suitable for writing because they do not possess the necessary lexical wealth or grammatical complexity. Such prejudices are commonplace amongst non-linguists and they have their origin in the sociolinguistic history of their speaker communities.
This book focuses on the nineteenth century as the time when language became an important part of the cultural identity of speakers, communities and nations. It comprises fourteen chapters on a variety of languages and countries and seeks to explore why and how certain linguistic varieties were excluded from written discourse – in other words, why they remain invisible to contemporary readers and modern historians. The case studies in this book illustrate the factors involved in the invisibilisation of languages in the nineteenth century; the metalinguistic debates about the suppression or promotion of regional, minority and non-standard languages; and the ways in which a careful study of informal writing can visibilise the linguistic diversity of spoken languages.

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Invisible Languages in Historical Sociolinguistics: A Conceptual Outline, with Examples from the German–Danish Borderlands (Nils Langer and Anna D. Havinga)

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Nils Langer and Anna D. Havinga Invisible Languages in Historical Sociolinguistics: A Conceptual Outline, with Examples from the German–Danish Borderlands1 abstract This chapter problematises the discrepancy between the perception of languages and the use of languages in the nineteenth century. It acknowledges that in the traditional historiography of many languages, a large proportion of language use was ignored in the past (cf. Elspaß et al. 2007). To conceptualise different linguistic practices in multilingual regions and diglossic societies, the chapter applies the terms invisible language to refer to languages not used in writing or formal discourse and invisibilisation to refer to processes aimed at excluding particular languages from written or formal discourse. Arguing that these terms are helpful for our understanding of key issues in historical sociolinguistics, the chapter offers examples from the German–Danish borderlands to show that a careful analysis of a variety of sources, including metalinguistic ones, allows for a more sophisti- cated understanding of contemporary language use ‘below’ the educated middle class and formal writing. The chapter thus shows how to visibilise the invisible. 1 The ideas and claims in this chapter rest on the shoulders of many academic giants. To ease readability, we decided to keep the number of secondary references to a minimum. We are grateful to very helpful comments from José del Valle (CUNY), Stephan Elspaß (Augsburg), James Hawkey (Bristol), Joseph Salmons (UW Madison), Markus Schiegg (Bristol), Wim Vandenbussche (VU Brussel), and two anonymous reviewers, whose suggestions helped avoid a few pitfalls. What...

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