CULTURES, LANGUAGES, NATIONS: CONCEPTIONS AND MISCONCEPTIONS*

Kenneth McRoberts

Abstract


It has become a commonplace that the nation- state is dead — or at least is in mortal danger. Its capacity as a state has been severely eroded by the forces of globalization and regional integration: supra-national organizations and global corporations have assumed powers and prerogatives which, within the nation-state ideal, belong to the state.

But the nation-state has lost more than its state; it has also lost its nation – in part because of these very external forces. Whereas the nation- state ideal presumed that a single national language would prevail throughout its territory, languages with deep historical roots have reappeared within the same state. In some cases, this has involved the revival of long dormant languages — as in Wales or Scotland — but in other cases it has meant the return to public space of languages that had been excluded, indeed banned, as was Catalan under the Franco regime. In some settings immigration has served to break the national language’s monopoly by reinforcing other languages, as in the United States, where Spanish has gone from being a marginal, and essentially private language, to a major one that is increasingly intruding into the public realm despite the erstwhile efforts of some English-only advocates to keep it out.


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