Language and History: Theories and Texts

Language and History: Theories and Texts

Language and History: Theories and Texts

Language and History: Theories and Texts


In Language in History , Tony Crowley provides the analytical tools for answering such questions. Using a radical re-reading of Saussure and Bahktin, he demonstrates, in four case studies, the ways in which language has been used to construct social and cultural identity in Britain and Ireland. For example, he examines the ways in whcih language was employed to construct a bourgeois public sphere in 18th Century England, and he reveals how language is still being used in contemporary Ireland to articulate national and political aspirations.By bringing together linguistic and critical theory with his own sharp historical and political consciousness, Tony Crowley provides a new agenda for language study; one which acknowledges the fact that writing about history has always been determined by the historical context, and by issues of race, class and gender. Language in History represents a major contribution to the field, and an essential text for anyone interested in language, discourse and communication.


‘Language in history: that full field.’

(Williams 1984:189)

The aim of this book is to examine the significance of language in history, and to do so from two distinct but related points of view. First, we will consider this question from the theoretical perspective. That is, we will look at how two of the major thinkers on language in the present century have discussed the question of the relations between language and history. the major theorists we will consider under this heading are Saussure and Bakhtin, who both, in different ways, reflect dominant trends in the study of language. Second, we will attempt to show how language is of fundamental importance to our understanding of history by means of a number of case studies. These, it will be argued, show us the various ways in which language has been used in order to help to construct historical formations such as nations, classes, genders and races. the examples studied focus upon Britain and Ireland from the eighteenth century to the present.

We can take these two points of view in turn in order to demonstrate the purpose of each. One of the most noteworthy things which strikes the student of language in history is bound to be simply how poorly the area is theorised. There is of course the work of French thinkers such as Balibar and Laporte, Achard, Calvet, Faye and Bourdieu; and the Italian work of Rossi-Landi. in Britain there is a gap, although the work of Raymond Williams is the outstanding exception. His theoretical work in Marxism and Literature, inspired by the pioneering work of Vološinov, offered a clear break and opened up a new way to a relatively new field. It was a break which developed out of his work in Keywords, which in turn was sparked by the concentration upon the significance of the particular vocabulary of culture and society in his central work of that title. Keywords itself emerged from Williams’s reading of the incompletely theorised work of thinkers such as Empson and Trier. Williams’s work apart, however, the field was inadequate theoretically, though there

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