Nationality in History and Politics

By Friedrich Hertz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
NATIONALITY AND LANGUAGE

1. LANGUAGE AS A SYMBOL OF PERSONALITY

Language is not only a means for communicating with others. It also constitutes the most powerful implement for developing personality, both individual and collective. Every social differentiation gives rise to special forms of speech which then emphasize and enhance the social diversity. The linguists have found that almost every village and region, every trade and profession, every corporation and association and social class have their peculiarities of speech which are often regarded as a badge of that special community.1 In primitive society sometimes different vocabularies are prescribed for men and women, the old and the young. There are many examples of the use of a special language for sacral purposes, for speaking to God, as Latin is still employed in the Catholic Church and Hebrew in the synagogues. In former times different languages, or dialects, were often used by the same persons for different forms of literature, either according to the social station of the readers or according to tradition.2


2. NATIONALITY AND LANGUAGE IN ANTIQUITY AND THE MIDDLE AGES

In our time, the national community has assumed paramount power, and all its local and social rivals have lost in prestige and influence. The national language has become one of the idols of a new religion. All nations regard it as a symbol of their independence and honour, as the supreme expression of their personality, and they esteem its exclusive domination within their national territory more highly than obvious spiritual and material advantages. Peoples, of course, have always clung to their language and were often inclined to look down on the foreigner, whose speech seemed to them barbarous.3 Yet in ancient times there seem to have been no parallels for our idolization of the national language and intolerance towards other languages. In former ages rulers and peoples tolerated different tongues in their territory, or even adopted a foreign one, though they were not

____________________
1
Cf. abundant examples in J. Vendryes, Language, a Linguistic Introduction to History, 1925, p. 240. On language and personality cf. K. Vossler, The Spirit of Language in Civilization, 1932, chap. ii.
2
Cf. Vendryes, p. 272.
3
The original meaning of barbaros probably was stammering, stuttering, babbling unintelligibly. Many other peoples had similar designations. The Slav word for German, for example, means dumb, mute. Cf. J. Juethner, Hellenen und Barbaren, Aus der Geschichte des Nationalbewusstseins, 1923, pp. 1, 4, 124.

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