Language and Identity

 “Has a people anything dearer than the speech of its fathers? In its speech resides its whole thought-domain, its tradition, history, religion, and basis of life, all its heart and soul. To deprive a people of its speech is to deprive it of its one eternal good.”

Could the philosopher Johann Gottfried von Herder also have written: “… is to deprive it of its identity?” Herder’s statement is often seen as the basis for the idea of the close connection of national language and national identity, which was taken up and adapted by intellectuals in various countries throughout the 18th, 19th, and even the 20th centuries, and which has supporters until today. From Finland to Italy, from Iceland to Yugoslavia we can find examples for the adoption of this romantic concept.

The workshop will deal with various examples of the relation between language and identity. Which parts of our identity are connected with the factor “language”? How does a linguistic identity come into being, how is it spread and adopted by wider masses? What impact has a certain linguistic identity on both the personal and the collective level? Can we even talk about a “linguistic identity” or is our attitude towards language just a manifestation of deeper-rooted identity domains such as ethnicity or nationality?

Often related to national identity, but an interesting object of examination by itself, are the debates on language and religion: Who speaks the language of God? In connection to gender relations, one could ask which kind of language is used by men, and which by women? Which further role concepts does language use reveal?  Which power relations are revealed by language use?

Questions such as these can help us getting closer to what lies behind the multifaceted discourses on language, and to connect it with the main topic of the conference.

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