The Nation as Speech Community The concepts nation and nationality are relatively new in the sense in which we understand them. Of course, the word nation is very old; it Continue Reading
The Nation as Speech Community
The concepts nation and nationality are relatively new in the sense in which we understand them. Of course, the word nation is very old; it derives from Latin and spread early into all modern languages. But another meaning was associated with it. Only since the second half of the eighteenth century did it gradually take on the significance that it has for us today, and not until the nineteenth century did this usage of the word become general.1 Its political significance developed step by step with the concept; nationality became a central point of political thought. The word and concept nation belong completely to the modern sphere of ideas of political and philosophical individualism; they win importance for real life only in modern democracy.
If we wish to gain insight into the essence of nationality, we must proceed not from the nation but from the individual. We must ask ourselves what the national aspect of the individual person is and what determines his belonging to a particular nation.
We then recognize immediately that this national aspect can be neither where he lives nor his attachment to a state. Not everyone who lives in Germany or holds German citizenship is a German merely for that reason. There are Germans who neither live in Germany nor hold German citizenship. Living in the same places and having the same attachment to a state do play their role in the development of nationality, but they do not pertain to its essence. It is no different with having the same ancestry. The genealogical conception of nationality is no more useful than the geographic or the state conception. Nation and race do not coincide; there is no nation of pure blood.2 All peoples have arisen from a mixture of races. Ancestry is not decisive for belonging to a nation. Not everyone descended from German ancestors is a German merely for that reason; how many Englishmen, Americans, Magyars, Czechs, and Russians would otherwise have to be called Germans? There are Germans whose ancestors include not one German. Among members of the higher strata of the population and among famous men and women whose family trees are commonly traced, foreign ancestors can be demonstrated more often than among members of the lower strata of the people, whose origins are lost in darkness; yet the latter, too, are more seldom of pure blood than one tends to assume.
There are writers who have worked in good faith to investigate the significance of ancestry and race for history and politics; what success they attained will not be discussed here. Again, many writers demand that political significance be attached to community of race and that race policy be pursued. People can be of different opinions about the justness of this demand; to examine it is not our concern. It may also remain an open question whether that demand has already been heeded today and whether and how race policy really is pursued. Yet we must insist that just as the concepts nation and race do not coincide, so national policy and race policy are two different things.
Also, the concept of race, in the sense in which the advocates of race policy use it, is new, even considerably newer than that of nation. It was introduced into politics in deliberate opposition to the concept of nation. The individualistic idea of the national community was to be displaced by the collectivist idea of the racial community. Success has so far eluded these efforts. The slight significance accorded to the race factor in the cultural and political movements of the present day contrasts sharply with the great importance that national aspects have. Lapouge, one of the founders of the anthroposociological school, expressed the opinion a generation ago that in the twentieth century people would be slaughtered by the millions because of one or two degrees more or less in the cephalic index.3 We have indeed experienced the slaughter of people by the millions, but no one can assert that dolichocephaly and brachycephaly were the rallying cries of the parties in this war. We are, of course, only at the end of the second decade of the century for which Lapouge expressed his prophecy. It may be that he will yet prove right; we cannot follow him into the field of prophecy, and we do not wish to dispute over things that still rest darkly concealed in the womb of the future. In present-day politics the race factor plays no role; that alone is important for us.
The dilettantism that pervades the writings of our race theorists should not, of course, mislead us into skipping lightly over the race problem itself. Surely there is hardly any other problem whose clarification could contribute more to deepening our historical understanding. It may be that the way to ultimate knowledge in the field of historical ebb and flow leads through anthropology and race theory. What has so far been discovered in these sciences is quite scanty, of course, and is overgrown with a thicket of error, fantasy, and mysticism. But there exists true science in this field also, and here also there are great problems. It may be that we shall never solve them, but that should not keep us from investigating further and should not make us deny the significance of the race factor in history.
If one does not see racial affinity as the essence of nationality, that does not mean that one wants to deny the influence of racial affinity on all politics and on national politics in particular. In real life many different forces work in different directions; if we want to recognize them, then we must try to distinguish them in our minds as far as possible. That does not mean, though, that in observing one force, we should quite forget that still others are working along side it or against it.
We recognize that one of these forces is the speech community; this is indeed beyond dispute. If we now say that the essence of nationality lies in language, this is no mere terminological point about which there could be no further dispute. First, let it be stated that in saying so, we are in conformity with the general use of language. To the language we apply first, and to it alone in the original sense, the designation that then becomes the designation of the nation. We speak of the German language, and everything else that bears the label “German” gets it from the German language: when we speak of German writing, of German literature, of German men and women, the relation to the language is obvious. Moreover, it does not matter whether the designation of the language is older than that of the people or is derived from the latter; once it became the designation of the language, it is what became decisive for the further development of the use of this expression. And if we finally speak of German rivers and of German cities, of German history and of German war, we have no trouble understanding that in the last analysis this expression also traces back to the original naming of the language as German. The concept of the nation is, as already said, a political concept. If we want to know its content, we must fix our eyes on the politics in which it plays a role. Now we see that all national struggles are language struggles, that they are waged about language. What is specifically “national” lies in language.4
Community of language is at first the consequence of an ethnic or social community; independently of its origin, however, it itself now becomes a new bond that creates definite social relations. In learning the language, the child absorbs a way of thinking and of expressing his thoughts that is predetermined by the language and so he receives a stamp that he can scarcely remove from his life. The language opens up the way for a person of exchanging thoughts with all those who use it; he can influence them and receive influence from them. Community of language binds and difference of language separates persons and peoples. If someone finds the explanation of the nation as a speech community perhaps too paltry, let him just consider what immense significance language has for thinking and for the expression of thought, for social relations, and for all activities of life.
If, despite recognition of these connections people often resist seeing the essence of the nation in the speech community, this hinges on certain difficulties that the demarcation of individual nations by this criterion entails.5 Nations and languages are not unchangeable categories but, rather, provisional results of a process in constant flux; they change from day to day, and so we see before us a wealth of intermediate forms whose classification requires some pondering.
A German is one who thinks and speaks German. Just as there are different degrees of mastery of the language, so there are also different degrees of being German. Educated persons have penetrated into the spirit and use of the language in a manner quite different from that of the uneducated. Ability in concept formation and mastery of words are the criterion of education: the school rightly emphasizes acquiring the ability to grasp fully what is spoken and written and to express oneself intelligibly in speech and writing. Only those are full members of the German nation who have fully mastered the German language. Uneducated persons are German only insofar as the understanding of German speech has been made accessible to them. A peasant in a village cut off from the world who knows only his home dialect and cannot make himself understood by other Germans and cannot read the written language does not count at all as a member of the German6 nation. If all other Germans were to die out and only people who knew only their own dialect survived, then one would have to say that the German nation had been wiped out. Even those peasants are not without a tinge of nationality, only they belong not to the German nation but rather to a tiny nation consisting of those who speak the same dialect.
The individual belongs, as a rule, to only one nation. Yet it does now and then happen that a person belongs to two nations. That is not the case merely when he speaks two languages but rather only when he has mastered two languages in such a way that he thinks and speaks in each of the two and has fully assimilated the special way of thinking that characterizes each of them. Yet there are more such persons than people believe. In territories of mixed population and in centers of international trade and commerce, one frequently meets them among merchants, officials, etc. And they are often persons without the highest education. Among men and women with more education, bilinguists are rarer, since the highest perfection in the mastery of language, which characterizes the truly educated person, is as a rule attained in only one language. The educated person may have mastered more languages, and all of them far better than the bilinguist has; nevertheless, he is to be counted in only one nation if he thinks only in one language and processes everything he hears and sees in foreign languages through a way of thinking that has been shaped by the structure and the concept formation of his own language. Yet even among the “millionaires of education”7 there are bilinguists, men and women who have fully assimilated the education of two cultural circles. They were and are found somewhat more frequently than elsewhere in places where an old, fully developed language with an old culture and a still slightly developed language of a people only just completing the process of acquiring culture confront each other. There it is physically and psychically easier to achieve mastery of two languages and two cultural circles. Thus, there were far more bilinguists in Bohemia among the generation which immediately preceded the one now living than at present. In a certain sense one can also count as bilinguists all those who, besides the standard language, have full mastery of a dialect also.
Everyone belongs as a rule to at least one nation. Only children and deaf-mutes are nationless; the former first acquire an intellectual home through entry into a speech community, the latter through development of their thinking capacity into achievement of the capability of mutual understanding with the members of a nation. The process that operates here is basically the same as that by which adults already belonging to one nation switch over to another.8
The language researcher finds relationships among languages; he recognizes language families and language races; he speaks of sister languages and daughter languages. Some people have wanted to extend this concept directly to nations also; others, again, have wanted to make the ethnological relationship into a national one. Both ideas are totally inadmissible. If one wants to speak of national relationship, one may do so only with reference to the possibility of mutual understanding between the members of the nations. In this sense dialects are related to each other and to one or even to several standard languages. Even between standard languages, for example, between individual Slavic languages, such a relation holds. Its significance for national development exhausts itself in the fact that it facilitates a transition from one nationality to another.
On the other hand, it is politically quite unimportant that the grammatical relationship between languages facilitates learning them. No cultural and no political affinity emerges from it; no political structures can be erected on the basis of it. The notion of the relationship of peoples originates not from the national-policy/individualistic sphere of ideas but rather from the race-policy/collectivistic sphere; it was developed in conscious opposition to the freedom-oriented notion of modern autonomy. Pan-Latinism, Pan-Slavism, and Pan-Germanism are chimeras which, in confrontation with the national strivings of individual peoples, have always come out on the short end. They sound very good in the fraternizing festivities of peoples who for the moment are following parallel political goals; they fail as soon as they are supposed to be more. They never have possessed power to form states. There is no state that has been based on them.
If people have long resisted seeing the characteristic feature of the nation in language, one of the decisive circumstances was that they could not reconcile this theory with the reality that allegedly displays cases in which one nation speaks several languages and other cases in which several nations use one language. The assertion that it is possible for the members of one nation to speak several languages is supported with reference to the conditions of the “Czechoslovak” and “Yugoslav” nations. Czechs and Slovaks acted in this war as a unified nation. The particularist strivings of small Slovak groups have at least not manifested themselves outwardly and have not been able to achieve any political successes. It now seems that a Czechoslovak state will be formed to which all Czechs and Slovaks will belong. However, Czechs and Slovaks do not, for that reason, yet form one nation. The dialects from which the Slovak language was formed are extraordinarily close to the dialects of the Czech language, and it is not difficult for a rural Slovak who knows only his own dialect to communicate with Czechs, especially Moravians, when the latter speak in their dialect. If the Slovaks, back at the time before they began developing an independent standard language, that is, around the turn from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century, had come into closer political connection with the Czechs, then the development of a Slovak standard language would doubtless no more have occurred than the development of an independent Swabian standard language in Swabia.
Political motives were decisive for the effort made in Slovakia to create an independent language. This Slovak standard language, which was formed quite according to the model of Czech and was closely related to it in every respect, could not develop, however, likewise because of political circumstances. Under the rule of the Magyar state, excluded from school, office, and court, it led a miserable existence in popular almanacs and opposition leaflets. Again, it was the slight development of the Slovak language that caused efforts to adopt the Czech standard language, which had been under way in Slovakia from the very beginning, to gain more and more ground. Today two movements oppose each other in Slovakia: one that wants to root all Czechism out of the Slovak language and develop the language pure and independent and a second that wishes its assimilation to Czech. If the latter movement should prevail, then the Slovaks would become Czechs and the Czechoslovak state would evolve into a purely Czech national state. If, however, the former movement should prevail, then the Czech state would gradually be compelled, if it did not want to appear an oppressor, to grant the Slovaks autonomy and finally, perhaps, complete independence. There is no Czechoslovak nation composed of Czech speakers and Slovak speakers. What we see before us is a particular Slavic nation’s struggle for life. How it will turn out will depend on political, social, and cultural circumstances. From a purely linguistic point of view, either of the two developments is possible.
The case is no different with the relation of the Slovenes to the Yugoslav nation. The Slovene language, also, has been struggling since its origin between independence and approximation to or complete blending with Croatian. The Illyrian movement wanted to include the Slovene language also in the sphere of its strivings for unity. If Slovene should be able to maintain its independence even in the future, then the Yugoslav state would have to grant the Slovenes autonomy.
The South Slavs also present one of the most frequently cited examples of two nations speaking the same language. Croats and Serbs use the same language. The national difference between them, it is asserted, lies exclusively in religion. Here is said to be a case that cannot be explained by the theory that perceives the distinctive attribute of a nation in its language.
In the Serbo-Croatian people the sharpest religious contrasts confront each other. One part of the people belongs to the Orthodox Church and another part to the Catholic Church, and even today the Mohammedans form a not inconsiderable part. In addition to these religious contrasts, there are old political enmities that still stem in part from times whose political conditions have today long ago been superseded. The dialects of all these religiously and politically splintered peoples are, however, extraordinarily closely related. These dialects were so closely related to each other that the efforts to form a standard language proceeding from different sides always led to the same result; all efforts always resulted in the same standard language. Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic wanted to create a Serbian language, Ljudevit Gaj a unified South Slavic; Pan-Serbism and Illyrianism bluntly confronted each other. But since they had the same dialectical material to deal with, the results of their work were identical. The languages that they created differed so little from each other that they finally blended together into a unified language. If the Serbs did not use the Cyrillic alphabet and the Croats the Latin alphabet exclusively, then there would be no external sign for attributing a written work to one nation or the other. The difference of alphabets cannot split a unified nation in the long run; the Germans also use different forms of writing without this having acquired any national significance. The political development of the last years before the war and during the war itself has shown that the religious difference between Croats and Serbs upon which the Austrian policy of Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his followers had built castles in the air has long since lost its earlier significance. There seems to be no doubt that in the political life of the Serbs and Croats also, the national factor of a common language will override all impeding influences and that the religious difference will play no greater role in the Serbo-Croatian nation than it does in the German people.
Two other examples commonly named to show that speech community and nation do not coincide are the Anglo-Saxon and Danish-Norwegian cases. The English language, it is asserted, is used by two nations, the English and the Americans; and this alone shows that it is inadmissible to seek the criterion of nationality in language alone. In truth, the English and Americans are a single nation. The inclination to count them as two nations stems from the fact that people have become accustomed to interpret the nationality principle as necessarily including the demand for unifying all parts of a nation into a single state. It will be shown in the next section that this is not true at all and that, therefore, the criterion of the nation should in no way be sought in efforts to form a unified state. That Englishmen and Americans belong to different states, that the policies of these states have not always been in consonance, and that the differences between them have occasionally even led to war — all that is still no proof that Englishmen and Americans are not one nation. No one could doubt that England is bound together with its dominions and with the United States by a national bond that will show its binding force in days of great political crisis. The World War brought proof that disagreements between the individual parts of the Anglo-Saxon nation can appear only when the whole does not seem threatened by other nations.
It seems even more difficult at first sight to harmonize the problem of the Irish with the linguistic theory of the nation. The Irish once formed an independent nation; they used a separate Celtic language. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, 80 percent of the population of Ireland still spoke Celtic, and more than 50 percent understood no English at all. Since then the Irish language has lost much ground. Only somewhat more than 600,000 persons still use it, and only seldom are people still to be found in Ireland who understand no English. Of course, there are also efforts in Ireland today to awaken the Irish language to new life and to make its use general. That fact is, however, that very many of those who are on the side of the political Irish movement are English by nationality. The opposition between Englishmen and Irishmen is of a social and religious and not exclusively of a national nature; and so it can happen that inhabitants of Ireland who by nationality are not Irishmen also belong to the movement in great number. If the Irish should succeed in achieving the autonomy they strive for, then it is not ruled out that a large part of today’s English population of Ireland would assimilate itself to the Irish nation.
The much-cited Danish-Norwegian example also cannot undercut the assertion that nationality lies in language. During the centuries-long political union between Norway and Denmark, the old Norwegian standard language was completely driven out by the Danish standard language; it still managed a miserable existence only in the numerous dialects of the rural population. After the separation of Norway from Denmark (1814), efforts were made to create a national language of its own. But the efforts of the party striving to create a new Norwegian standard language on the basis of the old Norwegian language definitely failed. Success went to those who seek only to enrich Danish by introduction of expressions from the vocabulary of the Norwegian dialects but otherwise are in favor of retaining the Danish language. The works of the great Norwegian writers Ibsen and Björnson are written in this language.9 Danes and Norwegians still today, then, form a single nation, even though they belong politically to two states.
2. Dialect and Standard Language
In primitive times every migration causes not only geographical but also intellectual separation of clans and tribes. Economic exchanges do not yet exist; there is no contact that could work against differentiation and the rise of new customs. The dialect of each tribe becomes more and more different from the one that its ancestors spoke when they were still living together. The splintering of dialects goes on without interruption. The descendants no longer understand one other.
A need for unification in language then arises from two sides. The beginnings of trade make understanding necessary between members of different tribes. But this need is satisfied when individual middlemen in trade achieve the necessary command of language. In early times, when the exchange of goods between distant regions had only a relatively slight significance, scarcely more than individual expressions and word families must have come into more general use in this way. Political changes had to be much more significant for the unification of dialects. Conquerors appeared and created states and political unions of all kinds. The political leaders of broad territories came into closer personal relations; members of all social strata of numerous tribes were united in military service. Partly independently of the political and military organization and partly in closest connection with it, religious institutions arise and spread from one tribe to another. Hand in hand with political and religious strivings for unity go linguistic strivings. Soon the dialect of the ruling or the priestly tribe gains predominance over the dialects of the subjects and laity; soon, out of the different dialects of fellow members of state and religion, a unified mixed dialect is formed.
Introduction of the use of writing becomes the strongest basis for the unification of language. Religious doctrines, songs, laws, and records preserved in writing give preponderance to the dialect in which they have been expressed. Now the further splintering of the language is impeded; now there is an ideal speech that seems worth striving to attain and to imitate. The mystical nimbus that surrounds the letters of the alphabet in primitive times and that even today — at least in regard to their printed form — has not yet quite disappeared raises the prestige of the dialect in which the writing is done. Out of the chaos of dialects there arises the general language, the language of rulers and laws, the language of priests and singers, the literary language. It becomes the language of the higher-placed and more educated persons; it becomes the language of state and culture;10 it appears finally as the sole correct and noble language; the dialects from which it has arisen, however, are thenceforth regarded as inferior. People consider them corruption’s of the written language; people begin to despise them as the speech of the common man.
In the formation of unified languages, political and cultural influences are always working together from the very beginning. The natural element in the dialect of the people is that it draws its strength from the life of those who speak it. On the other hand, the standard and unified language is a product of studyrooms and chancelleries. Of course, it too stems in the last analysis from the spoken word of the common man and from the creations of gifted poets and writers. But it is always shot through with more or less pedantry and artificiality also. The child learns the dialect from his mother; it alone can be his mother tongue; the standard language is taught by the school.
In the struggle that now arises between standard language and dialect, the latter has the advantage that it already takes possession of the person in his most receptive years. But the former also does not stand helpless. That it is the general language, that it leads beyond regional disunity to understanding with broader circles, makes it indispensable to state and church. It is the bearer of the written heritage and the intermediary of culture. Thus it can triumph over the dialect. If, however, it is too distant from the latter, if it is or over time becomes so estranged from the latter that it is still intelligible only to persons who learn it with effort, then it must succumb; then a new standard language arises from the dialect. Thus Latin was displaced by Italian, Church Slavonic by Russian; thus in modern Greek the common speech will perhaps triumph over the katharevousa of classicism.
The luster with which the school and the grammarians are accustomed to surround the standard language, the respect they pay to its rules, and the contempt they show for anyone who sins against these rules cause the relation between the standard language and the dialect to appear in a false light. The dialect is not corrupted standard language; it is primeval language; only out of the dialects was the standard language formed, whether a single dialect or else a mixed form artificially formed out of different dialects was raised to the status of standard language. The question therefore cannot arise at all whether a particular dialect belongs to this or that standard language. The relation between standard language and dialect is not always that of unequivocal association or indeed of superiority and inferiority, and the circumstances of linguistic history and grammar are not alone decisive in that respect. Political, economic, and general cultural developments of the past and present determine to which standard language the speakers of a particular dialect incline; and it can happen that in this way a unified dialect attaches itself partly to one and partly to another standard language.
The process by which the speakers of a particular dialect make the transition to using a particular standard language thereafter, either exclusively or along with the dialect, is a special case of national assimilation. It is especially characterized by being a transition to a grammatically closely related standard language, with this way being as a rule the only conceivable one in a given case. The Bavarian peasant’s son has in general no other way open to culture than through the German standard language, even though it may also happen in rare particular cases that, without this detour, he becomes French or Czech directly. Yet for the Low German there are already two possibilities: assimilation to the German or to the Dutch standard language. Which of the two courses he takes is decided neither by linguistic nor genealogical considerations but by political, economic, and social ones. Today there is no longer any purely Plattdeutsch village; at least bilingualism prevails everywhere. If a Plattdeutsch district were to be separated from Germany today and be joined to the Netherlands, with the German school and the German official and judicial language replaced by Dutch ones, then the people affected would see all that as a national rape. Yet one hundred or two hundred years ago, such a separation of a bit of German territory could have been carried out without difficulty, and the descendants of the people who were separated at that time would be just as good Hollanders today as they in fact are good Germans today.
In Eastern Europe, where school and office still do not have anywhere near as much significance as in the West, something of the kind is still possible today. The linguistic researcher will be able to determine of most of the Slavic dialects spoken in upper Hungary whether they are closer to Slovak than to Ukrainian and perhaps also to decide in many cases in Macedonia whether a particular dialect is closer to Serbian or to Bulgarian. Yet that still does not answer the question whether the people who speak this dialect are Slovaks or Ukrainians, Serbs or Bulgarians. For this depends not only on linguistic conditions but also on political, ecclesiastical, and social ones. A village with a dialect undoubtedly more closely related to Serbian can more or less adopt the Bulgarian standard language relatively quickly if it acquires a Bulgarian church and a Bulgarian school.
Only thus can one gain an understanding of the exceedingly difficult Ukrainian problem. The question whether the Ukrainians are an independent nation or only Russians who speak a particular dialect is senseless in this form. If the Ukraine had not lost its political independence in the seventeenth century to the Great Russian state of the Czars, then a separate Ukrainian standard language would probably have developed. If all Ukrainians, including those in Galicia, Bukovina, and upper Hungary, had come under the rule of the Czars as late as the first half of the nineteenth century, then this might not have hindered the development of a separate Ukrainian literature; but this literature would probably have assumed a position in relation to Great Russian no different from that of Plattdeutsch writings in relation to German. It would have remained dialect poetry without particular cultural and political pretensions. However, the circumstance that several million Ukrainians were under Austrian rule and were also religiously independent of Russia created the preconditions for the formation of a separate Ruthenian standard language. No doubt the Austrian government and the Catholic Church preferred that the Austrian Rusins develop a separate language instead of adopting Russian. In this sense there is a spark of truth in the assertion of the Poles that the Ruthenians are an Austrian invention. The Poles are wrong only in saying that without this official support of the early beginnings of the Ruthenian aspirations there would have been no Rusin movement at all in East Galicia. The national rising of the East Galicians could have been suppressed just as little as the awakening of other nations without history. If state and church had not sought to guide it into other channels, then it would probably have developed from the beginning with a stronger Great Russian orientation.
The Ukrainian movement in Galicia, then, significantly furthered, at least, the separatist strivings of the Ukrainians in South Russia and perhaps even breathed life into them. The most recent political and social upheavals have furthered South Russian Ukrainianism so much that it is not entirely impossible that it can no longer be overcome by Great Russianism. But that is no ethnographic or linguistic problem. Not the degree of relationship of languages and races will decide whether the Ukrainian or the Russian language will win out but rather political, economic, religious, and general cultural circumstances. It is easily possible for that reason that the final outcome will be different in the former Austrian and Hungarian parts of the Ukraine than in the part that has long been Russian.
Conditions are similar in Slovakia. The independence of the Slovakian language from Czech is also a product of an in a certain sense accidental development. If there had been no religious differences between the Moravians and Slovaks and if Slovakia had been politically linked with Bohemia and Moravia no later than the eighteenth century, then a separate Slovak written and standard language would hardly have evolved. On the other hand if the Hungarian government had given less emphasis to Magyarization of the Slovaks and had allowed their language more scope in school and administration, then it would probably have developed more strongly and would today possess more power of resistance against Czech.11
To the language researcher it may in general seem not impossible to draw language boundaries by classifying individual dialects with particular standard languages. Yet his decision does not prejudice the historical course of events. Political and cultural events are decisive. Linguistics cannot explain why Czechs and Slovaks became two separate nations, and it would have no explanation if the two in the future should perhaps blend into one nation.
For a long time nations have been regarded as unchanging categories, and it has not been noticed that peoples and languages are subject to very great changes in the course of history. The German nation of the tenth century is a different one from the German nation of the twentieth century. That is even outwardly evident in the fact that the Germans of today speak a different language from that of the contemporaries of the Ottonians.
For an individual, belonging to a nation is no unchangeable characteristic. One can come closer to one’s nation or become alienated from it; one can even leave it entirely and exchange it for another.
National assimilation, which must of course be distinguished from the blending and turnover of races, with which it undergoes certain interactions, is a phenomenon whose historical significance cannot be assessed too highly. It is one manifestation of those forces whose operation shapes the history of peoples and states. We see it at work everywhere. If we could fully understand it in its conditions and in its essence, then we would have taken a good step further on the path that leads to understanding of historical development. In striking contrast to this importance of the problem is the disregard with which historical science and sociology have so far passed it by.
Language serves for intercourse with one’s fellow men. Whoever wants to speak with his fellow men and to understand what they say must use their language. Everyone must therefore strive to understand and speak the language of his environment. For that reason individuals and minorities adopt the language of the majority. It is always a precondition for that, however, that contacts occur between the majority and the minority; if this is not the case, then no national assimilation ensues either. Assimilation proceeds the faster the closer are the contacts of the minority with the majority and the weaker the contacts within the minority itself and the weaker its contacts with fellow nationals living at a distance. From that it immediately follows that the social positions of the different nationalities must be of special significance in this regard, for personal contacts are more or less bound up with class membership. Thus, particular social strata in an environment of a foreign nation can not only maintain their own customs and own languages for centuries but also assimilate others to them. A German nobleman who immigrated to Eastern Galicia around 1850 did not become a Ruthenian but a Pole; a Frenchman who settled in Prague around 1800 became not a Czech but a German. However, the Ruthenian peasant in Eastern Galicia who by upward social mobility joined the ruling class also became a Pole, and the Czech peasant’s son who rose into the bourgeoisie became a German.12
In a society organized by classes or castes, different nations can live side by side in the same territory for centuries without losing their national distinctness. History provides enough examples of that. In the Baltic lands of Livonia, Estonia, and Courland, in Carniola and in South Styria, the German nobility maintained itself for many generations amidst the environment of a different people; so did the German bourgeoisie in the Bohemian, Hungarian, and Polish cities. Another example is the Gypsies. If social contacts between the nations are lacking, if between them no connubium and only to a restricted extent commercium exists, if changing one’s class or caste is possible only in rare exceptional cases, then the conditions for national assimilation are rarely present. Thus, self-contained peasant settlements inside a country inhabited by a population with another language could maintain themselves as long as the agricultural strata were bound to the soil. As, however, the liberal economic order set aside all bonds, removed the special privileges of classes, and gave the workers freedom of movement, the rigid national stratification was loosened. Upward social mobility and migrations made national minorities disappear rapidly, or at least pushed them into defensive positions tenable only with difficulty.
The tearing down of barriers that guarded against shifting from one social class to another, freedom of movement of the person, everything that has made modern man free, has very much facilitated the advance of standard languages against dialects. “Where the so greatly improved means of transport and communication have shaken people up today and mingled them together in an undreamed-of manner, this signals the end of local dialects, of local manners, traditions and usage’s; the railroad whistle has sung their funeral dirge. In a few years they will disappear; in a few years it will be too late to collect them and perhaps still protect them,” an English philologist already remarked decades ago.13 Today one can no longer live even as a peasant or worker in Germany without at least understanding the standard High German language and being able, if necessary, to use it. The school is making its contribution to hastening this process.
Quite distinct from natural assimilation through personal contact with people speaking other languages is artificial assimilation — denationalization by state or other compulsion. As a social process, assimilation hinges on certain preconditions; it can only occur when its preconditions exist. Compulsory methods then remain powerless; they can never succeed when the preconditions are not at hand or are not created. Administrative compulsion can sometimes bring about these conditions and so indirectly bring about assimilation; it cannot bring about national transformation directly. If individuals are put into an environment where they are cut off from contact with their fellow nationals and made exclusively dependent on contacts with foreigners, then the way is prepared for their assimilation. But if one can use only compulsory means that do not influence the colloquial language, then attempts at national oppression have scarcely any prospect of success.
Before the opening of the age of modern democracy, when national questions did not yet have the political significance that they have today, for this reason alone there could be no question of national oppression. If the Catholic Church and the Habsburg state suppressed Czech literature in the seventeenth century in Bohemia, they were motivated by religious and political but not yet by national-policy considerations; they persecuted heretics and rebels, not the Czech nation. Only very recent times have seen attempts at national oppression on a large scale. Russia, Prussia, and Hungary, above all, have been the classical countries of compulsory denationalization. How much success Russianization, Germanization, and Magyarization have achieved is well known. After these experiences, the prognosis that one can make about possible future efforts at Polonization or Czechification is not a favorable one.
This article is excerpted from the first chapter of Nation, State, and Economy, originally published in 1919.
- 1. Cf. Meinecke, Weltbürgertum und Nationalstaat, third edition (Munich: 1915),pp. 22 ff.; Kjellén, Der Staat als Lebensform (Leipzig: 1917), pp. 102 ff.
- 2. Cf Kjellén, loc. cit., pp. 105 ff., and the works cited there.
- 3. Cf. Manouvrier, “L’indice céphalique et la pseudo-sociologie,” Revue, Mensuelle de l’École Anthropologie de Paris, vol. 9, 1899, p. 283.
- 4. Cf. Scherer, Vorträge und Aufsätze zur Geschichte des geistigen Lebens in Deutschland und Österreich (Berlin: 1874), pp. 45 ff. That the criterion of nation lies in language was the view of Arndt and Jacob Grimm. For Grimm, a people is “the sum total of persons who speak the same language” (Kleinere Schriften, vol. 7 [Berlin: 1884], p. 557). A survey of the history of doctrine about the concept of nation is given in Otto Bauer, Die Nationalitätenfrage und die Sozialdemokratie (Vienna: 1907), pp. 1 ff., and Spann, Kurzgefasstes System der Gesellschaftslehre (Berlin: 1914), pp. 195 ff.
- 5. Moreover, let it be expressly noted that with every other explanation of the essence of the nation, difficulties turn up in much higher degree and cannot be overcome.
- 6. That the concept of national community is a matter of degree is also recognized by Spahn (loc. cit., p. 207); that it includes only educated persons is explained by Bauer (loc. cit., pp. 70 ff).
- 7. Cf. Anton Menger, Neue Staatslehre, second ed. (Jena: 1904), p. 213.
- 8. It used to happen that children of German parents who had to be brought up at the expense of the municipality (so-called boarded children) were put by the municipality of Vienna into the care of Czech foster parents in the countryside; these children then grew up as Czechs. On the other hand, children of non-German parents were Germanized by German foster parents. One aristocratic Polish lady used to relieve the city of Vienna of the care of children of Polish parents in order to have the children grow up as Poles. No one can doubt that all these children became good Czechs, Germans, or Poles without regard to what nation their parents had belonged to.
- 9. Ibsen made fun of the efforts of the adherents of the separate “Norwegian” language in the person of Huhu in Peer Gynt (fourth act, madhouse scene).
- 10. One must distinguish between written language and cultural or standard language. When dialects possess a written literature, it will no longer do to deny them the designation of written languages. All those languages should then be called standard languages that make the claim to express all human thoughts orally and in writing and thus also to be scientific and technical languages. The boundaries between the two naturally cannot always be sharply drawn.
- 11. Still more examples could be cited, including, for example, the Slovene language also. Particular interest attaches to those cases in which something similar was attempted on a smaller scale. Thus — according to information for which I am indebted to the Vienna Slavicist Dr. Norbert Jokl — the Hungarian government tried in the county of Ung to make the Slovak and Ruthenian local dialects used there independent; it had newspapers appear in these dialects in which, for the Ruthenian dialect, Latin letters and a Magyarizing orthography were used. Again, in the county of Zala the effort was made to make a Slovene dialect independent, which was facilitated by the fact that the population, in contrast to the Austrian Slovenes, was Protestant. Schoolbooks were published in this language. In Papa there was a special faculty for training teachers of this language.
- 12. Cf. Otto Bauer, “Die Bedingungen der Nationalen Assimilation,” Der Kampf, vol. V, pp. 246 ff.
- 13. Cf. Socin, Schriftsprache und Dialekte im Deutschen nach Zeugnissen alter und neuer Zeit (Heilbronn; 1888), p. 501.