Language and Cultural Identity

Avi Lifschitz

in Language and Enlightenment

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199661664
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191751653 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Historical Monographs

Language and Cultural Identity

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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This chapter focuses on the socio-cultural background of the language debates, mainly through a detailed exploration of a largely forgotten quarrel in Berlin of the late 1750s and early 1760s. At stake was an ostensibly harmless stylistic guide to writing in French, the journal Préservatif contre la corruption de la langue françoise by Prémontval, the Academy member who had proposed the topic of the 1759 contest. Prémontval's periodical immediately attracted the attention of the Prussian authorities and an official threat to ban its publication. The ensuing affair exposed the social tensions and academic norms in mid-century Berlin, while highlighting the significance of language as a marker of cultural identity. Prémontval's ideas about the use of French in Berlin were taken up by German thinkers such as Michaelis and Herder, who wished to refashion linguistic and cultural values.

Keywords: Jean Henri Samuel Formey; Johann David Michaelis; Johann Gottfried Herder; Huguenots; Berlin; censorship

Chapter.  8996 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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