Chapter

Language as a Unifying Force

Benjamin Harshav

in Language in Time of Revolution

Published by University of California Press

Published in print August 1993 | ISBN: 9780520079588
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520912960 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520079588.003.0020
Language as a Unifying Force

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The Jewish Secular Polysystem that arose in Eastern Europe had the character of an almost-State. Indeed, in the crowded Jewish communities or city quarters, the population lived within such a Jewish quasi-State; but when the Jewish population moved from the shtetl to the big city and scattered overseas, there was nothing to hold the package tightly together in the territory of other languages and nations. The Jews' affiliation and “identity” were no longer automatic as they were for a member of a “normal” ethnic group, for whom dwelling in his own land and affiliation with a linguistic and religious entity are self-evident. Under these conditions—without a State, a political framework, or an exclusive and continuous territorial base—decisive importance was accorded to unifying forces that would motivate the individual to take part more than casually in various institutions of the intrinsic polysystem.

Keywords: Jewish Secular Polysystem; Europe; population; shtetl; languages; identity; State; Jews

Chapter.  1859 words. 

Subjects: Social and Cultural Anthropology

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