The Invention of National Languages

Otto Dann

in Unity and Diversity in European Culture c.1800

Published by British Academy

Published in print October 2006 | ISBN: 9780197263822
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734960 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

The Invention of National Languages

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In the second half of the eighteenth century, a qualified kind of ethnogenesis can be observed among the educated classes of the Western world. In the course of their social emancipation a new political identity emerged, one orientated towards the fatherland, the state, and its population. This new ethnic consciousness bridged older identities such as estate, profession or religion. It originated in connection with the great eighteenth-century social movement of patriotism, which became more and more politicised. The philosophical discourse about the nature of language, which had existed since antiquity, intensified immensely during the eighteenth century. John Locke and George Berkeley in Britain and Étienne Bonnot de Condillac in France provided important stimuli in this respect. Johann Gottfried Herder was the first to take vernacular languages and popular poetry seriously as expressions of the culture of illiterate peoples. This chapter examines how national languages were invented and looks at the divergent situations in which the first national languages were used in Europe.

Keywords: Europe; national languages; patriotism; nation; John Locke; Britain; France; Étienne Bonnot de Condillac; vernacular languages; Johann Gottfried Herder

Chapter.  5295 words. 

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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