XIth International Colloquium:
‘Problems and Methods in the History of Language’:
Girona, 25th – 28th June 2019
The organisers of this colloquium have maintained that the history of languages is essentially the history of the construction of cultural artifacts that make it possible to fix and disseminate the very idea of the language among speakers and put it in the service of articulating cohesive and interdependent communities. If this premise is correct, we must admit that languages have been, essentially, an object of desire.
National linguistic ideology (a concept to which we apply all the necessary disclaimers) has been at the base of most historical processes that—whether they are complete or not—have brought us to the current reality. This reality is a world of languages that represent, with greater or lesser exactitude, the diversity—and convergences—of human groups. Intellectuals and politicians have long sought linguistic homogeneity in a given geographic area, especially since the beginning of the contemporary period. However, this homogeneity has almost never been fully achieved, because of the internal complexity of any such area, the persistence of local or regional linguistic features, and the contradictory forces created by the imposition of the public language. Still, the desired language has become a real language to the extent that the processes of standardisation and the forces of homogenisation have been able to modify reality.
Various of today’s thinkers have predicted the decline or the even the end of national ideologies. In the area of language, postmodernism would make the linguistic affiliation of the individuals of a community irrelevant, de-ideologise language use, and extend plurilingualism and language alternation in association with a new distribution of (physical or functional) spaces of linguistic practice.
But the triumph of multilingualism may entail, paradoxically, the triumph of an over-simplification that reduces languages to their representations. These representations are the constructed level of the language, the level taught in school and learned when language learning is planned. This can occur because the public language ends up not being the habitual or spontaneous language of a significant part of the population (who only learn it at school, as an L2). Or it can occur when the goal is to impose the standard language at the expense of the spontaneous language of native speakers, to bring order to the chaos of diversity; in this case, authenticity tends to be attributed to the standard language. In both cases, the desire to impose the constructed language is carried out. But in practice, when internal variation is limited, a language loses the attributes that have enabled it to articulate and unite society.
The culmination of national linguistic ideology—the successful standardisation of a territory—can sometimes lead to a major loss in traditional internal linguistic diversity and thus weaken the emotional connections that enabled speakers to identify their language with that of their ancestors and with the surrounding geographic area—and by extension, with the community. In areas with more heterogeneous populations, where heterogeneity tends to be recent and a consequence of globalisation, the competition between speakers’ languages and the public language—if the latter doesn’t become the language of emotions—can complicate the cohesive function that the national language has historically had. In fact, it can go so far as to eliminate the idea that the language is ‘national’ at all.
But is this true everywhere? Are languages now nowhere the core of collective identity? Or are we witnessing a distinction between languages that, because of their magnitude, status, strategic position, etc., can continue to exercise the function of national languages and languages that have to renounce this function? Has national linguistic ideology really ceased to make sense? What other strategies should the historic language of a given geographic area employ if it wants to continue forming part of the life of the community that is set up there? What kinds of languages are desired by politicians, intellectuals and philologists?
All of these questions are at the heart of the proposal for the 11th International Colloquium ‘Problems and Methods in the History of Language’, a colloquium that aims to go a bit further than the previous colloquia in analysing the historical processes that have marked Europe’s languages until today. The colloquium aims to put the focus on the future of languages and demands, therefore, that we consider retrospectively the numerous reflections in this area made by the University of Girona’s research group on the history of language and specially, that of the group’s principal investigator, Josep Maria Nadal. The colloquium will coincide with Dr. Nadal’s retirement and will serve as an opportunity for his friends and colleagues to recognise his important theoretical contribution to the field of the history of language. The field of the history of language, which is profoundly ideological by nature, has been addressed intensely by the Girona group over the last decades. We think that the theoretical work driven by Nadal, beyond the specialisation of his team in the area of the Catalan language, has been able to contribute to its development in a meaningful way. Making explicit the notion of ‘desired language’ over the course of history should help us fine-tune our desires for the languages of the future.
Therefore, the themes of the colloquium ‘Desired Language’ will be:
1. The inequality of languages
2. Language and collective identity
3. Interlinguistic multilingualism and intralinguistic multilingualism
4. Spaces of interrelation, encounter, interaction and linguistic diversity (inter- or intralinguistic)
5. The paradox of standardisation: giving birth to the language and/or killing it?
6. Standardisation of language and standardisation of territory
7. Social relations, power and dialects: the centre and the periphery of the language
8. Teaching language and diversity
9. Languages without native speakers?