The language-dialect dichotomy in imperial bureaucracies

Lectures, talks and seminars

Old Kirk 406 (F L W Wood Seminar Room)

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Linguists and sociolinguists typically depict the language-dialect dichotomy as stained by the taint of politics often imagined in binary opposition to ‘linguistic science’.

This talk investigates the politics of the dichotomy. It examines how government bureaucrats in two spectacularly multilingual polities, colonial Kenya and Habsburg Austria, conceptualised linguistic diversity and the status of linguistic varieties. It finds that the language-dialect dichotomy is conspicuous by its absence. Kenyan authorities had a three-fold status hierarchy between the English language, Swahili as a lingua franca, and other African vernaculars. Habsburg authorities, meanwhile, mostly imagined different sorts of language.

Speaker Bios

Alexander Maxwell is Associate Professor of History at Victoria University in Wellington. He studied in Davis California, Göttingen Germany, and Budapest Hungary before completing his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the author of Choosing Slovakia (2009), Patriots Against Fashion (2014), and Everyday Nationalism in Hungary (2019). He has published widely on nationalism theory and central European history. He is currently researching the modern history of the language-dialect dichotomy.

Q&A to follow

For more information contact: Valerie Wallace