History Programme Seminar: The Language-Dialect Dichotomy in Imperial Bureaucracies

How did colonial officials in Kenya and Austria imagine "dialects"?

History Programme Seminar: The Language-Dialect Dichotomy in Imperial Bureaucracies

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7 May 2021 from 12.10 pm - 1.00 pm 7 May 2021 12:10 pm 7 May 2021 1:00 pm

Old Kirk 406 (F L W Wood Seminar Room)

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, conceptualized 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.”

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.

For further information please contact Dr Valerie Wallace (valerie.wallace@vuw.ac.nz) History Programme Seminar Convenor.