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Handbook of Language & Ethnic Identity

A book by Joshua A. Fishman

It is unclear whether Arab nationalism is founded on Islam on hostility to the West (or more particularly to Israel or on culture, history, and myths, which are expressed primarily in the Arabic language. There ere many Arab nationalists who are Christian but who speak Arabic (in fact, one of the earliest proponents of modern Arab nationalism, George Antonius, was a Christian). Arabic is the classic vehicle in which Islam, a major ingredient of Arab nationalism, is expressed. However, language is obviously not enough. For if it were, there would be no specifically Syrian, Egyptian, or Palestinian nations, and there would he no inter-Arab conflicts.

The Pashtu speakers in Afghanistan, the speakers of Kurdish, Yiddish or Serbian, and the Berbers and the Catalans did not regard the languages that defined their respective ethnicities as sufficient grounds for speaking political Independence. The reasons for that have varied; an underdeveloped sense of nationalism (in the case of the Berbers); the powerlessness of small size (Sorbians); internal cultural and other divisions resulting from physical dispersion across frontiers (Armenians, Jews. and Kurds); economic considerations (Catalans); external constraints (Tibetans); the lack of a committed ethnic elite (Bretons. Basques and Gypsies); and linguistic weakness in the face of a dominant rival language (Irish Gaelic vis-à-vis English and Berber vis-à-vis Arabic). Conversely, the replacement of Irish Gaelic by English did not dampen Irish nationalist sentiment; and, although the loss of their native tongue may have added to the "cultural grief' of the Irish elite, it did not add measurably to that sentiment. 

Similarly, the use of a common language may not lead to a common Slate based on pan-nationalism: There arc no large commonwealths founded on English, Spanish, French, or Arabic that embrace all communities that speak these languages. The Spanish language is not sufficient to create a politically articulated pan-Hispanism; the English language is not sufficient for merging American, British, Irish, Australian, and Canadian nationalisms. Arabic, to be sure is one of the elements defining the "Arab nation, but it can be argued that Islam is an even more decisive element. The Chinese language plays a major role in the cohesion of diaspora Chinese; at the same time, it is an important medium of expression of Taiwanese and Singaporean nationalism that seek to differentiate themselves from Chinese nationalism. The Chinese-speaking Malays, Vietnamese, Singaporeans, and inhabitants of Hong Kong have not ipso facto become Chinese nationalists; and Irish, Swiss, Latin American, and Jewish nationalisms are not dearly dependent on language. It is money that holds multilingual states such as Switzerland and Singapore together; it Is economic interest, as well as tradition, that holds the United Kingdom and Spain together; and it is religion and common historical experiences that hold Jews together. The nationalisms of Pakistan, Israel, and (in part) Ireland, Sri Lanka, and Poland arc based not (or not only) on language but on religion. There arc attempts in many newly independent countries of sub-Saharan Africa to build transethnic nations in which common political ambitions transcend linguistic diversities. 

The connection of Hebrew to Jewish (or Israeli) nationalism is even more prob¬lematic. A Jewish sub political nationalism existed in late-nineteenth-, early-twentieth-century Eastern Europe that was based not on Hebrew but on Yiddish. Conversely, there still exists a Jewish nationalism that is expressed in Hebrew but that is eschatological rather than political; moreover, an American or French Jew may belong culturally and politically to the American or French nation but may identify as well with the Jewish (or even Israeli) nation. 


Handbook of Language & Ethnic Identity

by Joshua Fishman

Oxford University Press US, 2001
ISBN: 9780195124293

This volume presents a comprehensive introduction to the connection between language and ethnicity. Since the "ethnic revival" of the last twenty years, there has been a substantial and interdisciplinary change in our understanding of the connection between these fundamental aspects of our identity. Joshua Fishman has commissioned over 25 previously unpublished papers on every facet of the subject. This volume is interdisciplinary and the contributors are all distinguished figures in their fields.

After each chapter Fishman pulls together the various views that have been expressed and shows how they differ and how they are alike. The volume is useful as a scholarly reference, a resource for the lay reader, and can also be used as a text in ethnicity courses.

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