Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Language and Power

"Bilingual dictionaries made visible and approaching egalitarianism among languages -- whatever the political realities outside, within the covers of the Czech-German/German-Czech dictionary the paired languages has a common status." (Anderson, 71)

I find it interesting here that Anderson highlights that bilingual dictionaries created a equal space for languages to exist in. Though the languages themselves may have reverted to a common status by being paired together in a dictionary, the masses associated with the respective languages did not. Anderson does indeed acknowledge further on that those who had access to print languages were already a powerful group by virtue of their education. We realize here that print languages contributed to a sort of un-anchoring of language to cultural or geological origins, illustrated well by this example:

[Speaking of New Guinea] "...Dutch missionaries and Dutch officials for the first time made serious efforts to 'unify' them by taking censuses, expanding communication networks....through administrative Malay....thus the irony is that bahasa Indonesia thus became the lingua france of a burgeoning West New Guinean, West Papuan nationalism." (Anderson, 178)

In a lot of ways 'unifying' and creating communication networks can be positive things that lead to the creation of a society. However, by using Malay -- a language from another colony -- to create a structure in which the people of New Guinea had little option but to learn that language in order to attain the authority necessary for nationalist movements can be construed as the ultimate display of the hold the Dutch had on their colony.

Here, however, I question Anderson's concept of mass ceremony uniting the imagined community. For precisely this example, many New Guineans presumably learned Malay before consciously veering towards nationalist tendencies. In fact, the inclination towards nationalism may have been a result of mastery of the main administrative language. But I cannot conceive how the colonized of New Guinea would read newspapers controlled by the Dutch and believe themselves a part of a network. So how much do racial and cultural origins contribute to nationalism?

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