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Please comment on the passage below from "The Origins of National Consciousness" in Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities.
"What, in a positive sense, made the new communities imaginable was a half-fortuitous, but explosive, interaction between a system of production and productive relations (capitalism), a technology of communications (print), and the fatality of human linguistic diversity.
"The element of fatality is essential. For whatever superhuman feats capitalism was capable of, it found in death and languages two tenacious adversaries. Particular languages can die or be wiped out, but there was and is no possibility of humankind's general linguistic unification. Yet this mutual incomprehensibility was historically of only slight importance until capitalism and print created monoglot mass reading publics.
"While it is essential to keep in mind an idea of fatality, in the sense of a general condition of irremediable linguistic diversity, it would be a mistake to equate this fatality with that common element in nationalist ideologies which stresses the primordial fatality of particular languages and their association with particular territorial units. The essential thing is the interplay between fatality, technology, and capitalism. In pre-print Europe, and, of course, elsewhere in the world, the diversity of spoken languages, that languages that for their speakers were (and are) the warp and woof of their lives, was immense; so immense, indeed, that had print-capitalism sought to exploit each potential oral vernacular market, it would have remains a capitalism of petty proportions. But these varied idiolects were capable of being assembled, within definite limits, into print languages far fewer in number. The very arbitrariness of ay system of signs and sounds facilitated the assembling process. (At the same time, the more ideographic the signs, the vaster the potential assembling zone. One can detect a sort of descending hierarchy here from algebra through Chinese and English, to the regular syllabaries of French and Indonesian.) Nothing served to 'assemble' related vernaculars more than capitalism, which, within the limits imposed by grammars and syntaxes, created mechanically reproduced print-languages capable of dissemination through the market."
===Valerio Borgianelli Spina===
Book-publishing was one of the first capitalist enterprise, it initial market was ‘literate Europe’ that is Latin readers. The change from Latin to vernacular languages happened for three factors: 1. The saturation of the Latin-readers market. 2. The decay of the Counter-reformation. 3. The shortage of money in the mid-seventeenth century made printer produce cheap edition in the vernaculars. There are three negative elements that, contributing to the dethronement of the Latin, made the “nationally imagined community” possible: 1. Thanks to the Humanist, Latin became a language for the intelligentsia. 2. Reformation (which at the same time owed much of its success to print capitalism). Protestantism knew how to make use of the expanding vernacular print-market being created by printer-capitalist, while the Counter-Reformation defended the tradition of Latin. The coalition between Protestantism and print-capitalism, producing cheap popular editions, quickly created large new reading markets. 3. The spreading of particular vernaculars as instruments of administrative centralization. After the collapse of the Western Empire, Latin no longer could be monopolized as a “language-of-the-state.” On the other hand, the interaction of three positive elements shaped the environment for the birth of the modern nations. 1. Capitalism, a system of production. 2. Print, a technology of communications. 3. Linguistic diversity in the Europe post Roman Empire. The fatality of European population linguistic diversity is the fundamental element to grasp the slow evolution from a Post-Empire assorted number of micro-societies to the unification of them in macro-communities, namely the modern nations. Whereas generally a humankind’s linguistic unification is impossible, in the Europe of XV and XVI century:
“[The various idiolects] were capable to being assembled, within definite limits, into print languages far fewer in number […] Nothing served to ‘assemble’ related vernacular more than capitalism, which, within the limits imposed by grammars and syntaxes, created mechanically reproduced print languages capable of dissemination through the market.”
The print-capitalism put down the bases of the national consciousness for three main reasons: 1. It creates a field of communication “below Latin and above the spoken vernaculars.”[see the graph] 2. It gave stability to the ‘new languages’, a very important issue because in a long run a language shared by many generations become central “to the subjective idea of the nation.” 3. It created a “language-of-power.”
Our reading this week introduces an idea of fatality in languages that resulted. This "death of languages" refers to a few ideas: first, pre-print culture's plurality of language and its diversity; second, the waning of diversity and the creation of a common vernacular language through print; standardization of communication through print. What the article is emphasizing is not so much which or why languages "die out," but how fatality is connected to technology and capitalism. Let's think about this relationship for a moment. According to the article, it seems that alongside the development of western economic survival strategies, through trade and competitive natures of different cultural groups, and the western-centric drive in technological progress, diversity of communication becomes diminished to standardization and conventionalized. Does this carry over to general theories about technology and capitalism, that because of the inevitable direction of their ethnocentric and competitive natures, diversity of cultural communication declines under a banner of unification and efficiency? Should we question print's power to determine the value (in essence, which language lives vs. which dies) among different languages or ways of communication based solely on those ideals? Are these assumptions entirely too biased as they are viewed through western lenses?
I am curious about how powerful “print language” appeared like under the interplay of capitalism and new form of technology (print). What is the formation of world under the impact of the print language? I am also curious about what the great mechanical reproduction force of print could lead to the different formation of knowledge and the revolution of publication systems.
Benedict pointed out, “The dethronement of Latin, the elevation of vernaculars to the language-of-power made its own contribution to the decline of the imagined community of Christendom.” It seemed the new view of language usages reorganized the order in Europe and thus created new imagined national communities that existed without the boundaries of states. Since that, how the use of languages connected with the awareness of nations or the new imagined communities?
Language is essential to people’s thinking, logics, communication, and lifestyles, that is, people think differently if they use different languages. Print language somehow created a uniform platform for people to share thoughts. Print languages, living by reproducibility and dissemination, on the one hand created monoglot mass reading public and on the other hand create the dawn of the national consciousness. As print languages drew a unification of extreme diversity of spoken vernaculars-- it did not create a world with only one language, the force of fatality in human linguistic diversity collided with the standardizing power of capitalism and print led to the origin of separation in national consciousness.
Always looking for the bottom line:
Imagined communities: geographic identities born primarily of particular orthographic consequences?
Something that struck me about this reading was the interaction of the print culture in the fatality of languages. Through choosing to print particular languages only, these languages became acccessible to the mass readers and kept the language alive. As a result, the diversity of languages had declined compared to the pre-print era. Though at this time, print seemed to lead to the death of certain languages that were not chosen to be printed. However, in modern times, I find interesting that some languages that are dead orally, are still kept alive through writing. Yiddish and Latin are both no longer spoken, but are alive as a language through the use of print. It is interesting to think about the reverse effects that print technology is having now than when print culture first emerged.
Something that I wonder about is the following statement that Benedict makes:
In pre-print Europe, and, of course, elsewhere in the world, the diversity of spoken languages, that languages that for their speakers were (and are) the warp and woof of their lives, was immense; so immense, indeed, that had print-capitalism sought to exploit each potential oral vernacular market, it would have remains a capitalism of petty proportions.
Is this statement stating that capitalism around print would have been petty if they had originally sought out to put into print every langauge that characterized the diverse linguistic attribute of the people? I had a hard time understanding that statement.
Tucker @ Akio
- I read it to mean that the success of printing as a business was driven by the cost-effectiveness of mass production. Was the industry to focus on printing for each of the myriad vernaculars, presses would have had to change typefaces more frequently and they'd be printing far fewer copies at a time (as the vernacular populations were smaller groups), both of which would have increased costs and limited the success of print-capalism.
This passage mainly emphasizes on the interplay between fatality of diverse languages, technology and capitalism. It pictures how strong and effective roles capitalism and print have played throughout the years in giving identity to some certain languages, and at the same time wiping out others from the face of the world. Another significant issue which is brought to our attention is how this whole process eventually creates the basis for the modern nations.
I think this is still an ongoing flow. Even today we can find few groups of people from certain parts of countries (urban or rural) who speak either their own dialect or their own inherited vernacular language. They are actually keeping the oral language alive. But not having the means to preserve and spread the language will eventually result in fatality of the remaining vernacular languages and the stronger prominence of the national language of the country. In fact fatality of diverse languages gradually results in fatality of different cultures. Perhaps the future human beings will become the followers of a one common culture, a universal culture.
In ascribing so much to the union of capitalism and print technology, I wonder if the reading doesn't give short shrift to political and other considerations beyond mere economics. Also, while the economics of mass production certainly made it effective to create a small number of "languages of power," did this really *eliminate* diverse spoken languages, or did it instead just marginalize many of these?
I can't help thinking of the conflict within the last century between the "clean" form of the Greek language, Katharevousa, which was eventually abandoned in favor of the commonly spoken Dhimotiki -- a type of conflict analogous to the efforts to preserve a "pure" or elite language in other cultures -- and it seems to me that there's more at play here than the economics of print production technologies.
I do wonder about how the interplay of economics and technology in digital print production right now is shaping languages .... Is it possible that the ability to easily and cost effectively "print" and distribute text in multiple languages will now give rise to greater diversity of language as marketing to niche communities of diverse language speakers becomes more profitable ...or is it more likely that we'll see an even greater drive on a global scale toward an even more common "language of power"?
In the work I've done in creating global health education materials, I seem to be seeing conflicting trends. On the one hand, we seem to have more demand to produce more materials in more and more diverse languages than we have in the last 20 years, but on the other hand, we've found a greater demand for English language materials among communities that used to request materials in other languages...
All of this talk about the "death of languages" makes the whole printing process seem so negative and evil. Not to pull an overly complimentary Eisenstein on all of you, but what about this passage from Anderson? (which was conveniently crossed out):
"... print-capitalism gave a new fixity to language, which in the long run helped to build that image of antiquity so central to the subjective idea of the nation. As Febvre and Martin remind us, the printed book kept a permanent form, capable of virtually infinite reproduction, temporally and spatially. It was no longer subject to the individualizing and 'unconsciously modernizing' habits of monastic scribes. Thus, while twelfth-century French differed markedly from that written by Villon in the fifteenth, the rate of change slowed decisively in the sixteenth. 'By the 17th century languages in Europe had generally assumed their modern forms.' To put it another way, for three centuries now these stabilized print-languages have been gathering a darkening varnish; the words of our seventeenth-century forebears are accessible to us in a way that to Villon his twelfth-century ancestors were not."
Maybe I'm misinterpreting this passage, but I think this is a very positive result. (I am a big fan of access.)
Questions: Why is it nation's that shape this consciousness? I don't disagree with his notion that the imagined community is logically the nation, but why the nation? Why not the state or the continent? Why nations? What makes them special?