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The University of Southampton
HistoryPart of Humanities

Research project: Language in Post Colonial Nations

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We often assume that one of the primary features of a modern nation is that it has a common language.


We often assume that one of the primary features of a modern nation is that it has a common language. This model of one language one nation is the most predominant way in which scholars, governments and citizens think of the relationship between language and nationalism in the modern world. However, when we look at post-colonial nation states such as India, Singapore, South Africa, Chile – we find complex, multi-lingual societies that are often held together despite linguistic difference. In addition to their own languages, the often host the colonial language such as English, French, Spanish or Portuguese. How do we view such nations? Do we view them as as somewhat deficient or deviant?

My research on this question explores the global impact of the one language one nation model through a combination of theoretical and archival research by bringing together scholars of language, political philosophy and linguistics from across the world.  Together, we have found that the experience of empire, war and subsequent national development after decolonization requires a radical rethinking of our theoretical understanding of the relationship between language and nation in the modern world. The experience of post-colonial nations allows us to understand the novel ways in which these governments have worked represent the language rights of their citizens while maintaining national unity.

Priti Mishra

The first phase of the project was funded by the Fung Global Network Program of Princeton University in 2016-2017. The resultant workshop at Princeton titled ‘Language, Nationalism, Nations: Multilingualism beyond Europe’ produced an edited volume that explores the legacy of Herder’s ideas about the relationship between language and nationalism in the post-colonial world. Focusing on how anti-colonial and post-colonial nations reconcile their myriad multilingualisms with the Herderian model of one language-one nation, it shows how Herder’s model is both attractive and problematic for such nations (visit the Routledge page for this book).

The second phase of the project is funded by the Government of Singapore in collaboration with Dr Ying Ying Tan of Nanyang Technological University (PI) and Dr. Helder De Schutter of KU Leuven (Co I). In the second half we will explore how the history of language poltics in Asia points to a new Asian model of Linguistic Justice that is not derivative of European methods of language management.

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