Language, Identity, and Conflict

Language, Identity, and
Chapter 9: Language movements,
ethnic mobilisation and the state
What are the primary sources of
conflict in Europe today?
What are the primary sources of
conflict in Europe today?
• Ethnicity, which also involves language
• Because language is an issue that can be
addressed, if we understand the source of
conflict, resolution may be possible
Language conflict
• Language relates to the Western European
phenomenon of “ethnic separatism” which arises
due to 19th c nation-building goals:
– Identity: entire populace involved in national state
– Legitimacy: acceptance of state authority
– Participation: more people involved in politics
– Distribution: equal access to resources
– Penetration: operation of state extends to periphery
Language conflict, cont’d.
• These conditions threaten minorities with
assimilation and they respond with ethnic
• Preconditions of ethnic separatism:
– Homeland
– Cultural basis
– Opposition groups associated with threats to the
• Language is a political resource, and asserting
language also asserts economic/political status
Language conflict, cont’d.
• Language is a factor only in conflicts that
are “ethnic”, and language is key to
managing and resolving such conflicts
• Such conflicts arise because the nationstate does not address the issues of ethnic
Language conflict post-USSR
• Former USSR has generated many such
conflicts because in the power vacuum
after the collapse of the Soviet state, there
has been an attempt to build new nationstates to assert ethnic and linguistic
identities. The new post-Soviet nations
adopted the template of a culturally
homogeneous and sovereign nation-state.
They asserted their majority languages
and suppressed Russian.
Language conflict post-Yugoslavia
• A land at a crossroads of collapsing
empires, Serbs and Croats believe they
speak different languages despite claims
to the contrary, Albanian vs. Serbian and
Macedonian continues to be an issue, as
is the distinction of Macedonian vs.
• Note parallel of German vs. French nationstates and mutual distrust and deprecation
• EU shows that other models, not just
nation-state, are possible, that authority
can be multi-tiered and not linked to nation
Language in conflict theory
• Non-negotiable basic human needs which
can be a source of conflict if suppressed:
– Physical & psychological security
– Basic survival needs
– Identity needs
– Economic needs
– Political participation
– Freedom
Language in conflict theory, cont’d.
• A society with multiple communities is
more likely to develop protracted social
• But almost all societies (nation-states)
have more than one ethnic group, and that
doesn’t explain conflict, conflict must also
involve some unequal distribution of
resources & unequal access to control &
Language in conflict theory, cont’d.
• Basic human needs are not limited to biological
• The need to have an identity and be respected
in that identity is also a basic need
• Cultural identity is variously distributed, along
with it sets of beliefs that have direct impact on
how interests, resources, and power are
• Culture is essential to understanding power
• Language is a need which related to
issues of identity, ideology, resources, and
• Language plays a role in cultural basis of a
group and in material needs.
• Language is both a socio-political resource
and a need.