Center for Transcultural Studies: Publications/Silverstein 1987

working papers

No. 13. "Monoglot 'Standard' in America: Standardization and Metaphors of Linguistic Hegemony," Michael Silverstein, 1987.

The evidence of societal plurilingualism is everywhere about us, on urban public transportation, in classrooms, wherever service-sector personnel are encountered, and on lettuce farms and across vast tracts set aside as reservations. Yet, since we live in a nation-state perpetually trying to constitute of itself an officially unified society with a uniform public Culture, one of the strongest lines of demarcation of that public Culture is linguistic, in the form of advocacy of or opposition to something that, in keeping with terminologized usage, I shall call The Standard. It is obvious that advocacy of The Standard has, in certain contexts, posed problems for those for whom the linguistic realm should be but a special case of their more widely-held, or generalized, longings for an ideal pluralism, or egalitarianism, or even free-market consumerist smorgasbordism as a construction of the American sociopolitical telos. And it should also be obvious that, once debate is focused on linguistic issues in terms of The Standard versus whatever purportedly polar opposites, then the fact that the situation is conceptualized in terms of The Standard indicates what we might term its hegemonic domination over the field of controversy, no matter what position is taken with respect to it.

Indeed, we might say that we live in a society with a culture of monoglot standardization underlying the constitution of our linguistic community and affecting the structure of our various and overlapping speech communities. I want to explore some of the dimensions of this culture of monoglot Standard, and to show how the essentially sociopolitical problems for societal plurilingualism present themselves in its terms. In this, the work is part of the linguistic anthropology of modern American society.

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Working Papers