LINGUIST List 11.1943

Thu Sep 14 2000

Review: Wright: Community and Communication

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  1. Nelson-Dedaic, Review of Sue Wright's Community and Communication

Message 1: Review of Sue Wright's Community and Communication

Date: Sun, 10 Sep 2000 10:12:01 +0200
From: Nelson-Dedaic <>
Subject: Review of Sue Wright's Community and Communication

Sue Wright (2000). Community and Communication: The Role of Language in
Nation State Building and European Integration. Clevedon: Multilingual
Matters LTD.

(Multilingual Matters 114 (MM114); 280 pp; Hardcover ISBN 1-85359-485-7,
49.00, US$79.95, CAN$99.95; Softcover ISBN 1-85359-484-9, 24.95,
US$39.95, CAN$49.95; price: Hardcover $79.95, Softcover

  Reviewed by Mirjana N. Dedaic, Georgetown University.


Chapter 1. Definitions. Theories of nationalism and the role of
language. The nationalists and linguistic nationalism. The modernists,
industrialisation and democracy. The post-modernists and the invention
of tradition.

 Recognizing the difficulties in defining nation and nationalism,
Wright  "attempt[s] [...] an amalgam of the definitions available and
suggest[s] what factors are present when people associate as a nation".
She includes political, economic, moral, cultural and linguistic
dimensions ("community of communication"), and notes that "for all forms
of nationalism, sovereignty is invested in the people, but this does not
necessarily imply democracy." She identifies attitudes towards the
language issue among four main schools of thought: Ethnolinguistic
nationalism, Perennialist, Modernism, and Post-modernism.

Chapter 2. The role of language in nation state formation. The three
European models: assimilation, blood and belonging and fragmentation.

Wright then turns her attention to the language framed in nations,
nationalities, and nationalisms. The reader is introduced to the
historical developments of several nations, whose histories fit into two
models - first, assimilatory nation states, created by conquest,
dynastic marriage and inheritance, whose inhabitants were unified after
the creation of the state and, second, the model that she terms
(following Ignatieff) "blood and belonging", which pertains to the state
created to be the homeland of a linguistically and culturally homogenous
group. Several case studies serve to show how different linguistic
groups were acquired into the state of the former model, and what moves
were executed in order to assimilate disparate groups into an
amalgamated "community of communication". The latter, diametrically
opposite category focuses on blood and language - the criteria for
association of groups that perceive themselves to possess a common
culture and thus join to create a political state. The third formula,
chiefly a combination of the two, is exemplified by several cases,
including Baltic states, Serbian-Croatian-Bosnian continuum,
Czech-Slovak history of unification and divergence, etc.

Chapter 3. Language as a key organising principle of nationalism.
Contending schools in the debate. The linguistic realities of
multilingual states.

Principal schools of thought regarding the role of language in group
formation are examined in this chapter. Giving some historical examples,
such as Stalin's idea that "national community is inconceivable without
a common language" (p.62), and other ideologies with which language
interacts during group formation, Wright exemplifies one of the three
basic approaches to the language question. Besides the approach to which
Stalin contributed, the author also investigates the second group whose
adherents argue that "language is simply one among a number of elements
which may or may not define a particular national group". Wright goes
further by noting a third school which denies the importance of language
in the nationalizing process. (p. 63) After reviewing pertinent
literature which identifies the main actors in these schools, the author
asserts that "idea of community [is] inextricably linked to the idea of
community of communication", suggesting that "language constantly
organizes experience and that experience constantly generates new
language and causes a review of old." (p. 69) Her thesis is supported by
several case studies, yielding the conclusion that "[w]here linguistic
difference is not accommodated, association is not secure." (p. 71)

Chapter 4. The weakening of the concept of sovereignty. Globalisation
and internationalisation in the legal, political, economic and cultural
domains. The growing role of English as the medium of these phenomena.

Rapid globalization brings about new realities: "[w]e are not all equal
before international law. Mot litigants are bound to be distanced from
the court proceedings by inevitable language barriers." (p. 83) Among 15
languages of the EU, one is tacitly chosen to become "the working
language" of the European Court. By showing how English managed to
prevail as the lingua franca of NATO, Wright points to the process of
global anglification (and moreover, Americanization), which spreads from
business to political and social arenas. Given the cosmopolitization of
culture, Wright positions the English language as the cultural vehicle
for an overwhelming imbalance on the linguistic scale of global culture.
Post-modernism assumes that there is flow and choice, that the cultural
producers furnish the raw material for consumers to accept, reject,
recombine, manipulate, and build upon. Wright argues that such fluidity
is constrained by language: "monolingual English language speakers are
limited by the texts available to them, which may be multicultural
because of the pluricentric nature of English, but which are unlikely to
be of multilingual provenance because of the translation imbalance. The
choices for monolingual non-English language speakers are constrained by
the commercial choices made on translation, dubbing and subtitling, with
trade flows showing that they are more likely to receive a text of
English language provenance than of any other outside their own national
production." (p. 101-2) This chapter concludes by reminding us of how
non-French in 18th century France decided to speak French: by doing so,
they gained "access to power networks and elites, social and
geographical mobility and, most importantly, economic advantage".
Differences between today's English dominance and the 18th century
linguistic situation in France are obvious. Yet, one cannot fail to see
parallels as the attraction to power and wealth stimulate English usage.

Chapter 5. The growth of the European community. Theories of
integration. The role of language.

The chapter opens by stating that the "European adventure is arguably
one of the last great modernist projects." (p. 108) After sketching the
historical development of European integration, Wright explains the
views of three schools of thought on the EU future. These three currents
- neo-realists, federalists, and neo-functionalists - existed from the
earliest days of the European project. They disagree on the bonds that
are supposed to tie Member States into economic and/or political union
as well as on the degree of residual sovereignty accorded members. What
is the role of language in creating such a structure? This question
introduces several sub-questions, the answers to which indicate that the
European Union may be, at least in its initial stage, an emerging
"democratic polity" which develops "without solving its communication
problem". (p.122)

Chapter 6. Theories of democracy: participatory and liberal
representative democracy. The essential role of language in democracy.
The democratic deficit in the EU and the need to develop new practices
for a multilingual polity.

Wright best summarizes chapter six at the outset, saying that it
"examines the role of the community of communication in a democratic
polity, and explores how far the plurilingualism of the EU restrains its
political actors, bureaucrats and peoples from following the mainstream
traditions of European democracy." (p. 126) Comparing varying democratic
traditions, the author offers the idea of the internet community as a
form of a participatory democracy. Wright is concerned with the
non-existence of the community of communication within the European
integration. Examining various traditions from which democracies in
Europe emerged and developed, she compares European democracy with a
mosaic which does not mean the same thing to all of us. The author
concurs with the view that "the ideal of one nation, one state, one
language brought into being the cohesive community of communication
necessary for the practice of democracy." (p. 138) The problem of
conducting inclusive debates among all the nations of the new community
is worsened by not having one vehicle for such a communication. "[T]he
flows of debate and information will either be top down, from centre to
periphery with people receiving what is translated for them, or will
circulate among an elite which has the level of foreign language skills
and contacts which permit it to transcend the normal channel." (p.
146-7) That the EU is "deficient in many of the defining variables of a
democratic state" is shown in a series of examples. Wright concludes
that misunderstandings can stem from different understanding of
etymologically identical words, such as, for example, "federalism". The
chapter points to a paradox: democracy's fundamental liberty is the
right to use one's language, but at the same time, democratic processes
in the plurilingual EU are obstructed by the lack of total debate and
political communication.

Chapter 7. Managing plurilingualism in the institutions of the E.U.

Among all the proposals about regulating language(s) used in EU
business, English has, not surprisingly, again arisen as the "default
lingua franca" both for written and spoken communication. The
plurilingual nature of governance in the EU poses administrative and
political problems, underscored by frustration caused by slow and
frequently inaccurate translations. The policy of absolute equality
among all the official languages of all the Member States has often
broken down in practice, which is becoming even more difficult as more
countries accede.

Chapter 8. New and smaller polities. Europe of the Regions. Support for
the lesser-used languages of Europe.

While Chapter 7 dissects the centrifugal forces incorporated within the
EU, this chapter examines centripetal forces that are best embodied in
the creation of the EU's Committee of the Regions (CoR). Commenting on
the recent revival of national languages in Europe and globally, the
author weighs possibilities of the inclusion or exclusion of national
languages as working languages of such an association as the EU. "It is
when instrumental reasons join the integrative reasons of community,
tradition and identity for retaining or regenerating a minority/regional
language that the process is likely to succeed." (p. 191)

Chapter 9. Language in the domains of defence, education and research

This chapter considers the importance of the language question in common
defense, education, taxation, and network support system. "The pragmatic
and ideological reasons for European integration were the pursuit of
prosperity and the preservation of peace." (p. 194) Urdu as a language
emerged as a means of communication during a war, which allowed Arabic,
Pashto, Turkish and Persian-speaking soldiers to communicate with the
local population khari boli (around Delhi). Does the EU need such a
lingua for defense purposes? Defense cooperation has been growing,
especially as peacekeeping engagements have
> multiplied. If this cooperation continues and strengthens, "we can
expect this domain to have an impact on language" (p.203) Although once
proposed as the language of EU soldiers, English has been formally
banned, while French and German continue to be (difficult) choices for
military command. "Whereas government might be able to envisage working
in eleven languages and functioning through translation and
interpreting, this is not an option for an army when engaged in any kind
of military activity." (p. 204) The "community of communication" is a
clear necessity in this matter. Two other international bodies provide
precedent - the UN and NATO. Both tacitly and unofficially established
English as the language of easy communication on the ground. The
Europeization of educational experiences, on the other hand, seems to
have been accepted with much more enthusiasm. The LINGUA program
introduced 1990 was intended to "improve language competence throughout
the 12 Member States", and to "encourage the teaching and learning of
the less widely used language of the European Community". The opposite
side is taken, however, by the principles of the market which make
English the most valuable language to acquire. In such an unequal
struggle, the author holds that LINGUA is unlikely to be able to
influence behavior profoundly. "In the school year 1996-1997 89% of all
EU secondary school children were reported to be learning English" (p.
212-3), with the dominance of English being strongest in the countries
in the Germanic continuum. Thus, for all these reasons and more, English
is on its way to becoming the unofficial second language of the EU.
Among other parallels to nation building, this chapter also discusses
taxation and resource distribution networks as building blocks of
national cohesion. Wright concludes by conveying her expectation that
European integration will have, in the long term, profound effects on
patterns of language use in Europe.

Chapter 10. Conclusions.

In her conclusion, Wright again argues that communities of communication
function more easily than linguistically fragmented societies.


This volume is the first single-author monograph from a seasoned
linguist who enriched the literature with edited volumes such as
"Language and Conflict: A Neglected Relationship". In "Community and
Communication", Wright discusses the question of "linguistic
instability" in the ever-growing globalization as manifested in the
political activities in integrating communities in Europe that have
become interwoven into a single politico-economic entity. Written in an
engaging style, and enriched with many relevant facts (even some
interesting trivia) about political events, culturo-political insights,
and linguistic matters, this book provides an important account of the
language issue in the European Union. Without a community of
communication, Sue Wright argues, the EU cannot achieve the unification
on levels other than trade. Only by developing a community of
communication will it avoid remaining an association of unequals,
governed exclusively by well-bred francophone and anglophone
technocrats, and paid for by Germans. As a rich account of the
centrifugal and centripetal forces of European integration, the book
considers, from many angles and points of view, what globalization will
reveal about our authentic identities. Where, for example, are
nationalities "going" to hide from growing anglophonization and
reluctant, but steady, abandonment of less widely used languages for
European communication. Frequent untranslated quotes in French, however,
not only require an extra effort on the part of non-francophone readers,
but also suggest that the author belongs among those who support and
expect (at least) bilingualism as a norm (in addition, one German quote
remains untranslated too, while others from the same language are
translated). Careful not to glorify (her native) English as the
suggested solution for EU language troubles, Wright gives an objective
account of the present dilemmas, giving more questions than answers.
This is a volume that opens debate that is not likely to end soon, as
the unification of the old continent continues.

About reviewer: Mirjana N. Dedaic, is a Ph.D. candidate in
Sociolinguistics, Georgetown University. Her interests include political
language (presidential speeches in particular) and discourse of family
interaction. She can be reached at
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