Scope of Study

Researchers conducting the study "Language and National Identity" have scrutinized language debates in the Greek speaking part of Cyprus, in Latvia and in Croatia. They have analysed various debates in TV, on the radio, in newspapers, the Internet and also within the scientific community.

Furthermore, researchers have conducted and analysed interviews with "ordinary people" in Istria and Cyprus in order to find out how they assess the role of the standard language for national identity and language debates.

Finally, they evaluated a questionnaire about attitudes towards different language variants, which was filled in by about 1.200 high-school students of three Istrian towns.

In Latvia, researchers investigated the official statistics about language and national identity issues, statements from experts in various publications and already published surveys on language attitudes.

2nd Issue, December 2008

One Language One Nation

In Istria (Croatia), in the Greek speaking part of Cyprus and in Latvia, one ideology is dominant: One language belongs to one nation and is inevitably part of its one identity. However, not everyone agrees.

"The danger, in terms in which existed before the establishing of statehood, is no longer presented today we have our state with which we protect our language [] or we are not nation because we do not have our language." Such statements (this one originates from the Croatian context) illustrate the view that without a language, there is no nation.

This view is quite common in Croatia, the Greek speaking part of Cyprus and Latvia. The fact that someone questioning this view could be perceived as a "traitor" of national identity, does not exactly help an open discussion. However, in all three countries, there are experts and lay people who oppose the dominant ideology.


Fines for spelling mistakes?
This ideology of "one language, one nation" often results in prescriptive language policies and language purism. For example, the members of the Croatian Academy propose to the Croatian government to legislate the correct use of the Croatian language of course envisaging penalties for those who break the law. This example demonstrates that language policy in Croatia concentrates on prescriptions and on the symbolic value of language, not its practical value.


Gap between experts and lay people
Despite or because of this prescriptions, "ordinary people" in Istria do not engage in language debates, even if the linguistic situation of Istria is quite complex: it is officially a bilingual region, with a strong Italian national minority, and in fact it is a multilingual region with several languages spoken that belong to South-Slavic and Romance branch of the Indo-European language family.

Ordinary people seem to think that language debates are the business of "experts", i.e. linguists and politicians.

For some of the "ordinary people", the standard language is an invention with no relevance for everyday communication. Unlike the experts, they value more the practical value of language than its symbolic value.

Furthermore, they do not want language to be exploited for politics and they perceive the standard language as "cold", "distant" and "formal". They feel that their identity is much more complicated than just speaking a specific language and therefore belonging to a nation. They are aware of having different identities: in some situations, they identify themselves with their town, in others with their region (Istria), with their nation or with Europe.

"Ordinary people" see national identities as fluid, variable, performative, non-fixed and transformable concepts, with no uniform and stable connection with national language and language practices. Additionally, national identity is perceived more as a form of cultural identity and cultural belonging to a certain historical and cultural area.


Language: a piece of history
Both in Croatia and Cyprus, history is closely linked to language debates. In Croatia, similarities between Croatian and Serbian are said to be "artificial" and forced during the period when Croatia did not have an independent state.

In Cyprus, language is used to "prove" that the Greek speaking area of Cyprus belongs to Greece. In some of the articles and readers letters, people said that speaking Greek was a reminder of the difficult history Cyprus went through, a reminder of its origins and a reminder of where they belong to.


>>> Comment by Mislava Bertoa, Institute for Anthropological Research, Zagreb