Language and ethnic national identity in Europe: the importance of Gaelic and Sorbian to the maintenance of associated cultures and ethno cultural identities

Gebel, Konstanze (2002) Language and ethnic national identity in Europe: the importance of Gaelic and Sorbian to the maintenance of associated cultures and ethno cultural identities. PhD thesis, Middlesex University.

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Abstract

As many other ethno-cultural identities in Europe, the collective self perceptions of Scotland's Gaels and the Sorbs of Lusatia are undergoing considerable changes. Proceeding from the post-structuralist premise that discourse plays a crucial part in the generation of knowledge, power and social behaviour (Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard), the study addresses the ways in which the Gaelic and Sorbian elites incorporate the language aspect into narratives on cultural continuity and considers the implications of accelerated language shift towards English/German and the survivalist promotion of the ancestral medium for the maintenance of group boundaries. Its primary empirical data corpus comprises more than 100 interviews and a questionnaire survey (n=201) conducted during the late 1990s in peripheral parts of the Ghidhealtachd and bilingual territories of Lusatia, publications by Gaelic and Sorbian organisations, and relevant items from the local and national media. A brief exploration of the ways in which the two communities came to think of themselves as distinct reveals that a substantial legacy of cultural nationalism and pan-Slavism allowed the Sorbian intelligentsia to sustain a strong sense of ethnic difference throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, whereas Scotland's Gaels have never overtly embraced this paradigm in political terms. Their elite was confronted with its premises during their reinvention as Scotland's Celts and combined linguistic patriotism with calls for socioeconomic improvements during the 1880s, but it has been rather reluctant to portray contemporary and future users of the ancestral language as a distinct nation or ethnic group. To the present day, Gaels are inclined to perceive themselves to be a key component, and arguably the kernel, of the Scottish nation. The most significant overlap between Gaelic- and Sorbian-related revival discourses has been the notion that a complete decline of the traditional medium would seal the fate of the associated culture, though the underlying rationales indicate a gradual shift from an essentialising agenda of preservation and exclusion to a more liberal and pluricentric approach. A desire to withstand the homogenising forces of capitalist globalisation fuels purist attitudes with regard to specific cultural forms, many of which are thought to depend on the traditional medium and put native speakers with heartland links into positions of authority. At the same time, the Gaelic and Sorbian heritage are treated as sources of alternative values and wisdom, in which context Gaelic/Sorbian language ability is primarily valued as an access tool. Tensions between essentialist and dynamic perspectives also occur over the development of the languages themselves. They are enhanced by the assumption that the 'survival' of Gaelic and Sorbian depends in part on individuals who acquire and transmit them outside the bilingual districts, where an ability in the minority medium is more likely to generate subcultural, regional and political identities than a radical ethno-cultural reorientation. According to this study's findings, the linguocentric agendas of many Gaelic and Sorbian organisations can neither be attributed to a naive belief in linguistic determinism nor be dismissed as an entirely symbolic ingredient for the restoration of justice and pride where historic circumstances inflicted marginalisation and oppression. They are based on a justified concern that the complete demise of a linguistic boundary would make it impossible to generate separate discursive spaces, to which Gaelic and Sorbian culture have in most locations become reduced and for which a separate literature and separate electronic media are indispensable.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Research Areas:Masters and Doctorates > Theses
Middlesex University Schools and Centres > School of Media and Performing Arts > Media > English Language and Literature
ID Code:6353
Deposited On:04 Aug 2010 12:39
Last Modified:18 Jul 2014 12:44

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