April 14, 2010

Language and Nationalism

According to Merriam Webster the definition of nationalism is the “loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially: a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.” How is this loyalty and devotion created though?

The Middle East has experienced multiple nationalist movements over its history. Historians often note that the preservation of Persian (Farsi) kept Iranian society connected. Iranian governments worked extra hard to make sure that classes were taught in Persian and that they protected their cultural heritage through preserving Persian in everyday life. Additionally, Turkish-speaking Ottomans controlled Arab lands. The Arabs retained their identity by continuing to use Arabic. According to Yasir Suleiman, author of The Arabic Language and National Identity, argues, “Formulations of Arab nationalism, whether embryonic or fully fledged in character, are invariably built around the potential and capacity of Arabic in its standard form to act as the linchpin of the identity of all those who share it as their common language. A positive and indissoluble link is therefore established between language and national identity in discourse of this type.” (224) Arabic unites each country individually, as well as the region as a whole. The connection of Arabic has helped many countries retain their territorial integrity besides increasing odds against it.

In America, we often discuss the need to make English our national language. According to this history it could be argued that not having English could be a threat to our nationalistic identity. But, the American connection to English goes beyond the question of legality and continues to be strong and lasting.

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