Discuss the Importance of Language in the Development of the Nation State and / or Cultural Identity

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Discuss the importance of language in the development of the nation state and / or cultural identity.

There are various different ways in which people interact with one another, communication being the most common, and language being the most common form of communication. We use it to convey our emotions, thoughts and feelings, and to express ourselves. Language is an absolutely integral part of the survival of the human race, and a key aspect of various cultures. Whatever is considered meaningful to a group of individuals - from their daily routine to less regular traditions and rituals - constitutes a culture, and is obeyed and treated with respect by all members. Language is merely one such component, being both part of daily life and part of tradition, yet it is one of the most important. Whether this language is used by large percentages of the world's populations, such as English, or by significantly smaller groups, such as ethnic minorities who may speak a language of their own, it is undoubtedly a cornerstone of culture and vital to the development of a nation. For this essay, I will be discussing the role of language in the development of both the nation state and cultural identity, although I shall focus primarily on the latter.

The idea of the nation state, or 'nationalism', covers a broader spectrum than culture, making it 'notoriously difficult to define'�. Nationalism unifies generations of people, even those who have never met. It is embedded with cultural practices and social behaviours, transcending time and location, and comes as a result of shared beliefs and values, expressed through social behaviour and traditional objects. It is a product of community, having developed from smaller social relations, and has expanded to cover a much larger group of people. These people were united through various factors, such as location, history, and language. Let us take Germany during the early 1500s, for example. Between 1520 and 1540, three times more books were published in German than during the previous twenty years�, due, largely, to Martin Luther and his infamous thesis. In fact, Luther's work accounted for roughly a third of all German works sold between 1518 and 1525. It is safe to say that Luther was, essentially, the first author who was able to sell new books purely on the basis of his name. Events such as these are what laid the foundations for national consciousness, first by creating means of communication in a language other than Latin, and secondly by providing reading material, rather than simply spoken word.

The transition from Latin to colloquial languages established geographic limits providing a sense of shared space among people. Gradually, readers would become aware of the thousands of other readers within their language boundaries, and that they were all unified by this. Print languages also helped stabilise and solidify a language, as it was now no longer 'subject to the individualising ... habits of monastic scribes'�. Languages began to be catalogued, standardised through dictionaries. In this way, we can see the influence of language on the development of the state. Language connects people with one another; even if they have no common interests, are of different generations, and of a different social status, language unites people, who together form a nation. There are a few exceptions to this; for example, Spain and Latin America both speak Spanish, yet they are of different nations, with very different cultural practices and behaviours. Also, many countries in Africa speak multiple languages, as many tribes or groups have their own ethnic language. Many of these tribes also speak whatever language was left to them by a previous colonial ruler, such as French in the Congo from the time of Belgian rule. In this case, language would not be a unifying contribution to the idea of the nation state, as the nation is divided by many different languages. French is not the mother...
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