Language as an Aid and Barrier to Involvement in the National System


Kelman, Herbert C. 1971. “Language as an Aid and Barrier to Involvement in the National System.” University Press of Hawaii. University Press of Hawaii. Copy at
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Date Published:

Jan 1, 1971


The basic thesis that I would like to develop in this discussion is that language is a uniquely powerful instrument in unifying a diverse population and in involving individuals and subgroups in the national system. However, some of the very features of language that give it this power under some circumstances may, under other circumstances, become major sources of disintegration and internal conflict within a national system. These considerations should have some definite implications for language policy not only in developing nations but also in long–established nations marked by diglossia – whether officially recognized (as in Canada or in Belgium) or unrecognized (as in the United States). Specifically, I will try to argue that, while the development of a national language may be highly conducive to the creation and strengthening of national identity, the deliberate use of language for purposes of national identity may – at least in a multiethnic state – have more disruptive than unifying consequences.


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Last updated on 08/12/2016