Keith Langston: Language Planning and Its Limits: the Case of Croatian (Annual Naylor Memorial Lecture)

May 21, 2017
Friday, March 30, 2018 - 4:00pm to 6:30pm
Thompson Library, 11th floor reading room
Keith Langston

The 21st Kenneth E. Naylor Memorial Lecture in South Slavic Linguistics will be presented by Dr. Keith Langston, Professor of Slavic Studies and Linguistics, and Department Head of the Department of Linguistics at the University of Georgia. There will be a reception immediately following the lecture.

"Language Planning and Its Limits: the Case of Croatian"

Despite the typical rejection of prescriptivism by linguists as something “unnatural” and external to the system of a given language, from another perspective attempts to manage language in various ways are pervasive in human society and are therefore a “natural” component of language use. Language planning research seeks to understand such conscious choices made by speakers. Although much of this research has focused on the role of policy makers and the implementation of effective strategies (for example, in the development of a standard language, as in the model of language planning processes proposed by Einar Haugen, or in official policies regarding minority languages), language planning also concerns the sociolinguistic behavior of individual speakers, and involves beliefs about language and issues of politics, identity, authority, and prestige.

Croatian language planning is an especially interesting case, due to the specific historical development of the standard language and political changes that took place in the 20th century. Changes to the Croatian norm that have been promoted since 1990 can be characterized as an attempt to restandardize an already existing norm, primarily for symbolic reasons. They partly represent an effort to further differentiate the language from other closely related varieties, especially Serbian, in order to more firmly establish the status of Croatian as an autonomous national language, but they also reflect the concern of language planners with the ever-increasing influence of English, which some view as an existential threat. Their recommendations mainly concern the choice of specific lexical items, but also include grammatical features and orthographic rules. While advocating changes in some areas, linguistic authorities have been conservative in other respects, arguing for the maintenance of other prescriptive norms that are not typical of most contemporary Croatian usage. This talk considers the motivations behind these choices and examines data from corpora and other sources to help determine how speakers of the language have responded to language planning efforts. Although there is some evidence of success, the results have been decidedly mixed, and changes to the prescriptive norm remain a source of controversy.

 

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