Language as an Object of National Passion: Reflections from Estonia

Emilia Pawlusz

Abstract This chapter explores the role of emotions and affective practices for language beliefs, acquisition and practices. It argues that affective orientations towards language comprise an important part of the linguistic culture of a community: the beliefs, attitudes and assumptions that largely shape the popular understanding of the role of language and in which language policies are embedded. While there is a growing interest in language policy beyond official legislation, there is still very little understanding of how the notion of language is constructed discursively, affectively and performatively. This chapter explores this angle using the case study of the Estonian choral song celebration, the largest state-supported event in Estonia. Song festivals have been intertwined with the process of nationbuilding since their beginning in the nineteenth century. This chapter analyzes how the song celebration serves as a site where emotions, especially love and anxiety, are discursively and performatively “attached” to the idea of national language. Such affective narratives inform the protectionist language policy of Estonia. Finally, this chapter opens a discussion on the possibility of the song festival becoming a site for creating an inclusive emotional patterning of language use. The primary data for the study was gathered in Estonia between 2013 and 2015, using participant observation at choral singing events, as well as semi-structured interviews with the song festival organizers.

Keywords Language and affect • Identity • Song festival • Informal nation-building

E. Pawlusz (*)

School of Governance, Law and society, Tallinn University, Tallinn, Estonia e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

M. Siiner et al. (eds.), Language Policy Beyond the State, Language Policy 14, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-52993-6_12

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