A focus on the language

In language standardisation processes, one variety emerges over time or is “selected” to serve as the mythical homogeneous variety or Kultursprache. But the selection not only denies other varieties any sociocultural validity; it also denies the validity of variability and heterogeneity with respect to human language in general. This final step constitutes the mythical construction of the language from a language—that is, the construction of the only legitimate language for the group and by extension for the nation-state. Legitimacy is then characterised in terms of homogeneity and immutability. Obviously, the mythical construction of t he language feeds negative value judgments of other languages (or language varieties) and of those who do not speak the language. It is, in other words, a process of “othering”. The myths that are used to validate the superiority of the language as a homogeneous system form part of the discursive ideology of standardisation (cf. Milroy & Milroy 1999; Bex & Watts 1999; Cameron 1995; Crowley 2003; Bonfiglio 2002; Grillo 1989), and they will be dealt with in more detail in later chapters. Essentially, however, a belief in a homogeneous legitimate language is (somewhat perversely) linked to the belief in a homogeneous polity within a homogeneous territory, what we now know as the “nation-state”. The questions that occupy us in this chapter are thus the following: [1] [2] [3]

I shall begin by considering where we might find statements concerning language in another chronicle tradition than that of the ASC in the following section and then by looking closely at a frequently quoted and central passage from Higden’s Polychronicon.

  • [1] How far back in the history of what we call “English” can the myths thatform the archetypal linguistic homogeneity myth be traced?
  • [2] What are those myths and can they be related to myths about other
  • [3] “languages”?
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