THE CENTRAL NEXUS OF LANGUAGE MYTHS
This chapter lies almost at the centre of the book for a good reason. By looking closely at a short and, within the context of the whole work, not particularly significant extract from Higden’s Polychronicon, we were able to locate a rich nexus of language myths reaching further back than the fourteenth century, when Higden wrote the text. The myths dealt with in this chapter form the centre of a group of myths, some of a universal nature and others more specifically geared towards English, which drive ideological discourses on language. For this reason I have decided to represent the nexus of myths which represent the content of the present book in diagrammatic fashion at the end of this chapter (see fig. 5.2 ), indicating the overlaps and links between them. I have also indicated in which chapter each myth is dealt with, although some run like a red thread throughout the whole text.
The reader should not be too concerned if the myths that might be of more interest to her are only to be found in the chapters to follow. What is important at this stage is to demonstrate a discernible structure emerging out of the myths presented in this chapter, since those myths can be traced back furthest in time. It is of course no accident that the myth at the very centre of the diagram, the linguistic homogeneity myth drives the myths immediately contiguous to it and most of those myths are also present in this chapter. Apart from the superiority of English myth, which did not begin to emerge till the sixteenth century, the myths dealt with in this chapter are bunched closer to the centre of the diagram, the exceptions being the immutability myth and the death and decay myth, which appear in the analysis of Swift’s text in chapter 7.
Toward the bottom right of the diagram appears the central myth in relation to English, the superiority of English myth, two major components of which were dealt with in chapters 2 and 3. The following chapter deals with another aspect of superiority in the greatness myth. To the top left of the diagram I have arranged myths that will be discussed in chapters 8, 9 and 10, and they revolve around the third central myth, the legitimate language myth (which is, of course, standard English), either feeding into it or derived from it—for example, the polite language myth and the educated language
figure 5.2. Contacts between the myths and the chapters in which they appear (N.B. the “modern” and potential myths presented in chapters 4 and 11 have been omitted here)
myth . All three central myths are linked together and form the scaffolding into which the other myths are fitted.
The myths help to drive specific but interrelated ideological discourses on language and to construct discourse archives. For example, the ideology of the standard language (see Milroy & Milroy 1985) is driven by the myths above the linguistic homogeneity myth. The discourse of the North-South cultural divide is driven by the myths below and to the left of the linguistic homogeneity myth, and the ideological discourse of the superiority of the
English language, which is central to the present-day perception that English is the “global language” is driven by the myths below and to the right of the linguistic homogeneity myth. I have not related any of the myths in the diagram to chapters 4 and 11, since it is there that modern myths are in the process of formation. The following chapter focuses on the area of the superiority of English myths and deals with what I call the myth of greatness.