dimanche 27 novembre 2011

Language as a Religious Affair

An Estonian political scientist has said that nationalism is our main religion. I think it is more or less true, and we can analyze this religion, find out its main elements or components. I believe such a very important component of our national religion is the language. There is so much attention paid to it, there is so much discussion about it, and there is a nearly devotional attitude to it. Instead of typically religious discourse, we have a kind of pseudo-theological discourse about language. We have some elevated ideas about what the ideal Estonian must be, and there are legions of teachers, editors, proof readers, clerks and simply activists working with the language, making it more pure, more similar to the divine ideal. There, as in any religion or theology, are many inherent contradictions. The language, the mother tongue must be kept pure, it must be used in most correct way, uncorrupt by foreign loans and vulgar colloquial forms. But at the same time the language must be modern, it must be refurbished, remodelled continually, made more fit for the needs of the modern world, more close to the ideal. We have even a language police who must guarantee that only (uncorrupt) Estonian is used in public discourse. But at the same time Estonia wishes to be a 150% Western nation, and English is considered a most important feature in our Western identity. But, as in any religious discourse, the contradictions are either ignored or swept aside by either very banal or very sophisticated explanations. Our language as religion has also its prophets and high priests and, as I wrote, lots of mullahs or preachers who teach people how to use the language. Sometimes the high priests change their views or simply invent some new things that people must adopt, the old things should be abandoned (as info instead of teave). And, of course, the prophet, the platonically inspired person who, according to the semi-official doctrine, gave us the modern, Western-style Estonian language, is Johannes Aavik. Nowadays even our president has become one of the high priests of the sacred language, lecturing people about how the language must be used and refurbished. Here we see that our national(ist) religion is well organized, our state is also a kind of a church that guards the language from pernicious influences and regulates its use. Common people must observe its regulations, you are not supposed to write or speak as you will, but according to the rules and dogmas established by the Church.
What reminds me of Paul Valéry:

Honneur des hommes, saint langage,
Discours prophétique et paré...

Eh bien, nous y sommes... And, of course, from the glotto-ecclesiastic point of view I am a dangerous heretic who does not recognize the authority of the Church, obstinately refusing to use the established language. Maybe I am even considered a heresiarch.

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