University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > MEITS Multilingualism Seminars > Challenging monolingual histories: Multilingual evidence from the Dutch-German borderlands in the long nineteenth century

Challenging monolingual histories: Multilingual evidence from the Dutch-German borderlands in the long nineteenth century

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Anne Helene Halbout.

Traditionally, European language histories (e.g. of German, Dutch and English) have been portrayed as being first and foremost monolingual. This strong focus has become particularly evident in the period from c. 1800 onwards, when the dominant ideology of ‘one language–one nation’ suppressed any form of linguistic diversity, such as dialects, regional or minority languages, for the benefit of a homogeneous national or standard language. Against the background of politically segregated nation-states, borderlands have often been ‘invisibilised’ in language historiography, leading to the exclusion of contact phenomena and multilingual practices.

This presentation takes a historical-sociolinguistic perspective ‘from below’, exploring archival sources from the Dutch-German borderlands and their potential to challenge the monolingual bias. Zooming in on a collection of letters written by so-called hannekemaaiers, i.e. (Low) German seasonal labourers who crossed the border to the Netherlands every year to work as haymakers or grass-mowers, I will outline the specific contact setting of labour migration in the long nineteenth century. Furthermore, it will be discussed how the remarkable linguistic practices found in these handwritten ego-documents can contribute to a wider understanding of post-1800 language history beyond monolingualism and standard language ideology.

This talk is part of the MEITS Multilingualism Seminars series.

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