What is language? A response to Philippe van Parijs

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When we consider the issue of linguistic justice, we must define what we mean by language. Standardisation of languages is closely associated with the development of the nation state, and the de Saussurian conception of language as system is in concert with nationalism and its divisions. In the early twenty-first century, however, this view of the world as a mosaic of stable national monolingualisms is outdated. In a globalising world, much of the political, social and economic structure that is developing is transnational and patterns of contact, both real and virtual, have become extraordinarily complex. In the resulting communities of communication of this superdiverse world, much language practice is more function driven than in the recent past. New practices mean that we cannot consider questions of linguistic justice in this new world order using the linguistic toolkit of the old. The flows, exchanges and networks of globalisation present us with a new paradigm and we need to recalibrate concepts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-130
JournalCritical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 18 May 2015


  • standard language
  • monolingualism
  • nation-building
  • globalisation
  • superdiversity
  • languaging


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