Language conflict seen from the perspective of the rationalist and romantic models: new developments1

  • René Dirven Emeritus University Duisburg-Essen, Germany, Beekstraat 39, B-2800 Mechelen (Belgium)
  • Martin Pütz Universität Koblenz-Landau, Campus Landau, FB6 Anglistik, MarkStr 40, 76829, Landau/Pfalz, Germany


This paper aims to present an outline of some major types of language contact and conflict situations encountered worldwide by making reference to two models of language policy: the rationalist model, which focuses on the ideological role of language such as English as an instrument for wider communication and education; and the romantic model, in which for example post-colonial English is generally perceived as a threat to the ecolinguistic situation in multi-ethnic and multilingual societies. First the notion of ‘conflict' will be situated within its socio-historical context with reference to Fishman's earlier harmony model and a critique thereof. Reference to various older types of language conflict situations in Europe (France, Wales, Spain) will show that communities and language planners alike made different uses of the two models in question, each with different outcomes for the various parties and language groups involved. Moving from the ‘inner circle' (Europe) to the ‘outer circle' of ‘exported' European languages (i.e. to the USA, Africa, India), it will be argued that language conflict often arises as a result of the imposition by European powers of one dominant language and the marginalisation or even neglect of indigenous languages. The paper concludes by suggesting that language conflict situations are not to be understood as mechanistic, self-fulfilling developments but rather as a complex result of ideological, attitudinal and policy-driven evaluations, measures and implementations .

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2007, 25(3): 303–317

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eISSN: 1727-9461
print ISSN: 1607-3614