“’Mapping Humans’ in Central and Eastern European Ideological Debates: Are Languages Natural Objects?"

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Patrick Sériot

(Université de Lausanne)

“’Mapping Humans’ in Central and Eastern European Ideological Debates: Are Languages Natural Objects?"


Paper presented to the conference:

"Mapping Humans: From Body to Cosmos"

13-15 September 2011, Oxford


Third Annual Conference of the Berendel Foundation, in association with the University of Leicester and the Cantemir Institute at the University of Oxford


Summary: Plants belong to a particular geographical landscape, but not human beings. Nevertheless, the idea of geographical determinism has never ceased to impose itself in the discussions about collective identities. Throughout these debates about collective belonging, the place of language is central. In the 19th Century, linguistics has constantly been instrumentalized to promote projects of nation and state building, relying on scientific reasoning. Knowing the real place of a language in the universal system of classification meant to know whose state the speakers of this language are or should be citizens, and where a state boundary should be drawn, on scientific basis.

The problem is that the criterea for classifying and distinguishing languages are contradictory and fuzzy, and that the same facts can be interpreted in various ways. In this paper I will examine various situations of language debates in Central and Eastern Europe to try to highlight the underlying naturalist biases of the discourse on language in academic and folk linguistics. The Eurasianist ideology of the interwar period will be the main topic.


Short Bio: Patrick Sériotis Head of the Department of Slavonic studies at the University of Lausanne, specialist in the history and compared epistemology of human sciences in Eastern and Western Europe. His many publications in several languages include a seminal book on the intellectual origins of structuralism in Central and Eastern Europe Structure et totalité. Les origines intellectuelles du structuralisme en Europe centrale et orientale (Paris: P.U.F., 1999; second edition, Limoges: Lambert-Lucas, 2012; English translation forthcoming).


[Recorded and edited by Simon Wilson]



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