View Full Version : Linguistics and Ideology in the Study of Language

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007, 11:33 PM


Introductory remarks
Among the participants in this `theme session' on "Language and Ideology" I need not dwell on the history of the term `ideology' at any length. If the French non-Marxist sociologist-philosopher Raymond Boudon, in a 330-page monograph devoted to the origin and diverging uses of `idéologie' (Boudon 1986), did not succeed in coming up with a universally accepted definition of the term, nor succeeded in rescuing it from its largely negative connotations, I shall not try to bore the audience with my own attempt. We know that when the French philosopher A. L. C. Destutt de Tracy (17541836) in 1796 coined `idéologie', it was intended to refer to nothing more than a theory of ideas, conceived within a sensorialist view of mind in the tradition of Condillac with practical and socially beneficial intentions, notably in the arena of public education. Given the Republican convictions of Destutt and his followers, the Idéologues soon came under fire from Napoleon who shifted the term to the political realm, accusing them of ignoring political reality for abstract ideas. Marx, in The German Ideology written during 18451846, followed up on Napoleon's negative slant and used the term to refer to a false consciousness that is contradicted by the reality found in everyday material life. `Ideology' has since been much more a term of abuse than a well-defined concept of scholarly discourse. Perhaps this meeting today will succeed in putting a more positive spin on both the concept and the term.

It has become fashionable during the 1990s to make use of the word `ideology' in book titles (cf. Joseph & Taylor 1990, Simpson 1993, Huck & Goldsmith 1995, Schieffelin et al. 1998) there is even a textbook on the subject (Eagleton 1991), and as far as I can see, in each case something different is meant by `ideology', if it is given a definition at all. Kathryn Woolard (1998), while offering a fairly informative account of the different strands of uses of the term (5-9), states, discouragingly: "I use the terms `linguistic ideology,' `language ideology,' and `ideologies of language' interchangeably [], although differences among them can be detected in separate traditions of use" (p.4). Maybe, given such state of affairs, I should offer at least something like an operational definition for the present purpose after all?

As it will become obvious from what I am trying to say today, the subject of my own paper differs significantly from most of the papers presented here. I am not talking about language and ideology, but of linguistics and ideology, i.e., my focus is not on the use or abuse of language in the promotion of particular ideas or actions, but on specific, conscious or subconscious underpinnings of arguments made or maintained within the science of language, i.e., the field of linguistics, which is often presumed to be guided only by value-free scientific principles in the search of truth. In other words, my paper deals with the discipline, the profession of linguistics, not language uses and linguistic discourses of any kind, if `linguistic' is interpreted in the sense of German sprachlich (French langagier), i.e., "pertaining to language", not sprachwissenschaftlich (French linguistique).

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