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When we feel our language is under attack

I am still living in the UK. One morning, a campaigning leaflet falls on my doormat: ‘Show your English pride!’, ‘English values, English History & English culture in our schools!’.

Meanwhile, in the papers, the British vox pop expresses its fear that ‘we will soon all be speaking German’.

In the US, too, cars brandish bumper stickers with ‘We Speak English Here’ or ‘One Nation, One Language’, whilst their drivers are waiting for their president to ‘Make America Great Again’.

These anxieties around the status of the language we speak find a precedent in the nineteenth-century Netherlands. There, it was the idea of an English, French or German linguistic dominance that went down badly with some. One of these people was Marie Adrien Perk, brother of feminist Betsy Perk and a Protestant minister in Dordrecht. Although he may not have shared the political vision of the campaigning leaflet, his sentiments were much the same.

In a short article for The Low Countries, I show the level of chauvinism the nineteenth century already reached when it comes to language; or rather: how much of our present chauvinism has been learnt from our nineteenth-century predecessors.

Many people spoke condescendingly about other languages. This has everything to do with the photo below, explained in the article. But in particular, Marie Adrien Perk shows people’s anxieties about the status of their own language. You can find the full article here.

Injured skier on his way to the train station. Labouche Frères, ‘Les Sports d’Hiver dans les Pyrenées / 22. – Au Concours International de Ski de Cauterets: Blessé porté à la Gare dans une Chaise à Porteur’ (Toulouse), from the private Collections de Cartes Postales Anciennes.

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