Nationalism and Language – Sociolinguistic Perspectives

 In Nationalism and Language, we explore how links between language, individuals and the nation are currently being challenged, sustained and transformed through communicative practices in the social reality of everyday life.

The formation of Denmark as a nation-state in the 19th century was premised on the construction of Danish as a homogenous national language, which served as a symbol of national identity. The Danish language also played a role in the wider Danish empire, e.g. in Greenland where Danish has been present since the 18th century as the language of the colonial power.

Today the social and linguistic homogeneity of nation-states is radically challenged as the world we inhabit is becoming increasingly interconnected. At the same time, nationalist sentiments are gaining strength, promoting the idea of ‘the nation’ as a linguistically and socio-culturally coherent community.

Closely entwined social and linguistic processes lie at the heart of these ongoing struggles over the status of the nation-state. Yet, the interplay between the processes is at present virtually unresearched and severely undertheorized, leaving a fundamental gap in the understanding of contemporary societal change. This is the gap we aim to fill by working towards a coherent account of how language use in everyday life is implicated in ongoing societal change.

We focus on Denmark, including Greenland, as an exemplary case for the study of contemporary sociolinguistic change. Our data come from societal domains which we see as central in the current (de-) or (re-)construction of links between language and nation, specifically, education, transnational companies, public sector institutions and the tourism industry.

Methodologically, we combine qualitative and quantitative observation-based methods with experimental research.


Martha Sif Karrebæk
, Associate Professor at Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics, works within the field of multilingualism in the Danish state. Karrebæk is concerned with how language is tied up to ideological questions, and how multilingualism is sustained or suppressed, accepted or erased, in the everyday life of children and professionals such as teachers, judges and interpreters. Karrebæk has been studying questions of how change occurs and how it is embedded in power relations – both as the individual acquires a linguistic repertoire and as old concepts are influenced by media and political developments. Her main data is language in use, and she has been working in various societal domains: pre-school, mainstream education, mother tongue education, the court-room (and the medical practice, as well as restaurants and other commercial food settings. Karrebæk is currently leading the project INTERPRETING: Sociolinguistic perspectives on challenges in interpreting encounters in the Danish public sector.

Marie Maegaard is Associate Professor at Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics, and director of the LANCHART Centre. She is a sociolinguist and works primarily within the field of sociolinguistic change, linguistic commodification and language, gender & sexuality. Her research on sociolinguistic change is concerned with how social change and linguistic change are interwoven, and how linguistic change is not merely a biproduct of social change, but an integral part of it. In a national Danish context, she has been working on the linguistic homogenization of the Danish nation-state, concerned with the dominance and the production of “standard Danish”. The commodification aspect has mainly been studied in tourism and restaurant contexts, drawing on theories of authenticity. Maegaard has studied linguistic issues of gender and sexuality with a view to coloniality and homonationalism.

Janus Mortensen is Associate Professor of language policy at Centre for Internationalisation and Parallel Language (CIP). He specializes in the study of sociolinguistic change, with a particular focus on the interplay between processes of internationalisation and sociolinguistic change in universities and multinational companies. Within this area, a central theme in his research is the language ideological and language political tensions surrounding the increased use of English as a lingua franca vs. the use of national languages in the Nordic countries. He is a member of the SLICE network which focuses on standard language ideology in contemporary Europe, and is currently heading a collaborative research project on the formation of social and linguistic norms in transient multilingual communities (the TMC project), funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark | Humanities.

Janus Spindler Møller        is Associate Professor in sociolinguistics at the Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics. His main field of interest concerns how everyday interaction and language ideologies interrelate in field sites characterized by linguistic diversity. A specific point of interest has been how participants orient to norms of monolingual and polylingual language use. From a methodical perspective of linguistic ethnography, he has produced a range of case studies that analyse how expectations to e.g. monolingual language use interrelate with how the participants grasp their social world and links to senses of belonging. Møller is currently leading a longitudinal study of relations between language use and language norms among children and adolescents in a Copenhagen school (the Everyday Languaging project). Furthermore, he is involved in a project studying social media use in families (SoMeFamily).