Words of the World
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Words of the World : The Global Language System

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This bold and accessible study of human languages and communication explores issues which are at the forefront of today's globalized society.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 272 pages
  • 166 x 238 x 20mm | 566g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • black & white illustrations
  • 0745627471
  • 9780745627472

Back cover copy

This bold and accessible study of human languages and communicationexplores issues which are at the forefront of today's globalizedsociety.


The human species is divided into more than five thousandlanguage groups that do not understand each other. And yet thesegroups constitute one coherent world language system, connected bymultilingual speakers in a surprisingly powerful way. The chancesof a language thriving depend on its position in the system. Thereare thousands of small, peripheral languages, each connected to oneof a hundred central languages. The entire system is held togetherby one global language: English. A language is a'hypercollective' good: the more speakers it has, the higherits communication value for each one of them. Thus, when peoplethink that a language is gaining new speakers, that in itself is areason for them to want to learn it too. That is why, in an age ofglobalization, only a few languages remain for transnationalcommunication and these often prevail even in nationalsocieties.


This important book discusses a number of specificconstellations in detail: India, Indonesia, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa and the European Union. De Swaan concludes byproviding a sober but illuminating view of language policy inmultilingual societies. This book will be essential reading forthose studying sociology, communication studies andlinguistics.
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Table of contents

Preface. 1. Introduction: The Global Language System. 1.1 The Global Language System: a Galaxy of Languages. 1.2 A Historical Atlas of the World as a Language System. 1.3 Supercentral Constellations in the Present Language System. 1.4 Scope and Approach of the Book. 1.5 Plan of the Book. 2. The Political Economy of Language Constellations. 2.1 Languages as a Hypercollective Goodsa . 2.2 The Communication Potential of a Language: the Q--value. 3. Language, Culture and the Unequal Exchange of Texts. 3.1 Texts as Commodities in International Exchange. 3.2 Protectionism and Free Trade in Cultural Exchange. 3.3 Monoglossia, Polyglossia and Heteroglossia. 3.4 Discussion. 4. India: The Rivalry between Hindi and English. 4.1 Characterization of the Indian Constellation. 4.2 State Formation, Nation--Building and Language Unification. 4.3 The Vicissitudes of Language Policy in India. 4.4 Discussion. 5. The Triumph of Bahasa, Indonesia. 5.1 Gandhia s Dream. 5.2 The Rise of Malay. 5.3 The Demise of Dutch. 5.4 The Rejection of Javanese. 5.5 Discussion. 6. Africa: The Persistence of the Colonial Languages. 6.1 A Two by Three Comparison. 6.2 Three Francophone Constellations below the Sahara. 6.2.1 Rwanda, 6.2.2 Senegal, 6.2.3 Congo/Zaire. 6.3 Three English--Centered Constellations below the Sahara. 6.3.1 Botswana, 6.3.2 Tanzania, 6.3.3 Nigeria. 7. South Africa: The survival of the old language regime. 7.1 The language regime under Apartheid. 7.2 Language policy after Apartheid. 7.3 The dynamics of the constellation. 7.4 Discussion. 8. The European Union: The More Languages, the More English. 8.1 Civil Europe (1): Language Unification in National Constellations. 8.2 Civil Europe(2): Q--values in the European Union. 8.3 Institutional Europe (1): the Public Level. 8.4 Institutional Europe (2): the Bureaucracy. 8.5 Discussion. 9. Conclusions and Considerations. 9.1 Conclusions. 9.2 Considerations. Notes. References. Index.
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Review quote

"Abram de Swaan is the worlda s leading political sociologist of language. He has a profound knowledge of the complex history interlinking states and languages and an equally acute understanding of individual incentives to learn languages. Here he applies his insights and methods -- with surprising results ---- to globalization and its implications for the survival of world languages. Words of the World is both a pleasure to read and a remarkable contribution to political sociology." Professor David Laitin, Stanford University "...de Swaana s view is original and rich to the extent that it sheds new light on this problem...De Swaana s analysis is definitely new and fruitful for an understanding of the relations of power and language" Anais Bokobza, European University Institute, Florence, Italy "De Swaana s study is an impressive tour de force; it presents an original and refreshing social science perspective, is rich in empirical detail, rigorous in its theoretical elaboration, and written in an elegant and accessible style: a path--breaking study of language change and human communication in an age of globalisation." Johan Heilbron, Multilingual Matters "...this book is an important contribution to our understanding of the relationship among languages of the world in the era of globalisation. It is a good addition to the growing body of texts used in increasingly popular courses on a World English(es)a . Alamin Mazuri, The Ohio State University, USA
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About Abram De Swaan

Abram de Swaan is Chairman of the Amsterdam School of Social Research (ASSR) at the University of Amsterdam.
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Rating details

20 ratings
3.4 out of 5 stars
5 10% (2)
4 45% (9)
3 30% (6)
2 5% (1)
1 10% (2)
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