Calls for Papers and Panels:

Prescriptivism and patriotism from nationalism to globalization

August 17-19, 2009. New College, University of Toronto, Canada.

This international conference centres on the historical and contemporary links between linguistic prescriptivism and political patriotism. Two research questions inform it. What roles have domestic politics, globalization, or transnational migration patterns played in the emergence of linguistic varieties like Standard English, Scots, Singlish, International French, chiac, English and French creoles? And to what extent have these varieties been shaped by prescriptive attitudes and instruments like dictionaries? “Prescriptivism and patriotism” is inspired by previous meetings and publications on linguistic prescriptivism: one at the University of Sheffield with a symposium on eighteenth-century English (2003); another at the University of Catania on prescriptivism in later modern English more generally (2006).

The conference theme of linguistic prescriptivism – the idea that one language or dialect is better than another and ought to be the norm for the whole speech community – has strong but not straightforward connections with politics, both domestic and international. Linguistic prescriptivism has traditionally been linked with the development of European nation-states. Because of debates about the definition and existence of ‘nationalism’, the administrative promotion of European vernaculars over Latin has a complicated connection with the development of European national identities. Rather clearer connections between prescriptivism and patriotism arise from both European and colonial promotion of one dialect of the vernacular over others, of ‘national’ vernaculars over indigenous languages or, more recently, over immigrant languages.

In the global context, local languages and local varieties of international languages have risen in both overt and covert prestige as expressions of identity, especially after a former colony’s independence. Yet international Englishes remain useful economic tools and retain prestige. In such settings as Singapore, the media’s use of Singlish and the government’s promotion of Good English are in conflict as models of national identity. Moreover, while similar tensions between local and global models of identity and legitimacy pervade la francophonie, the particularity of its linguistic politics can be illustrated by contrasting Quebec with the minority communities in the rest of Canada. Finally, the role of the media in establishing language norms raises the broader question of the instruments of prescription and the social authority of their agents. Prescriptivism is often associated with such top-down mechanisms as government policies, language academies, and schools. However, its methods can be informal as well as institutional: in-group politeness norms, for instance, might prescribe the use of non-prestige varieties in particular contexts.

The Conference Committee welcomes the submission of proposals for papers and panels on historical and contemporary topics that explore the connections between linguistic and political patriotism. Taking place at New College, University of Toronto, and reflecting its location in the vibrant venue of Toronto, Canada, this themed conference will feature both of Canada’s official languages as well as their associated creoles. 

While this conference has its basis in language studies and linguistics, we hope to further dialogue with scholars engaged in linguistic research in such fields as anthropology, education, history, literary studies, political science, sociology, translation, theatre and film, and/or aboriginal, African, Asian, Canadian, Caribbean, and other area studies. Approaches might include language contact, missionary linguistics, post-colonial theory, diaspora studies, Anglophone and Francophone identities, alterity studies, gender and linguistic nationalism, and creoles.

We intend to disseminate our findings in a collection of essays that contextualize the formal or informal promotion of particular languages and/or varieties in a particular political setting.

Talks should be no longer than twenty minutes in length. Those interested in participating are invited to submit abstracts of 250-500 words describing their proposed papers, with a provisional title, and specifying the language of the talk. The deadline for submissions is October 15, 2008.

Electronic submissions should be sent as MS-Word attachments and the name of any document referred to in the covering letter. Please include a brief CV including citizenship, institutional affiliation(s), and status (i.e., grad student, post-doc, faculty, independent scholar). Papers will be considered for publication in the proceedings.

Enquiries and submissions to

Carol Percy (Department of English at New College) at

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