Wars of Position: Language Policy, Counter-Hegemonies and Cultural Cleavages in Italy and Norway

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Abstract / Description of output

This thesis investigates the development of the present-day linguistic hegemonies within Italy and Norway as products of ongoing linguistic ‘wars of position’. Language activist movements have been key actors in these struggles, and this study seeks to address how such movements have operated in attempts to translate their linguistic ideologies into de facto language policy through mechanisms such as political agitation, propaganda and the use of language in public spaces. It also reveals which other extra-linguistic values and ideologies have become associated with or allied to these linguistic causes in recent years, how these ideologies have affected language policy, and whether such ideological alliances have been representative of language users’ ideologies.

The study is informed by an innovative methodological framework combining the theories and metaphors of Antonio Gramsci (including hegemony and wars of position as well as his linguistic writings) with the theories of Stein Rokkan on cultural-political cleavage structures and the relationships between centres and peripheries. These constructs and relationships are thereafter documented as ideologically defining strands running through the history of the movements studied, through reference to activist periodicals and party newspapers.

In Italy, the focus of the research is on the Lega Nord (Northern League), a far-right populist autonomist political movement. The Lega has sought to legitimise its imagination of a northern nation (‘Padania’) by portraying the dialects of northern Italy as minority languages, emphasising the hegemonic relationship between the Italian national language and northern dialects. The movement has also used this perception of northern dialects as peripheral and suppressed by Italian to bolster its depiction of ‘Padania’ as a wealthy periphery allegedly held back by central and southern Italy. Although this campaign has achieved some successes in increased visibility of dialects in public spaces, dialects largely remain restricted to ‘low’-status domains.

In Norway, the thesis devotes special attention to the post-war efforts of the counter-hegemonic campaign for the Nynorsk standard of Norwegian, which was devised as a common denominator for Norwegian dialects, as opposed to the hegemonic standard Bokmål, which is a Norwegianisation of written Danish. In opposing the challenges of globalisation and centralisation, the Nynorsk movement has retained a radical character and is generally associated with a left-wing variant of nationalism, a key part of the Norwegian cultural cleavage structure. The social argumentation of the Nynorsk movement was instrumental in its successful promotion of dialects, now seen as an unstigmatised means of spoken communication in all social contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Kruse, Arne, Supervisor
  • Messina, Davide, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date22 Nov 2011
Publication statusUnpublished - 2011


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