Borders - Borderlands - Boundaries

Borders - Borderlands - Boundaries

Virginie Mamadouh

Linguistic similarities and differences produce social boundaries. Some boundaries are more important than others. State borders, which are primarily politically constructed territorial boundaries, are particularly important because the modern state has developed into the hegemonic political institution exercising its internal and external sovereignty. Territorial modern states have also regulated linguistic practices in their bounded territory, and linguistic characteristics have often been used as key markers to mobilize people as a nation within an existing state or alternatively to secede from an existing state and establish a separate state. As a result, state borders often coincide with linguistic boundaries and they reinforce each other. In multilingual states, language arrangements are often territorial, delimitating juxtaposed monolingual regions. In those cases administrative borders might reinforce linguistic boundaries.
Geographers traditionally distinguish between subsequent, antecedent, and superimposed boundaries. In the first case, the boundary has been drawn after a population established itself. It follows an existing cultural (linguistic) divide. In the second case the state boundary has been drawn first and different groups (i.e. people sharing similar cultural features like a language) settled later at the different sides of the boundary. In the third case, the state boundary has been established later and crossed existing patterns.
In Europe we find extremely old state boundaries (Portugal/Spain, Spain/France) and extremely recent ones (Kosovo/Serbia). Some states have been established as a response to national territorial claims based on national and linguistic identities: for example Slovenia, Slovakia or Kosovo. In other cases, linguistic boundaries followed old political boundaries: the limes of the Roman Empire as boundaries between Germanic and Romance languages. Yet in more numerous cases, state boundaries have been drawn across existing linguistic communities, and subsequent processes of state formation and nation building have either homogenized linguistically and culturally the population of the state or created ethnic minorities. European borderlands vary greatly linguistically (Knippenberg & Marcusse 1999).
Some state boundaries are clear cut linguistic boundaries (Spain/Portugal, although this is not true if Galician is conceived as a variant of Portuguese); others typically separate linguistic minorities from the main state where the language is spoken (for example Slovenian speakers in Italy and Austria, Hungarian speakers in Transylvania, German speakers in Poland and the Czech Republic), Finnish Speakers in Northern Sweden, Swedish speakers on the Åland islands and in Southern Finland, or linguistic minorities in both states (Basque speakers in Spain and France, Catalan speakers in the same two countries).
Finally some state boundaries separate states sharing the same language (like Austria and Germany, Belgium and France, Belgium and the Netherlands), while strongly institutionalized territorial linguistic boundaries (like the one between Flanders and Wallonia or the one between Southern and Northern Cyprus) are no established (official) state boundaries.
Both Europeanization and globalization have dramatically transformed the role of state borders. The European integration project aims at removing barriers to communication and mobility at the borders between Member States. By definition, globalization processes implies the intensification of (long distance) cross-border relations. In this context, linguistic similarities between groups on both sides of an existing state border can be instrumental in fostering cross- border encounters and initiatives.
Nevertheless, different institutional experiences may have created or expand differences in vocabulary, syntax, and pragmatics, between linguistic groups at both sides of the border and have generated asymmetrical power relations (for an extreme example see Stevenson 2002 for the impact of the division and the reunification of Germany on the German language). In other cases new states magnify small differences between language varieties to establish their national language (for example Norwegian standards versus Danish, and more recently efforts to accentuate and systematise the differences between Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin).
Geographers generally distinguish between borderlands according to the degree to which each borderland is integrated in its state territory and the degree to which both sides of the border are integrated with each others. The ideal embodied by the European integration project and more specifically the European Union is that of fully integrated borderlands. The Interreg programme of the European Commission does support this specific kind of cross-border integration and also impact on borderlands linked by a common language.
Finally both Europeanization and globalization have also stimulated international migration making linguistic superdiversity a key characteristic of contemporary urban regions and creating linguistic boundaries inside cities (sometimes linked to micro-territories dominated by a specific linguistic group) and transforming them in linguistic borderlands where similar communication strategies might be deployed as in communication crossing state borders.
Knippenberg, H. and Markusse, J., editors 1999, Nationalising and denationalising European border regions, 1800-2000, Views from geography and history. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Stevenson, P. 2002, Language and German disunity: A sociolinguistic history of East and West in Germany, 1945-2000 Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Amsterdam, June 2011


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