Solidarity and power in German : language as political action : a contribution to the socio-cultural history of the German language

  • M.R. Townson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Germany's latest attempt at unification raises again the question of German nationhood and nationality. The present study examines the links between the development of the German language and the political history of Germany, principally in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
By examining the role of language in the establishment and exercise of political power and in the creation of national and group solidarity in Germany, the study both provides insights into the nature of language as political action and contributes to the socio-cultural history of the German language.
The language-theoretical hypothesis on which the study is based sees language as a central factor in political action, and opposes the notion that language is a reflection of underlying political 'realities' which exist independently of language. Language is viewed as language-in-text which performs identifiable functions. Following Leech, five functions are distinguished, two of which (the regulative and the phatic) are regarded as central to political processes.
The phatic function is tested against the role of the German language as a creator and symbol of national identity, with particular attention being paid to concepts of the 'purity' of the language.
The regulative function (under which a persuasive function is also subsumed) is illustrated using the examples of German fascist discourse and selected cases from German history post-1945.
In addition, the interactions are examined between language change and socio-economic change by postulating that language change is both a condition and consequence of socio-economic change, in that socio-economic change both requires and conditions changes in the communicative environment.
Finally, three politocolinguistic case studies from the eight and ninth decades of the twentieth century are introduced in order to demonstrate specific ways in which language has been deployed in an attempt to create political realities, thus verifying the initial hypothesis of the centrality of language to the political process.
Date of AwardDec 1991
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorNigel B Reeves (Supervisor)


  • German
  • German language
  • German history
  • German politics
  • linguistics

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