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Physical Violence Against a Natural Language: What Is Logoclastic Violence?

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Abstract

In her account of a decades-long controversy about bilingual town signs in Austria, Jennifer M. Gully speaks of the logoclastic violence unleashed in the 1972 political event known as Ortstafelsturm “storm on the town signs” as a remainder of the violence that surrounds the imposition of a national language in the proclamation of a nation-state (Gully, 2011, p. 5f). The Ortstafelsturm was a series of events in Carinthia, Austria, where 100 to 300 individuals tore down bilingual street signs that were put up the days before by the federal government in areas where a linguistic minority lives, thereby starting one of the most vexed, complex, and puzzling phenomena of post-war Austria (Gully, 2011, p. 4f). With “the proclamation of a nation-state” Gully refers to the formation of the Republic of German-Austria after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Unfortunately Gully provides no definition of logoclastic “language-breaking” violence. However, the phenomenon thus dubbed is an interesting and difficult to classify case, not of violence by means of performative language, but – reversely – of physical and political violence apparently against a natural language as such. To answer the title question, which is the aim of my paper and my presentation, I will first briefly sketch the Carinthian setting, within which the first known instance of logoclastic violence emerged, and suggest how it could generalize to other cases of bilingual conflict, like Spanish in the United States or Thai in China. Next I will apply Ernest Gellner’s and Benedict Anderson’s theories of nationalism to the Ortstafelsturm. I claim that, while with Gellner we can explain how bilingualism can be seen as a threatening economic advantage in post-war Austria and with Anderson we can explain the ideological radicalization and shifting identities that came with the Ortstafelsturm, the linguistic diversity under threat in Carinthia is neither plausibly imagined nor invented in their technical use of these terms. Finally I will propose that logoclastic violence is violence defined not by its target, which can be as diverse as legal wordings, objects, people, …, but by its dynamic, which is a political struggle not between different nationalisms and languages, but between monolingualism and /or bilingualism and / or multilingualism within one community.
Physical Violence Against a Natural Language: What Is Logoclastic Violence?
Reverse Engineering:
If it refers correctly to the Ortstafelsturm and
if it identifies an interesting phenomenon,
what does it mean?
I suggest that logoclastic violence is violence
defined not by its target, which can be as diverse as
laws, objects, people, …,
“The logoclastic violence
unleashed in the 1972
Ortstafelsturm is a
remainder of the violence
that surrounds the
imposition of a national
language in the
proclamation of a nation-
state.” (Gully, 2011, p. 5f)
Gully, J. M. (2011). Bilingual Signs in Carinthia: International Treaties, the, and the Spaces of German. Transit, 7(1). Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/9vv4c23p.pdf
In the decades that
followed, political
maneuverings, legal
opinions, and the public’s
actions combined to render
the Ortstafelfrage [town signs
question, trans. mine] one of
the most vexed, complex,
and puzzling phenomena
of post-war Austria.”
(Gully, 2011, p. 4f)
History Definition
Reverse Performatives:
physical violence against a natural language
Etiology of the Ortstafelsturm:
Collapse of Austro-Hungary 1918
Austro-Slovene Conflict, Abwehrkampf 1919
Plebiscite 1920
Austrian Anschluss 1938
State Treaty 1955
Execution of State Treaty 1972
Ortstafelsturm 1972
Factors for the Definition:
Comparison to iconoclasm
Plebiscite and identity
Two periods of neglect
Two styles of imagining
but by its dynamic, which is an imaginative
struggle not between languages, but between
monolingualism and /or bilingualism and / or
multilingualism within one (national) community.
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