Vol 2 No 1 (2006): American Studies and the Dilemmas of Multilingualism—RIAS Vol. 2, Summer–Fall (2/2006)
The abolition, in the course of the nineteenth century, of the scriptum latinum—Latin composition as a condition for entry into the university—is impossible to separate from the pull towards the language of ‘the people’ during the nationalistic era in European politics. This revocation of Latin as a ‘language requirement’ for higher education entailed both its purification as a ‘classical’ language and the recursive monolingualization of the literary history of the emergent European nation-states, which at that point urgently needed to fortify their precarious political borders on the cultural level. This development has for a large part eclipsed the reality that, until far into the 16th and 17th centuries, Latin was not just a ‘Gelehrtensprache’ but served as a volatile medium of international expression—and of artistic creation for authors as far apart as Francesco Petrarca, Pierre de Ronsard, John Milton, and János Csezmicei—which effortlessly crossed the Atlantic to the New World.
Today, questions like ‘Do you speak American?’ seem to echo the motto that was for a long time inscribed in the statutes of the university of Paris: latine loqui, pie vivere (‘to speak Latin is to live piously’). In more than one respect, English has now taken up the functions that Latin filled for several centuries, until the growing importance of French led to Latin’s gradual demise as a vehicle of international communication. In many educational institutions all over the world, English language tests such as TOEFL can be seen as presentday equivalents of the scriptum latinum. We may well wonder whether and how English will in its turn be fractured into a multiplicity of vernaculars—each representing the voice of ‘the people’—and be declared ‘dead.’ Obviously, contrary to the position of Latin since late Antiquity, English can fall back on a large body of first language speakers from Antigua to Zimbabwe. But is not the split between ‘first’ and ‘second’ language users—like that between ‘living’ and ‘dead’ cultures—itself a construct of a monolingual age now increasingly under pressure (although, obviously, we have always been more multilingual than is often supposed)? [...]", (Read more in the Editorial)