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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by Akademie Verlag 2012

“Zivilisierte” und “unzivilisierte” Sprachen: Historische Sprachbewertung und das wirklich Fremde in Sprachen

Sandy C. Kutzner


Concerning the historical evaluation of languages, research has been done primarily for Romance and Germanic languages. Until now, a systematic approach to the evaluation of non-European languages is wanting. The following paper examines some of the main characteristics of attitudes towards ‘exotic’ and ‘wild’ languages. The focus is not exclusively on the criteria of language evaluation. For a broader perspective, the historical context is taken into consideration by asking: Since when and why have language evaluations been made and by whom? I argue that the perception of languages was strongly influenced by the rise of new theories on the gradual cultural development of mankind during the 18th century. While cultural and linguistic progression have been equalized, ‘exotic’ languages and their speech communities became examples of the lowest and most raw stages of development. This applies particularly to Amerindian and Pacific languages. European evaluators (e.g., missionaries and travelers) concentrated first of all on the conclusion that, compared to their mother tongues, ‘exotic’ languages suffered from a lack of letters and words. The evaluative comparison of ‘civilized’ Indo-European languages and ‘uncivilized’ non-European languages is characterized by the assumed superiority of European languages and culture.