Language Policy and the Formation of National Identity: Diverse Experiences

William W. Bostock


This article will examine some of the ways that political leaders attempt to create, control, and otherwise manage national identity through language policy. This appraisal will be assisted by some historical and contemporary case studies demonstrating the use of language policy in this process, drawn from the Third Reich and Nazi-occupied Poland, Sri Lanka, and pre- and post-majority rule South Africa. This article reaches the general conclusion that it is possible to influence the formation of national identity through language policy by using language to: (i)define the identity boundary, (ii) identify the nation through its prevailing ontology, and (iii) manage feelings—particularlyfears, doubts, and uncertainties—for selected purposes. Whether a sense of national identity has been calmed or disturbed will have implications for order or conflict, peace or war, and accommodation or genocide.


Language; identity; language policy; Nazi Germany; Sri Lanka; South Africa

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