The Language Conflict Project (LCP) is an interdisciplinary collaborative across Political Science, Linguistics, and Digital Humanities studying the relationship between language and social conflict. The Project’s goal is to advance our understanding of ways in which language differences and policies correlate with the onset, escalation, persistence, and de-escalation of intrastate conflict. In the pursuit of this goal, we seek to implement a workable typology, to reveal useful generalizations to clarify the role that privileged/non-privileged language dichotomy plays in triggering and perpetuating such conflicts. Our typology includes these categories: (i) indigenous language conflict, (ii) geopolitical event-generated language conflict, (iii) migration generated language conflict, (iv) intra-language (dialect) conflict, (v) privileged vs. underprivileged language competition, (vi) global (colonial) vs. local language conflict. Our research questions include the following: Do language differences play a role in political and social conflict? Do different types of linguistic differences (phonological, lexical, syntactic, orthographic) correlate with different degrees of social and political conflict? What language rights and accommodations in law and policy (in education, commerce, media, health care, and religion) ameliorate or exacerbate conflict? How do parties to different types of language conflicts express these through social media? Our analysis of multiple conflicts and our aggregation of these will lead to the implementation of a Linguistic Freedom Index, designed to provide an objective measure of linguistic rights with respect to (i) language-related educational policy, (ii) language laws and ordinances, (iii) linguistic media freedom, and (iv) language-related effects on economic freedom and wealth disparity.
Broadly defined, language conflict is intrastate political tension or civil unrest between speakers of different languages. Language plays a central role in group and national identity and therefore provides an important indicator of deeper-seated political, social, and economic conflict. Furthermore, the essential role that language plays in every aspect of interpersonal transactions leads to it being instrumentalized to exact an economic, social, and political toll upon minority groups within a state. Through the combined use of linguistics and political science our aim is to broaden and revise how scholars and the public think about ethnicity, ethnic polarization, and ethnolinguistic conflict, by shedding light on the dynamics of internal conflict and its effects on national, regional, and global security. In addition, the results of this proposed research are likely to inform policies that could better manage and de-escalate civil conflict, through integrative processes that will promote political and economic security for speakers of different languages within states.
Previously, language-based conflicts were difficult to study empirically because we lack systematically gathered data regarding linguistic differences as well as data regarding the laws and policies that regulate those differences. In previous research on civil conflict, language difference is treated as a single variable when in reality it involves many independent components that differ in meaning from one context to another. To better understand these complexities, we seek to implement a workable typology that will reveal useful generalizations bearing on the role that exclusionary language policies play in triggering and perpetuating such conflicts. Our research questions include:
Background and Significance:
Interdisciplinary significance: The Project incorporates methods, findings, and concepts of linguistics into the study of conflict processes by political scientists and thereby contributes to a multi-disciplinary approach to study of social conflict. Because the understanding of social conflict draws from work across the social sciences—including sociology, psychology, political science/international relations, and geography—the contributions of an ethnolinguistic approach to conflict will have an impact beyond linguistics to the social sciences as a whole. At a fundamental level, the LCP is designed to demonstrate the importance and utility of explicitly incorporating a linguistic perspective to the study of international relations in general, and to conflict/conflict processes in particular. We argue that linguistic factors have mostly not been considered by International Relations (IR) scholars in conflict analysis, and that taking them into account will necessarily lead to a better understanding of contemporary intrastate conflicts. Given the importance of more completely specifying the theoretical context used in our analyses, the LCP will demonstrate how language and linguistic analysis can and should be included to study conflict in the global arena—to highlight the broader relevance of the study and understanding of language conflict, and its ethnolinguistic foundations, across the full range of analyses involved in the study of global social conflict.
Significance beyond academia: Through our public-facing website, we will reach beyond academia to a public audience that includes policy makers, diplomats, journalists, and leaders of international businesses and non-government organizations. The output of the LCP will inform policy makers designing language policy, and journalists reporting on civil conflict, while improving the operations of NGOs, IGOs, and international corporate entities in multilingual settings.