Grammatik und Sozialkapital: Sprachliche Relativität in Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft

The modern democratic nation-state, together with its conceptual counterpart—the individual citizen believed to share in popular sovereignty—is a highly abstract, ahistorical concept. Nevertheless, the modern discourse of democratic government enjoys indisputable credit in Western societies.

Historical sociologists such as Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault have suggested that the legitimacy of modern government relies on an ‘official’ public discourse. From a comparative point of view, however, this analysis fails to explain why and how this discourse emerged and succeeded where it did, when it did.

In my doctoral thesis, I have argued that modern rational rule and popular sovereignty find support in a very peculiar pattern of Western culture which can be described as a combination of cognitive subjectivism (Individualismus) and moral submissiveness (Subjektivismus).

Empirically, this cultural pattern finds a reflex in the grammar of modern north-western European languages.

Around the year 1400, many European languages made an abrupt shift adopting certain gram­matical properties that reflect the foundations of the modern political order. Since that time, language has served as an important psychological resource underpinning the modern discourse of state-owned rational rule.

My empirical analysis of more than 900 languages and dialects indicates that the subject-prominent grammar of the modern lan­guages of Europe makes a vital contribution to the unquestioned authority of inter-subjective reason, hence the voluntary subjection of the ‘free’ human subject to democratic rule.

A similar shift had already occurred during the Charlemagne period when Germanic dialects started to emphasise individual agency and sentences were integrated into a coherent discourse by grammatical means. In the Renaissance period, finally, cultural subjectivism was ‘frozen’ by the standardization of language.

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