The Disciplinary Power of Grammar: How Language Structures Govern Mentality
The grammatical structure of the languages of north western Europe, combined with certain language games typically used by caregivers and teachers speaking these languages, make a vital contribution to the unquestioned authority of inter-subjective reason in Western cultures; hence the voluntary subjection of the ‘free’ Western individual to rational democratic rule (Meyer-Schwarzenberger, forthcoming). The present paper aims to link this ﬁnding, which has emerged from my theoretical and empirical research on social capital, with the conceptual frameworks of Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu and other historical sociologists concerned with social discipline. Bourdieu, for instance, suggested that modern government relies on the received legitimacy of an ‘Ofﬁcial’ public discourse; as I shall argue, this Ofﬁcial discourse builds on a more general cultural inclination towards abstract rationality, which is inherently associated with modern grammar. Beginning in the Middle Ages, the grammaticalization of anaphoric relationships in north western European languages gave rise to obligatory subject pronouns which invoke the presuppositions of every statement in an explicit way (Truckenbrodt, 2006); the resulting integration of discourse creates a ﬂavour of necessity and unison which is absent in other languages, and which helps teachers and caregivers to vest particular authority in the ‘Great Other’ by means of appropriate language games (cf. Salecl, 1994). Thus, grammar serves as an important psychological resource underpinning the discourses of positive law, rational rule, and democratic governance in Western societies. At a meta-theoretical level, this assertion implies that Bourdieu’s and other theories of social discipline are applicable to these societies only.
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