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The Rhetoric of Origin: Language and Exclusion in Historical Perspective


I take my cues from the printed program of this conference which states that “the concepts of a national community based on ancestral lineage and cultural heritage have been called into question.” In the following I would like to distinguish more clearly between blood line on the one hand and cultural, especially linguistic tradition on the other and suggest that, while the rhetoric of the first is losing, the rhetoric of the second is gaining momentum. The recent culture wars concerning bilingualism in the U.S. are only one strong indication of this trend. Another is the fact that many of the 100,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who were identified as Jews in Russia, are now treated as Russians in Germany because the ethnic identification gave way to linguistic identification. The controversies surrounding the German/Russian debate are only the most recent developments in a long history of linguistic exclusion of alterity in German culture.

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