C5 "Language and conflict"

Lutz Rzehak

The goal of this sub-project is to elaborate on the relationship of language and conflict in the regional and methodological perspectives of the Crossroads Asia competence network. The project tries to move beyond intuitively plausible notions of the kind that conflict is sometimes linked with dysfunctions of human communication, on the one hand, and that communicative strategies are involved in the repair of conflict, on the other hand. For the study a conflict was chosen in which language is involved not only in the conflict discourse but presents the contentious point, i.e. the cause of the conflict. The outbreak of the conflict to be studied can be seen in events of 2008 when students revolted in Mazar-e Sharif and Kabul demanding that the ‘Pashto’ word pōhantūn should be replaced by the ‘pure Persian’ word dānešgāh in the official Dari names of their universities. The conflict field can be described as the demand for linguistic divergence in Afghanistan. This demand is embedded into a system of power which has essentially changed after the fall of the Taliban. First analyses of habitual linguistic behavior, however, show that the demand for linguistic divergence goes hand in hand with simultaneous processes of linguistic convergence on various levels of communication (written language vs. spoken language) and in various registers of language (formal speech vs. informal speech). Processes of linguistic divergence and convergence inside Afghanistan go hand in hand with processes of linguistic convergence in a crossroads perspective, mainly with regard to the Persian language of Iran and the Pashto language of Pakistan.

For the study of the conflict an approach is chosen that tries to be both theoretically informed and sensitive to empirical detail. The study is based upon the idea that every linguistic interaction bears the traces of the social structure that it both expresses and helps to reproduce. The key concept to be employed is that of a habitus that governs individuals how to act and provides guiding principles showing what is appropriate in the circumstances and what is not. The dispositions of the linguistic habitus are socially constructed. What is offered on the ‘linguistic market’ is not language as a self-sufficient system of signs, but rather speech as the situated realization of the system by particular speakers and discourses. For the study this means that language as it is seen by language activists must be distinguished from language as it is realized in habitual linguistic behavior. Sensitivity to the empirical detail will be achieved by basing the study on as much as possible data that can give evidence. of political demands in the fields of language policy and linguistic behavior, on the one hand, and of habitual linguistic behavior in various fields of communication and for various registers of language, on the other hand. The conflict will be analyzed within a time-frame that covers the last decade mainly.