Skip to main content

News and events – University of Reading

Show access keys

News and events


A new issue of ReadingItaly is online ( This number is about the multifaceted experience of Italian Fascism and Antifascism abroad. In an interview with Tamara Colacicco, Stefano Luconi (University of Padua) introduces us to the Fascist regime's campaign in the USA. Claudia Baldoli (University of Newcastle) analyses the failure of the development of the Fasci in Germany in the 1930s. Tamara Colacicco (University of Reading) illustrates how the Fascist regime promoted the teaching of the Italian language and culture in UK as a means of propaganda. Finally, Manuele Cogni (University of Reading) focusses on how the Italian antifascist volunteers in the Spanish Civil War perceived their commitment in Spain.

The Making of Languages

A series of workshops on the political history of European languages

Italian Studies @ Reading - Department of Modern Languages and European Studies, University of Reading (UK)

Organised by Federico Faloppa and Alessandro Carlucci

Professor Giulio Lepschy (UCL)


Wednesday 4 June 2014 @ 4.00pm in HumSS G74, Whiteknights Campus, University of Reading

In his influential book Language and Politics (2006), John Joseph exposes naïve notions of language planning and purism, by reaffirming that 'a language is not a thing, but a practice always characterised by diversity, into which attempts at imposing unity are introduced. These attempts are what we normally mean by linguistic authority, but they inevitably bump up against the sort of authority represented by usage, the earlier practice, which has behind it the force of custom and a certain social authenticity. […] Ever since being institutionalised as the "scientific" study of language in the nineteenth century, linguistics has taken the position that any imposed authority in language is ultimately impotent in the face of the one authority that matters, namely, usage - what the people as a whole implicitly decides will be the course of their language' (Joseph 2006, p. 9).

At the same time, however, Joseph also warns against the limitations of narrowly defined, scientific approaches: language policies 'support a differential rate of change among various groups within the population, such that some will emerge as more conservative than others. This difference then serves as the basis for the differential distribution of resources and responsibilities, such that those who control the more conservative, "educated" forms, receive more than those who do not. Insofar as linguistics fails to take account of this massively important cultural force, linguists end up cutting themselves off from the issues involving language that matter to the bulk of the population because they and their children are directly affected by them' (p. 33). Moreover, by overstating the spontaneous functioning and development of language, linguists can also lose sight of how much in the internal history of their object of study - especially in literary and national languages - is in fact the product of explicit codification, or of more complex forms of cultural construction.

Starting from this awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of modern linguistics, this series of workshops will explore the following questions: Whose usage has been sanctioned, and by whose authority? Which usages have instead been more effectively opposed? What forms of prescriptivism have been more successful, and under what historical circumstances? How and to what extent has writing influenced oral speech? What were the political forces behind linguistic codification, and which sectors of the ruling elites were more actively involved? And finally, which social groups have been given - or denied - access to symbolic and material resources on the basis of linguistic norms?

In the light of recent theoretical and methodological innovations, the workshops focus on the traces left on language by the society in which it was (and continues to be) produced, and by the diverse ideological models which were invoked in its codification. This exploration of the links between historical and linguistic research will involve a series of leading experts, starting from Italian as a specific case-study and then also taking other languages into account.

(All welcome; for further information, please contact

We use Javascript to improve your experience on, but it looks like yours is turned off. Everything will still work, but it is even more beautiful with Javascript in action. Find out more about why and how to turn it back on here.
We also use cookies to improve your time on the site, for more information please see our cookie policy.

Back to top