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[Photo: Johannes Timmermans]


Joep Leerssen

  • Modern European literature
  • Nationalism and the history of national movements
  • History of the humanities since 1800
  • Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe (Amsterdam University Press, 2018)
  • University of Amsterdam & Maastricht University

Keynote lecture

Joep Leerssen - Minor languages negotiating the rise and fall of the Public Sphere


Language standardization is arguably a modern, even late-modern process. It is related to the rise of print, the widespread distribution of texts, and the "offficial" use of language for educational and governance purposes. The parameters of that process are nation-state formation and the development of a public sphere. Minor languages and "dialects" can even be defined as those variants which are limited in their written standardization owing to a lacking or arrested nation-state autonomy or separate public sphere.

That definition allows us to identify strategies of minor-language survival in the uncongenial nationstate paradigm of late modernity: a recourse to antiquarian/philological status (e.g. Frisian and Provençal); a recourse to orality (lyricism, folklorism, song and transcribed speech, e.g. Breton, Scots English); a recourse to subsidiarity: communitarian small-case intimacy and possibly a hermetic, carnivalesque subversion of major-language dominance (Walloon, Limburgish, Kölsch, Viennese); a recourse to literary/cultural anticonventionalism.

In recent decades, however, the public sphere as characterized by Habermas en (implicitly) Anderson has been eroding, with print media being replaced by a new orality of audiovisual and social media. How does this shift affect the relationship between major and minor languages?




Joep Leerssen

I am Professor of Modern European Literature in the department of European Studies at the University of Amsterdam. In addition I hold a part-time research professorship at Maastricht University, where I work on the transnational aspects of the culture and history of the Limburg region.

A comparatist by formation, I study post-1800 cultural history mainly as a transnational circulation of ideas and mentalities; the emphasis is on literary and discursive sources, which I analyse in their rhetoric and poetics as well as historically. My research interests are:

  • nationalism and the history of national movements
  • the survival of 19th-century cultural nationalism as 20th-century banal nationalism and 21st-century ethnopopulism
  • the rhetoric and history of cultural and national stereotyping and ethnic characterization (“imagology”)
  • the history of border regions and cultural minorities, especially in the Low Countries
  • the history of the humanities since 1800, especially philology
  • digital humanities: the database-assisted capture, analysis and visualization of complex communicative networks, cultural practices and ideological diffusion patterns

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