ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Chasing the Improbable

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The term “nation” was drawn by the English language, during its historical phase known as Middle English, from the Latin root nationem signifying birth and ancestry. In its semantic trajectory within the English language, “nation” was initially rooted in the idea of “belonging to a geographical area or location.” It decidedly referred to an area, territory and the people who inhabited it. The idea that a nation should ideally have a single language that will keep the people bound together was added to its range of signification during the early 19th century. This was the time when a new kind of longing for the past was emerging among the English painters and poets as a result of the devastation of the countryside due to rapid industrialisation. In that mood of nostalgia, ancient poets—Homer and Aeschylus, in particular—started getting described as vates or prophets, and language—more particularly, “the original” language—as a spiritually potent agency of human liberation. For instance, in P B Shelley’s essay A Defence of Poetry (1821), he lauds poetic language as a means of providing “harmony and unity” to the prophetic vision of poets.

This was precisely the time when the struggle for creating a united Italy had started. The unscientific association between a given language and a given people as “nation” started emerging during this post-Napoleon era of European politics. By the time Germany emerged as a nation during the 1860s, the idea that, in addition to a shared history and a “cohesive people,” a common language too is an essential feature of a nation. With language, there were other features of intangible culture and history that got added to the prevalent meanings of the word nation. For instance, the Irish Home Rule League decidedly revolved around Catholic Christianity; and in Spain and Germany, musical heritage and metaphysical philosophy too came to be part of their idea of nationhood.

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Updated On : 10th Dec, 2019

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