Unexpected Consequences
Language Planning and Slovak Nationalism



This piece analyzes the history and pre-history of Slovak nationalism with an emphasis on contingency: Czechoslovakism, Hungaro-Slavism, "North Hungarian Slavism" and Pan-Slavism are the center of attention, not Slovak nationalism in its modern form. Slovaks ubiquitously proclaimed loyalty to Hungary, and even to a “Hungarian nation”: they imagined Hungary as a multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic state. The same intellectuals, resisting Hungarian attempts at cultural assimilation, also expressed devotion to linguistically defined nations, most frequently the “Slavic” nation, sometimes to “Czechoslav” national concepts. But how did this dual attraction to Hungary and (Czecho)Slavia result in Slovak particularist nationalism?

The answer to this riddle lies in the unintended consequences of language planning: Pan-Slavic and Hungarian nationalism inspired Slovak intellectuals to codify a Slovak literary language. This was originally imagined as a “literary dialect” of the Slavic language as spoken in Hungary. However, literacy in this orthography created the material basis for a Slovak “imagined community,” and thus for Slovak nationalism. By spanning sociolinguistics and history, this piece shows how the social construction of nation-hood and language-hood interacted with each other.