Call for Papers

Seminar on
Prestige in Language and History:
Explorations in 18th- and 19th-century Europe

28–29 April, 2011
Tieteiden talo, Helsinki


Invited keynote speakers:

Studies of prestige comprise a multidisciplinary enterprise with links to research fields like sociolinguistics, network studies, social history, and cultural evolution. In Henrich & Gil-White (2001), prestige is defined as “noncoerced, interindividual, within-group, human status asymmetries”, or as freely conferred deference on an individual who excels in valued domains of activity. Prestige is a salient factor in human societies and networks. It affects our everyday lives, as prestigious groups or individuals serve as valued models e.g. for the choices we make and the attitudes we hold on many levels including lifestyles, consumer habits, affiliations, and language varieties. But how is prestige conferred on individuals or groups; who are the prestigious in different conditions; what sorts of consequences does prestige have in different domains of activity; and how do prestige patterns change in time and how can we study prestige in language and history? Understanding prestige as a multifaceted factor in human behaviour and interpersonal relationships will ultimately help us see prestige patterns as culturally and socially conditioned changing constructs.

This multidisciplinary seminar targets historical linguists and historians in particular and aims at a dialogue between scholars of different disciplinary backgrounds. We especially encourage younger scholars to participate in our discussion. We invite presentations that deal with prestige as a sociocultural and/or linguistic phenomenon in the diverse context of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe, taking into account such factors as the rise of the middle class, nationalism and political upheavals, increasing interest in vernacular languages, urbanisation, the industrial revolution, and changes in arts, science and literature. Possible topics include, for example, prestige patterns in different social, economic and political conditions, consumer cultures, language standardization, power relations and contact situations, group cohesion, status-oriented vs. identity-oriented prestige, and lack or loss of prestige.

The seminar is organized by the Language and Identity research group in the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Helsinki. The language of the seminar is English. Please send your abstract (max. 300 words) to by 28 February, 2011.