Center for the Study of Language and Society

How to use public language to dismantle a democracy: lessons from Hungary

Thursday, 2019/09/26, 16:15


The Forum Language and Society is a series of guest lectures on sociolinguistic topics. Doctoral students of the GSAH are credited with 0.25 ECTS per guest lecture attendance. CSLS MA students are credited with 1 ECTS after visiting 6 guest lectures.

Event organizer: Forum Language and Society
Speaker: Susan Gal (University of Chicago)
Date: 2019/09/26
Time: 16:15 - 17:45
Locality: F-122
Unitobler
Lerchenweg 36
3012 Bern
Characteristics: open to the public
free of charge

To the dismay of many in the EU, Hungary's FIDESZ Party has restricted civil society, undercut the independence of the judiciary, and stifled academic freedom. FIDESZ now controls the news media, denying access to other points of view. How can FIDESZ continue to claim democractic legitimacy? Language is deeply involved. I suggest the sociolinguistic concept of register helps us understand how public discourse contributes to such dismantling of democracy. Registers enact political differences, just as they signal identity categories. How do some ways of speaking get attached to one political party and not others? How do such party-registers spread from politics to other arenas of social life? Importantly, how do political discourses gain legitimacy for parties in ways that are below the awareness of many citizens, yet all the more persuasive? In answering these questions, I argue that FIDESZ implants its ways of speaking into highly authoritative discourses, undermining them and taking over their legitimacy. The general process is not peculiar to Hungary; U.S. and European history provide other examples.