Publication details [#64277]

Beeman, William, ed. 2018. Benedict Anderson’s imagined communities. John Benjamins.
Publication type
Book – edited volume
Publication language


Benedict Anderson’s great work, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (Anderson 1983; hereafter IC) has been hailed as the “best known single work in nationalism studies” (Breuilly 2016: 625). His work has had a huge affect throughout the social sciences. Much of Anderson’s formulation relies on observations about the interest of linguistics, communication, and standardization of language in community formation and identities. It is therefore paradoxical that few linguists have dealth with Anderson’s work. Even scarcer are debates of the implications of Anderson’s work from the view of pragmatics. This essay tries to start an exploratory debate of the many pragmatic matters raised by the notion of Imagined Communities as laid out in Anderson’s important work. Anderson’s work handles macro-social processes in which societies have shifted from local collectives with faiths to individuals, hierarchical political structures, economic mutualities or religious affiliations to structures where individuals obtain a collective self-identification that is coterminous with a “nation,” an abstraction that may or may not be enclosed within the political boundaries of a state. Linguists, especially researchers concerned with pragmatics, are also concerned with generalizable conduct, sentiments and ideologies shared by large populations. However, they are also concerned with individual conduct and variability in communicational conduct. The following debate attempts to “unpack” the linguistic facets of Anderson’s notion of the imagined community. It concludes that the idea of a “language” as a unifying principle for an imagined community is a broadly accepted idealization of a linguistic reality. In fact, “imagined communities” may espouse and revere the idea that its members share a unified language, but in fact they must overlook remarkable linguistic diversity in order to preserve this belief. In short, “imagined communities” also embody “imagined linguistic unity.”