David Laitin - The Historical Sources of Language Policy

Date
Mon, Apr 5 2021, 11:30am - 12:30pm
David D. Laitin
Abstract

The designation of an official language or languages for administration is an essential institutional element of state rationalization, along with standard weights and measures and legal currency. Factors that determine this choice have not been fully accounted for. This paper provides a framework to explain official language policies for post-colonial states. The framework highlights two historical factors that are keys to predicting the use of indigenous languages in formal domains: the availability of a written tradition by a major group in the country in the era before missionary and/or colonial exposure, and the degree of linguistic fractionalization within the colonially-set borders. A set of vignettes illustrates the workings of these historical factors in accounting for post-colonial language policies.

Biography

David D. Laitin is the James T. Watkins IV and Elise V. Watkins Professor of Political Science at Stanford University. He received his BA from Swarthmore College, and then served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Somalia and Grenada, where he became national tennis champion in 1970. Back in the US, he received his Ph.D. in political science from UC Berkeley, working under the direction of Ernst Haas and Hanna Pitkin.

He has taught at three great universities: UCSD (1975-87), the University of Chicago (1987-1999) and now at Stanford. Over his career, as a student of comparative politics, he has conducted field research in Somalia, Yorubaland (Nigeria), Catalonia (Spain), Estonia, and France, all the time focusing on issues of language and religion, and how these cultural phenomena link nation to state. His books include Politics, Language and Thought: The Somali Experience (1977), Hegemony and Culture: Politics and Religious Change among the Yoruba (1986), Language Repertoires and State Construction in Africa (1992), Identity in Formation: The Russian-Speaking Populations in the Near Abroad (1998); Nations, States and Violence (2007); Why Muslim Integration Fails in Christian-Heritage Societies (2016); and African Politics Since Independence (2019).

Over the past decade, mostly in collaboration with James Fearon, he has published several papers on ethnicity, ethnic cooperation, the sources of civil war, and on policies that work to settle civil wars. Laitin has also collaborated with Alan Krueger on international terrorism and with Eli Berman on suicide terrorism.

In 2008-2009, with support from the National Science Foundation, and with a visiting appointment at Sciences-Po Paris, Laitin conducted ethnographic, survey and experimental research on Muslim integration into France, seeking to assess the magnitude of religious discrimination and isolate the mechanisms that sustain it. The initial results from that project were published in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" (2010).

In 2016, Laitin became co-director of Stanford's Immigration Policy Lab, and has co-authored several papers published in "Science", "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" and "Nature Human Behavior" that estimate the effects of policy on immigrant integration.

Laitin has been a recipient of fellowships from the Howard Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Russell Sage Foundation. He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.