European Journal of Language Policy

When utopias become real

The case of Hebrew and Mandarin

European Journal of Language Policy (2022), 14, (1), 89–108.


The focus of this paper is the dichotomy of natural versus artificial languages, in the sense of naturally and historically developed languages versus artificially designed ones, and this is also the thread that links the two languages studied in this paper, Hebrew and Mandarin. To reclaim a dead language (Hebrew) and to create a national language (Mandarin) thanks to national language policies are valid goals, a priori. Even so, when some living languages have to die in the process, a deeper and different look becomes unavoidable. Our approach transcends the boundaries of the limited geographic areas studied in this paper, and could also be applied to other regions or territories where language revival or national language projects are being developed. If saving one language from extinction means consigning some others to it, linguists must consider carefully whether this is worth it.

L’objectif de cet article est la dichotomie entre les langues naturelles et artificielles, dans le sens des langues naturellement et historiquement développées par rapport aux langues artificiellement conçues, et c’est aussi le fil qui relie les deux langues étudiées dans cet article, l’hébreu et le mandarin. Récupérer une langue morte (hébreu) et créer une langue nationale (mandarin) grâce aux politiques linguistiques nationales sont des objectifs valides, a priori. Même ainsi, lorsque certaines langues vivantes doivent mourir dans le processus, un regard plus profond et différent devient inévitable. Notre approche transcende les frontières des zones géographiques limitées étudiées dans cet article et pourrait également être appliquée à d’autres régions ou territoires où la repris des langues ou des projets de langue nationale sont en cours de développement. Si sauver une langue de l’extinction signifie lui en confier d’autres, les linguistes doivent se demander si cela vaut la peine.

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Author details

Rovira, José María Santos