Linguistic Change and Politics

”Peace to the pubs! War on cellphones!!"

In the course of the lecture series „The Power of Language“, which took place in cooperation with the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in early summer of 2006 in Munich, the comparatist and winner of the Goethe Medal, Prof. Dr. Chetana Nagavajara from Bangkok, gave a speech on the development from the oral tradition to the written word to media dominance using Thailand as an example.


"The inestimable treasures of Thailand’s oral culture inevitably awaken a longing for “lost orality” (with obvious references to the “lost paradise”). But the awareness of the contrast between and at the same time the mutual enrichment of the oral tradition and the written word can give valuable insights into linguistic phenomena. Thailand provides an interesting case study, as its traditional written culture was open only to a restricted, educated circle; and book culture, including the art of printing, was not introduced until the 19th century. A country lacking immunity was invaded by the new media before the written word could take hold.

The technologised, globalised and commercialised present proudly regards itself as the information age in which a new cellphone-based chattiness – albeit lacking eloquence – paradoxically heralds the impoverishment of the language, a reflection of the general spiritual and intellectual degeneration. A fragile written culture can hardly defend itself against the omnipotence of the media and ends up impotent. Only a profound understanding of the honoured old oral tradition – which fully recognised the power of language as an aesthetic experience as well – can show us the path of salvation. Instead of media-based communication we should return to real human contact."

”Peace to the pubs! War on cellphones!”


Professor Dr. Chetana Nagavajara is Professor emeritus at Silpakorn University in Bangkok and Head of the TRF Research Project on Criticism. He was awarded the Goethe Medal in 1973 and holds the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Here you will find the English version of Prof. Dr. Chetana Nagavajara's speech

Disketten-SymbolOn the Power, Powerlessness and Omnipotence of Language: From Oral Culture through Written Culture to Media Domination (pdf, 54 KB)

TV-SymbolSlideshow of the speech



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