This is a subject much larger than the treatment I am about to give it. Linguistic homogenization occurs in modern states where regional dialects are marginalized and a standard dialect is advanced as the primary method for acceptable public communication. The powerful favoring a single dialect is nothing new, but now more than ever, states are able to impose this on the wider populace. European countries encourage one or two primary languages to be taught in school and used in public. America does something similar with Standard American English. Speaking a non-standard dialect is often seen as a barrier to employment and movement in higher social circles. Basically, the snobs keep you down if you don’t talk like they do.
I was reading on Language Log earlier about the Uniformitarian Principle. Uniformitarianism is simply the idea that things are now as they have always been, so we can learn how things were by learning how they are now. Language Log describes how modern Europe no longer holds the key to language in prehistoric Europe thanks to the ability of modern states to impose linguistic homogenization. Think about that for a second. Modern states, presumably democratic, are so powerful they even tell you how to talk. Perhaps even how you think. Is that a paranoid leap? Am I overstating it? Even absolute dictators of past centuries didn’t have that kind of power.
But it’s not like one single person is doing this. Instead they are doing it. The ineffable they. But if they are telling us how to think, why do we listen? We can’t help it, we’re too young when it happens, and then we become them.
Absolute dictators of the past could not do this for many reasons. They didn’t have the infrastructure to educate the masses, nor did they have popular media to transmit one dialect into every home on a daily basis. A population too large for all of its parts to remain in constant contact will begin to diverge dialectally. But educating the masses would have been looked down upon anyway since giving people too many ideas tends to make them question things like a single all-powerful leader calling all the shots. So now that we are educated enough to know all-powerful dictators are bad news, we have replaced them with power structures more complicated and inscrutable.
A recent post by Daniel Lemire posing a simple mathematical puzzle revealed in stark contrast the bars of my mental prison. So what are the bars like of this bigger prison we cannot see? Philip K Dick called it the Black Iron Prison. I’ve always found that concept appealing.