What Is the Concept of Globalization Good for Paper
ISSN: 0043-8243 (Print) 1470-1375 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rwar20
Old World globalization and the Columbian
exchange: comparison and contrast
Nicole Boivin , Dorian Q Fuller & Alison Crowther
To cite this article: Nicole Boivin , Dorian Q Fuller & Alison Crowther (2012) Old World
globalization and the Columbian exchange: comparison and contrast, World Archaeology, 44:3,
452-469, DOI: 10.1080/00438243.2012.729404
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/00438243.2012.729404
Published online: 15 Nov 2012.
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Old World globalization and the
Columbian exchange: comparison and
Nicole Boivin, Dorian Q Fuller and Alison Crowther
A recent paper by Jones et al. (Food globalization in prehistory, World Archaeology, 2011, 43(4),
665–75) explores a prehistoric ‘Trans-Eurasian’ episode of food globalization characterized by the
long-distance exchange of starch crops. Drawing upon a comparison to the Columbian Exchange,
they emphasize the role of fast-growing crops in optimizing productivity, giving minimal
consideration to other drivers. Here we re-evaluate the sequence and timing of the Trans-Eurasian
exchange and give greater consideration to the social dimensions of plant translocation. We outline a
model for thinking about plant translocations that highlights the way the conceptualization and use
of introduced plants changes through time, with social factors frequently dominating in the early
Bronze Age; Eurasia; Africa; archaeobotany; crop exchanges; trade.
The ﬁnal years of the ﬁfteenth century, which witnessed the sea voyages of Christopher
Columbus and Vasco da Gama, mark for many scholars the beginning of an age of
globalization that has culminated in the emergence of the intensively interconnected world
of today (O’Meara et al. 2000). Challenging this more orthodox view, however, is the work
of a variety of historians, archaeologists and others that traces processes of globalization
and signiﬁcant webs of connectivity into a deeper and often non-European past (Bentley
1993; Gills and Thompson 2006; Wolf 1982). Linked to the latter theme is a recent World
Archaeology article by Jones et al. (2011) that focuses on the translocation of food crops as
part of ancient trade networks and processes of ‘food globalization’ (Kiple 2007). In their
World Archaeology Vol. 44(3): 452–469 Debates in World Archaeology
ª 2012 Taylor & Francis ISSN 0043-8243 print/1470-1375 online
Old World globalization and the Columbian exchange
paper, Jones et al. focus on documenting and explaining the movement of individual crops
across central Asia, pushing the earliest exchanges back to the sixth millennium BC.
Drawing upon a comparison oﬀered by Andrew Sherratt (2006) between the movement of
goods and species along these routes in the third to second millennium BC as part of what
he termed ‘the Trans-Eurasian Exchange’ and the later ‘Columbian Exchange’ between the
Old and New Worlds, Jones et al. attempt to shed more light on the putative earlier Silk
Road crop exchanges by exploring the degree to which they are driven by a shared set of
factors. In particular, they ask ‘Why move starch?’ (Jones et al. 2011: 667) to areas that
already possess starchy crops; and oﬀer three potential drivers, classed as ecological,
economic and cultural. Their discussion, however, focuses mainly on ecological drivers,
such as the advantages of fast-maturing crops, risk-minimization strategies and multicropping, and the other drivers contribute little to their examples or their overall model.
The Trans-Eurasian Exchange undoubtedly did have some parallels with the later
Columbian Exchange, particularly in the sense that it involved the movement not just of
goods, technologies and people, but also crops, animals and diseases. The comparison
should not be taken too far, however. Regardless of what one’s views are on precisely when
‘globalization’ began, it is increasingly clear to many scholars that processes of longdistance connectivity, interaction, exchange and mutual inﬂuence emerged in a gradual,
ﬂuctuating and uneven way in the Old World. With the Columbian Exchange, by contrast,
the process began abruptly, and was complete in many respects in as little as a hundred
years. This period, and the few hundred years that followed, saw the dislocation of millions
of people, the extermination of many more in large part through the introduction of new
diseases, and the expansion of cash-cropping on a remarkable scale (Crosby 2004; Denevan
1976; Mintz 1985). In contrast to the earlier trans-Asian exchanges, not only are the speeds
and outcomes diﬀerent, but also the processes and drivers, all of which problematize Jones
and colleagues’ attempt to draw upon the Columbian Exchange to oﬀer insights into the
earlier Old World exchanges. In this paper, we re-examine the drivers of early crop
translocations and the data that Jones et al. present, and ultimately propose a more socially
informed and complex model of crop translocations along the proto-Silk Road.
Crop translocations as a social process
Jones et al. (2011) focus largely on ecological explanations in answer to their question
‘Why move starch?’ In doing so they overlook another, perhaps more relevant,
observation of Sherratt’s: that the movement of crops reﬂects a social process. Sherratt
argued that archaeologists need to move beyond a focus on subsistence and explore ‘the
tradable potential of many organic products’ (1999: 14), and their place within ‘the sphere
of competition, emulation, negotiation, performance and communication’ (1999: 30). Our
own studies suggest that Sherratt’s point is critical, particularly in the early stages of plant
translocation, when exotic crops are ﬁrst accepted into agricultural societies. The wider
ethnographic and historical literature in addition provides many discussions, usually brief,
on the ways in which plants are moved into new landscapes as part of broader social and
economic processes in a range of societies of varying degrees of ‘complexity’. Hugh-Jones
and Posey, for example, observed that modern Amazonian forager-farmers, in the course
Nicole Boivin et al.
of their travels, collected plants ‘from near and far, not for gain but for curiosity, pleasure
and value’ (cited in Hastorf 1999: 39), which they then planted along local paths and in
encircling kitchen gardens. In such a non-directed and experimental context, probably
common in the past, acquiring starchy crops when one already has starchy crops makes
sense. The addition of similar crops to a pre-existing repertoire also makes sense when the
limitations of food processing technologies to the actual use of new crops are taken into
account (e.g. Leach 1999). It was, furthermore, easier in many ways to adopt a crop that
was in certain respects similar to crops one already had, because technologies of processing
are often, as Sillar (1996) has argued, ‘philosophical technologies’ that reﬂect particular
cultural ‘ways of doing’ that can be highly resistant to change (also Boivin 2008).
Accordingly, prehistoric Chinese farmers processed wheat not into bread, but steamed or
boiled grains whole (Bray 1984), reﬂecting a propensity to boil starchy crops rather than
bake them in ovens (Fuller and Rowlands 2011).
Of course, while a casual and ﬂuid process of crop acquisition may explain some
translocations, it is clear that on other occasions crops were deliberately sought out.
Although this sometimes reﬂected a desire to increase agricultural stability and production,
we suggest that crops were probably more frequently sought in ancient times for social,
ritual, medicinal and particularly prestige, reasons. The link between the acquisition of
crops from distant locales and social prestige is illustrated by various examples including, in
Africa, historical accounts describing the import of mango and coconut trees from the East
African coast to the interior as settlements sought to emulate socially superior Swahili coast
towns. Growing these species of trees, which came to the Swahili coast from India and
South-East Asia through the Indian Ocean trade, made interior settlements appear more
cosmopolitan and provided exotic foodstuﬀs that served the display ambitions of local
chiefs (Helms 1993). The general relationship between distance and power in a range of preindustrial societies has been explored in some detail by Helms (1988, 1993), whose crosscultural comparisons indicate that societies often place signiﬁcant value, cosmological and
otherwise, upon goods and substances obtained from outside their boundaries. Her work
makes sense of paradoxical phenomena like the ancient spice trade, in which ‘sovereigns
pledged their prestige, and navigators risked their lives . . . to redirect the distribution of a
few inessential and today almost irrelevant vegetable products’ (Keay 2006: xi).
Philosophers and geographers in both ancient China and the Roman Empire decried the
vast amounts of money and resources that were wasted on obtaining spices, silks and other
foreign luxuries of no real consequence beyond their social prestige value (Barﬁeld 2001;
Fitzpatrick 2011; Young 2001). Accordingly, as spices became most readily available from
the seventeenth century, becoming less expensive and thus less exotic, their use in luxury
cooking actually declined (Montanari 1994: 119; Turner 2004).
The close relationship between prestige, power and the translocation of exotic plants is
clear from numerous other examples from the ancient world. The Egyptian queen
Hatshepsut, in her second millennium BC temple at Deir el-Bahri, for example, boasts
about her expedition to the distant land of Punt and the many exotic things, including
cuttings of incense trees, that she has brought back (Kitchen 1993; Meeks 2003). Pollard
(2009: 320), meanwhile, describes a similar form of ‘botanical imperialism’ that led elite
Romans to transplant ﬂora from across the Roman empire to the gardens of the Italic
peninsula, including citrus fruit from the Far East, cherry trees from the Pontic region of
Old World globalization and the Columbian exchange
Asia Minor, peaches from Syria, and pomegranates from North Africa. The spread of
spices, garden trees and vines to distant parts of the Roman Empire has accordingly been
documented archaeologically (e.g. Livarda 2011; van der Veen 2011; van der Veen et al.
2008). Colonial gardens, ﬁlled with the fruits of war, conquest and trade, served as
ideological statements about the power of the empire and its rulers. Watson (1983) also
describes the importance of colonial gardens and the ways that rulers both sought and
were presented with exotic plants from distant lands. He notes the role of exotic plants and
plant products in deﬁning social status in the Islamic world, and the processes of
emulation that subsequently led to their wider use (Watson 1983: 101).
The value placed on exoticism in the ancient world is also attested to by the bizarre and
outlandish stories that were frequently attached to certain highly sought-after plants.
Herodotus, for example, described frankincense as being guarded by tiny winged serpents,
and cinnamon as a plant collected by cliﬀ-dwelling birds (Keay 2006: 4–5; Smith 2001).
The important magical and medicinal uses of many early crops and spices (Turner 2004)
can be understood in relation to these exotic and supra-normal features. Rice, for
example, ﬁrst known as an exotic from the east in Roman times, and found alongside
imported spices at Red Sea sites (van der Veen 2011), came to be a medicinal crop in late
Roman and early Medieval Europe (Decker 2009). Sugar, too, derived in particular from
sugar cane, was regarded by the medieval apothecary as a powerful component of
medicines (Dalby 2000: 27; Freedman 2008: 12). Other plants had magical and ritual roles,
a pre-eminent example being the incense that was shipped and caravanned around the
ancient world and played such an important role in fumigating temples and churches, and
attracting gods (Neilson 1986). The unusual sensual qualities of these plants, particularly
when burned, are obviously part of their power, but starchy crops can also feature in
ritual. Various ritual and symbolic uses of the banana in Africa, to where it was imported
from Asia, illustrate this point (e.g. Ngomou 2010; Wilson 1954).
The link between plants and identity is also relevant. Watson (1983) has stressed the
unsung role of everyday peasants and people in shifting crops around the Islamic world as
part of processes of conquest, pilgrimage, travel and resettlement, stressing the
commonness of migration under the Islamic Caliphate. Carney and Rosomoﬀ have
meanwhile shed light on the overlooked role of West African slaves in translocating crops
to the New World, leading to the Africanization of plantation foodways and the creation
of ‘fusion dishes and memory cuisines’ (2009: 177). While crops moved as part of processes
of resettlement undoubtedly played a role in subsistence, they also had a clear role to play
in the creation and negotiation of memory and identity in new social contexts.
Crop introductions and productivity increases: the (often) long delay
The Trans-Eurasian Exchange and other Old World crop translocations did alter and
transform indigenous agricultural practices, productivity and resilience. We argue,
however, that these kinds of transformations were by and large not the reason that crops
were translocated as part of long-distance networks. If production of more calories had
been a goal of acquiring new crops, we would expect rapid uptake and large-scale
consumption of novel staples. Instead, there was often a delay – of centuries, if not in some
Nicole Boivin et al.
cases millennia – between the introduction of a crop into a completely new environment
and its growth on a signiﬁcant scale. That the transformation of native agricultural
systems did not occur until later periods indicates that it was an outcome rather than a
goal of crop translocations. Old World equivalents of Hugh-Jones and Posey’s foragerfarmer gardens in the Amazon are probably where most translocated crops ended up, and
stayed for some time – that or the edges of ﬁelds where established staple crops were
growing. Crops planted in this way might come and go, and regional reintroductions were
probably not uncommon. Gardens were not just for small-scale societies either; as the
above examples from the Roman and Islamic worlds attest, gardens could be imperial
warehouses of known biodiversity whose occupants might be grown for a long time as
exotics before they came to be grown on any substantial scale around the empire.
A time lag between crop introduction and importance as a calorie source is illustrated by
several historical examples. Rice’s medicinal use in Europe began in late Roman times, and
it only spread as a subsistence crop amongst the poor of Spain and Italy in the ﬁfteenth
century, when food shortages were increasingly common (Montanari 1994: 101–2, 131). A
similar slow introduction of rice into established agricultural systems is seen on the African
Swahili coast, where rice is initially found in single digit quantities from its ﬁrst appearance
in the seventh to tenth centuries, and only comes to be grown on a signiﬁcant scale after the
eleventh century, as part of processes of social change and Islamization (Walshaw 2010).
Sugar, meanwhile, was introduced to Europe as an exotic spice by the Medieval period, but
only became a widespread sweetener there with the rise of cash-cropping in the Iberian
empires of the ﬁfteenth century (Mintz 1985). Prior to this era, cane sugar was simply
another exotic spice, of high value and potency. Andrew Watson’s (1983) analysis of
agricultural changes during the Islamic Caliphate highlights the complexity of processes of
diﬀusion, including not just crop introduction, but re-introduction, import substitution and
introduction failure. According to his analysis, rice, wheat, cotton, citrus fruits and
watermelon were all introduced to western Eurasia and/or North Africa prior to the Islamic
period, but their production was initially very limited (Watson 1983), and archaeological
research demonstrates that their contexts of use in cuisine may also have diﬀered (see van
der Veen 2011, on watermelon, grape and Citrus). Scholars like Decker (2009) have
critiqued Watson for not going far enough in recognizing the pre-Islamic use of a number of
crops, but most of these critiques simply serve to underline the lengthiness of the process
that moved crops and other plants from rare exotics to improved agricultural products.
In the sections that follow, we outline how this slow shift towards the use of new
imported crops to increase production can also be seen for those crops at the heart of the
Trans-Eurasian Exchange (sensu Jones et al. 2011). Linked to this, we make two
additional and related points contrary to Jones et al. The ﬁrst is that, as central to food
globalization as starchy crops seem to be (Jones et al. 2011: 667), the movement of fruits,
oil seeds and ﬁbre crops was often just as early, and these plants provide important
insights into the motivations behind crop translocations. Second, there is no clear evidence
that order of translocation relates inversely to length of maturation, i.e. that it was the
risk-buﬀering crops that were quick and easy to grow that spread ﬁrst. The delay in the
rise to importance of these crops, their accompaniment by unlikely staples and their highly
varied ecologies and seasonalities argue against the primacy of the ecological and
subsistence drivers of prehistoric crop exchanges posited by Jones and colleagues.
Old World globalization and the Columbian exchange
Wheat’s two eastward trajectories: China versus India
The example of the arrival of wheat in China provides another important illustration of the
delay that frequently occurred before an imported crop was grown on a signiﬁcant scale
(Fig. 1). By the Early Bronze Age, a range of wheat species were cultivated in central Asia,
together with barley and winter-grown pulses like lentil and pea, as in the Indus valley and
west Asia (Fuller 2011a; Miller 1999). In China at this time, by contrast, it is by and large
only bread wheat (Flad et al. 2010) that can be found, divorced from the presence of
associated winter pulses or barley but for a very small number of barley occurrences (Fig.
1). In a few cases, wheat is present in China by 2500–2400 BC, but more sites date to after
2000 BC. The quantities of wheat found in early China are extremely low in relative
frequency and ubiquity, and samples are always dominated by millets and, at a few sites,
rice (see, e.g. Crawford et al. 2005; Fuller and Zhang 2007; Lee et al. 2007). Barley is found
entirely after 2000 BC, and mainly several hundred years later. If the aim was to adopt a
crop that was more tolerant of dry and stressed conditions, then it would have been barley
rather than wheat that should have been chosen from amongst available Central Asian
starchy crops, as was ultimately the case in the Tibetan plateau (Bray 1984).
The minute quantities of wheat vis-à-vis native millets in northern China argue against
any signiﬁcant caloric role for this crop during its initial adoption (Fig. 1). In Bronze Age
central China, wheat looks more like a minor companion crop, or a rare ﬂavouring, than a
serious staple crop. Selectivity is further highlighted by regional patterns within China.
While early wheat ﬁnds have been reported from Shandong in the east and Gansu in the
northwest, in the heartlands of China (Henan) – where the central state of the Xia-ShangZhou dynastic tradition emerged (Liu and Chen 2003) – wheat uptake was further delayed,
suggesting some inherent resistance to uptake of the novel crop in China’s most heavily
populated region. Historical sources suggest that once adopted, wheat was initially (in the
Late Bronze-Iron Age) something of a delicacy (Bray 1984: 459–77), although bread was
probably unknown. It is only by Han times (ca 200 BC) that wheat and barley are both
clearly present as important winter subsistence crops in China, rotated with summer
millets, and mainly providing food for the poor. The development of rotary querns and
ﬂour production during the Han Dynasty saw the rise of new culinary forms featuring
noodles and buns made of wheat ﬂour, and coincided with a re-emergence of wheat as a
status food in China (Yü 1977). On the whole, then, we see a trajectory from rare exotic, to
subsistence broadening low-valued staple, to a more widely valued staple crop in the history
of wheat in China.
This East Eurasian pattern contrasts markedly with the way wheat diﬀuses into
northern and central India. There barley, wheat and lentil almost always occur together in
quantity (high frequency and ubiquity relative to other crops, high co-occurrence in
individual samples) from the mid to late third millennium BC; and other Near Eastern
pulses (chickpea, pea, grasspea) are also frequent (Fuller 2002, 2011a). In these regions of
India the quantities of wheat and barley alongside native species (like rice in the Ganges)
do point clearly to their importance in broadening subsistence via two cropping seasons,
certainly by 2000–1800 BC (Fig. 1), pointing to the ecological drivers of Jones et al.
However, the contrast between South Asia and East Asia is instructive: bread wheat had
little subsistence value in Bronze Age China, judging from contextual and quantitative
Nicole Boivin et al.
Figure 1 The spread of wheat and barley across Asia, with sites representing the earliest ﬁnds for each
region shown. For a selection of sites with adequate data, the relative proportions of cereals (wheat,
barley, rice, broomcorn millet, foxtail millet, and other millets) are shown in the pie graphs.
Sites key: 1. Anau; 2. Gonur; 3. Shahr-i-Sokhta; 4. Mundigak; 5. Shortugai; 6. MiriQalat; 7.
Mehrgarh; 8. Pirak; 9. Tarakai Qila; 10. Ghalegay; 11. Kanishpur; 12. Burzahom; 13. Semthan; 14.
Harappa; 15. Kunal; 16. Mitathal; 17. Chanudaro; 18. Kanmer; 19. Rojdi; 20. Balathal; 21.
Mahagara; 22. Lahuradewa; 23. Senuwar; 24. Chirand; 25. Kayatha; 26. Navdatoli; 27. Nevasa; 28.
Apegaon and Paithan; 29. Tuljapur Garhi; 30. Adam Cave; 31. Daimabad; 32. Inamgaon; 33.
Piklihal; 34. Hallur; 35. Sanganakallu; 36. Hanumantaraopeta; 37. Mebrak cave; 38. Begash; 39.
Qunbake; 40. Yanghai; 41. Gumugou; 42. Xiaohe; 43. Lanzhouwanzi; 44. Huoshaogou;
45.Donghuishan; 46. Fengtai; 47. Xishanping; 48. Zhouyuan; 49. Zhaojialai; 50. Baligang; 51.
Zaojiaoshu; 52. Tianposhuiku; 53. Dugangsi; 54. Wangchengang; 55. Liangchengzhen; 56.
Zhaojiazhuang; 57. Nam River.
archaeobotanical data, but Near Eastern winter crops as a group provided a major
broadening of agriculture and diet in India at this time. It seems possible that the few rare
ﬁnds of wheat and barley in the Ganges basin in the later third millennium BC (2400–2000
BC) meanwhile represent their earlier introduction as exotic or status foods (Fuller 2011a).
Evidence for new culinary culture (pot types, probably for serving liquid) that
Old World globalization and the Columbian exchange
accompanied wheat and barley may indicate a social motivation for their adoption as well,
such as for beer production (Fuller 2005).
Chinese millets outside China
At the heart of Jones et al.’s subsistence argument for early Trans-Eurasian crop dispersals
are the Chinese millets, especially broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum) and perhaps
foxtail millet (Setaria italica), both of which are drought tolerant and suited to marginal
soils. Of these, broomcorn millet is often the more rapidly maturing and is therefore a
traditional crop of the dry and more northerly parts of China (e.g. inner Mongolia). While
both of these species were certainly established in northern Chinese cultivation by around
6000 BC (Bettinger et al. 2010; Zhao 2011), it is less certain that broomcorn millet dispersed
at this time from China to Neolithic Europe as inferred by Jones et al. (2011). While there
are reports of broomcorn grains in single digit quantities on a few Neolithic sites in Europe,
it is unclear that these were cultivars. Quantitatively one or a few millet grains must be set
against the several thousands of wheat and barley grains that were also present at these
sites, and as such, archaeobotanists have often suggested that these Panicum ﬁnds represent
rare weeds, perhaps a local wild broomcorn millet (e.g. Bakels 2009: 66; Kohler-Schneider
and Canepelle 2009: 67; Kreuz et al. 2005). The earliest substantive evidence for cultivation
of millets in Europe comes in the form of signiﬁcant quantities of broomcorn millet along
with a few foxtail millet grains at sites of the Jevišovice culture in Austria, ca 3000 BC
(Kohler-Schneider and Canepelle 2009: 67). By contrast, it is not until Bronze Age times,
after 2000 BC, that both broomcorn and foxtail millets are widely found in quantity in
western Europe (Bakels 2009: 100), where they can often be found in ubiquities of 435 per
cent or even 65 per cent of samples (Rosch 1998). This points to a signiﬁcant delay between
the translocation of millet and its growth on a signiﬁcant scale. It should be noted that it
also remains possible that domesticated broomcorn millet appears in Europe as a result of
local domestication rather than translocation from the east. A parallel domestication of
broomcorn millet in western Eurasia (perhaps in eastern Europe; see Fig. 2) has been
hypothesized (see Zohary and Hopf 2000: 86). Genetic patterns in modern millet cultivars
indicate a strong east–west division, but it is unclear whether this relates to an early
bottleneck or two origins (Hunt et al. 2011).
Evidence from central Asia, the north-western margins of the Indian subcontinent, and
further aﬁeld in Yemen and Sudan, points to the major dispersal of the Chinese millets,
and in particular broomcorn millet, through central Asia to the south and west from the
end of the third millennium BC to the early second millennium BC (Boivin and Fuller 2009;
Fuller et al. 2011). A key starting point for this process is suggested by evidence from the
site of Begash in eastern Kazakhstan, where ﬁnds of broomcorn millet and wheat from
ritual contexts (burials) have been directly dated to 2300–2200 BC (Frachetti et al. 2010).
This is almost as early as the earliest wheat ﬁnds in China and marks a point along the
eastward journey of wheat, as well as providing a secure point in the westward departure
of millet from China. Broomcorn millet arrives in north-western India as part of a broader
‘Chinese horizon’ (Fuller and Boivin 2009: 21), which also brought peaches and apricots,
hand harvesting knives, Cannabis, and probably foxtail millet and japonica rice varieties
Nicole Boivin et al.
Figure 2 Crop movements between major agricultural centres in Africa and Eurasia discussed in this
(Fuller 2011b). The co-transfer of perennial fruit-trees and water-intensive rice undermine
any argument that crop diﬀusion of this era was driven by a caloric imperative or the
seeking of drought-resistant crops. The possible ritual and/or prestige context of wheat
and broomcorn millet at Begash highlights the potential that cereals, both shorter season
and long-season, moved as high-value exotica, as well as the fact that the agents of their
dispersal through central Asia were mobile pastoralist societies, who provided indirect,
down-the-line connections between the urbanized population centres of the Oxus, Indus
and Yellow rivers. In contrast to the Colombian Exchange, urbanized states of the TransEurasian Exchange probably had little role to play in the actual translocation of crops and
other plants, which reached them through indirect routes.
Lateness of buckwheat
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is another crop suggested to move at an early date
across Eurasia (Jones et al. 2011: 669–70). Buckwheat is an important crop of marginal
lands that spread widely in Eurasia from origins on the eastern margins of the Tibetan
plateau in the uplands of western Sichuan and Yunnan (Ohnishi and Konishi 2001).
Evidence for its very early dispersal, by the ﬁfth millennium BC, as argued by Jones et al.
(2011: ﬁg. 1), remains problematic. The evidence most often cited for an early spread in
Old World globalization and the Columbian exchange
eastern Asia comprises a solitary carbonized nutlet from the apparently Early Jomon
Hamanasuno site in Hokkaido, Japan (Crawford et al. 1976). This single specimen has
subsequently been directly AMS-dated and found to be intrusive (160 BP, Beta-176046;
Obata 2011: 168). Apart from this single (and now refuted) seed, evidence consists of a few
reports of buckwheat pollen from several millennia later at Late Jomon sites in the second
millennium BC (Fujio 2004). An arrival in Japan after 2000 BC is in keeping with some
palynological evidence from peripheral China, including from the Liaohe river basin in
north-east China after ca 2400 BC (Li et al. 2006), and Xishanping in Gansu to the northwest, where pollen could be ca 2500 BC but owing to stratigraphically inconsistent AMS
dates might only be about 1000 BC (Li et al. 2007); this co-occurs with one of China’s
earliest wheat ﬁnds. Palynological evidence from the Lower Yangzte could indicate some
buckwheat cultivation in the hills south of the Yangzte as early as 2500 BC (Yi et al. 2003).
A few nutlet ﬁnds can be placed in the ﬁrst millennium BC, including from central Nepal
(Knorzer 2000) and at Haimenkou, Yunnan (D. Q. Fuller, unpublished data). Linguistic
evidence indicates that the Chinese name for buckwheat was borrowed from eastern
Tibeto-Burman speakers to the south-west of the Han Chinese sometime in the last two
thousand years (Bradley 2011). Thus some dispersal around the peripheries of Chinese
civilization may have started as early as 2500 BC, but buckwheat’s importance as a more
widespread staple crop is mainly in the last two thousand years only.
The claims for early buckwheat in north-eastern Europe near the Baltic Sea also rest on
pollen evidence, but these ﬁnds are few (Janik 2002). At two sites in Latvia, such pollen
occurs after 2500 BC, in line with the period of buckwheat’s early dispersal in eastern Asia.
Just two pollen cores (from Moldavia and Poland) and one 1950s archaeological report
from Denmark have potentially earlier dates, but a critical reconsideration of these data,
and the need for conﬁrmation of morphological identiﬁcation and direct AMS-dating, are
called for. Systematic archaeobotany in Scandinavia in recent years (reviewed by
Robinson 2003) has failed to support the claim for Neolithic European buckwheat.
Instead, systematic sampling and reliable identiﬁcation of buckwheat in western Europe
occurs from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (e.g. Ansorge et al. 2003; Kühn and
Akeret 2002), which is in agreement with written sources that suggest introduction in the
Middle Ages (Montanari 1994: 102). The claim for a ﬁfth millennium BC westward
dispersal of buckwheat via the northern steppe, as a short season subsistence crop, is
therefore questionable. Buckwheat, like the other crops discussed, therefore does not
support the argument presented by Jones et al. (2011: 669) that antiquity of dispersal
‘relates inversely to the length of their growth cycle’.
Discussion: classifying transformations in crop value and productivity
There is a growing recognition that, by the Bronze Age, materials sometimes moved
considerable distances between cultural areas. Food crops were amongst these items
(Boivin and Fuller 2009; Fuller et al. 2011), and as recognized by Jones et al. (2011) this
ultimately did contribute to the diversiﬁcation of local agricultural subsistence. However,
there are a number of non-direct trajectories by which crops have become either riskbuﬀering crops or favoured staple foods, and these subsistence outcomes rarely seem to
Nicole Boivin et al.
have been amongst the motivations of the initial translocation processes. We agree with
Jones et al. that there is strong archaeobotanical evidence for novel crop combinations in
several regions of the Old World in the second millennium BC, and suggest the likelihood
that translocation processes began in the second half of the third millennium BC. As we
have shown, however, the earlier translocations, especially of broomcorn millet and
buckwheat, by 5000–4000 BC, are not supported by systematic archaeobotanical sampling,
quantitative studies or direct AMS dates. Yet it is these earliest translocations that are
suggested by Jones et al. (2011: 669–70) to set a precedent for the dispersal of shorter
growth season crops as risk-buﬀering extensions to caloric production. If we stick to the
well-supported evidence for later dispersals, however, there is no evident preference either
for shorter growing seasons or caloric staples.
In reviewing the evidence of crop translocations, we ﬁnd a number of alternative
trajectories by which crops have become either risk-buﬀering crops or favoured staple
foods. Systematic comparison of these pathways necessitates classiﬁcation of crop-use
types and changes through time, and we propose one possible system in which such broad
categories as ‘cash-crops’, ‘spices/exotica’, ‘risk-buﬀering crops’ and ‘staple foods’ are
distinguished (Fig. 3). We can draw upon these categories to abstract three spectra of
interacting variables: the social-value placed on a crop, from lesser to greater; the scale of
production of a crop, from lower to higher intensity; and the distance from which a crop is
obtained by direct trade for consumption, from local to more distant. In general, we
expect things obtained from more distant locales to have higher values. If these were
produced in bulk, we can regard them as cash crops, whereas if they remained at low
production levels (including gathered from wild sources), or were traded at low levels, they
can be regarded as exotica/spices. When possible these may be taken up for local smallscale cultivation, for example in experimental gardens, but this is likely to have been part
of a transition towards increased production either as higher-value cash crops or with
lowered value as the exotic association wears oﬀ. When local production expands but local
Figure 3 Schematic representation of relationship between basic crop use categories (cash-crops,
spices/exotica, risk-buﬀering crops and staple foods) and three interacting variables: the social value
placed on a crop (from lesser to greater), the scale of production of a crop (from low to high), and
the distance from which a crop is obtained by direct trade for consumption (from local to more
distant), against which the historical trajectories of introduced crops can be charted (see Fig. 4).
Old World globalization and the Columbian exchange
Figure 4 Regional historical trajectories of various translocated crops (see Fig. 3 for key to
use values are low, we have risk-buﬀering caloric crops, whereas staple foods are generally
valued reasonably highly and produced in large quantities.
Although the above variables deﬁne a three-dimensional space, this can be ﬂattened into
four basic crop categories, and the historical trajectory of translocated species can be
mapped across these (Fig. 4). From the species discussed above as well as some additional
examples, we can see that there are recurrent pathways from the exotic to risk-buﬀering
crop to staple crop, a trajectory followed by wheat introduced to China (Fig. 4a), African
millets into India (Boivin and Fuller 2009; Fuller et al. 2011; Fig. 4b), rice into the western
Mediterranean (Fig. 4c) and, albeit more tentatively, wheat into northern India (Fig. 4d).
A reverse trajectory is followed in the case of browntop millet in southern India (Fig. 4e),
with this species declining in importance through time relative to the rise of African millets
(Fuller 2011a). An alternative pathway is for something exotic to become a cash crop
produced in bulk for trade. This was a common trajectory in the Colombian Exchange,
followed for example by sugar (Fig. 4f) and, later, chocolate, tea, coﬀee and other crops.
We have no clear examples from the Bronze Age Trans-Eurasian Exchange for the
equivalent shift. The case of Carolina rice, a component of the Colombian Exchange,
provides yet another trajectory (Fig. 4g), studied in detail by Carney (2001).
The issue of food globalization in prehistory discussed by Jones et al. (2011) is an
important one that has come into focus with the accumulation of archaeobotanical
evidence from a greater number of sites and regions. That ecological, economic and social
motivations have all played a role in this process seems clear, but we have taken issue with
the emphasis of Jones et al. on ecological and caloric concerns as the initial driver for the
earliest cereal translocations. Instead, we have emphasized a role for the prestigious,
cosmological and medicinal qualities of exotic plants obtained from distant regions, which
Nicole Boivin et al.
applied not just to the so-called ‘spices’ of antiquity – the aromatic and strong-tasting
plants and their products whose extraordinary features enticed and seduced the senses –
but also the everyday crops, or at least the crops that we think of today as mundane and
everyday, including starchy staples. We would also emphasize the role of more mobile,
non-agrarian societies (be they mobile pastoralists, sea nomads, etc.) in the actual
movement of the materials and species that travelled along ancient trade networks,
including plants. These societies probably account for the poor archaeological visibility of
the earliest exchanges noted by Jones et al. (2011: 671), but we doubt that there were three
or four millennia of invisible crop translocations. The paucity of information on these
mobile societies and their plant remains emphasizes the need for further archaeobotanical
work in the Eurasian Steppe. The lesser role of such intermediaries (though see Carney
and Rosomoﬀ 2009) for the more centralized and wide-reaching ‘food empires’ (Fraser
and Rimas 2010) of ﬁfteenth- and sixteenth-century Europe emphasizes again the contrast
between the Trans-Eurasian and Columbian Exchanges. The variations between the two
exchanges emphasize their fundamental dissimilarity, and highlight the extraordinary
connectedness of the vast and ecologically variable Old World over many millennia. This
long-term, slow-growing network of connections and exchanges, amongst other factors,
helps to explain the devastating impact of Old World contact on the New World. Armed
with a remarkable range of technologies, species and perhaps particularly diseases
acquired over millennia of interaction and exchange, Old World populations were
uniquely situated, from a bio-cultural perspective, to transform the New World in as little
as a few centuries in ways that really had no earlier parallel.
This paper is an output of the multi-institutional, collaborative Sealinks Project. The
authors are grateful for funding received from the European Research Council for the
Sealinks Project, as part of Grant Agreement No 206148 awarded to Nicole Boivin; to
the British Academy for a postdoctoral fellowship awarded to Alison Crowther; and to the
Natural Environment Research Council and Oxford University Fell Fund for other
related funding. Our text has been improved based on the suggestions of two anonymous
reviewers, Peter van Dommelen, Lin Foxhall, and Amy Bogaard.
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Old World globalization and the Columbian exchange
Nicole Boivin is a Senior Research Fellow at the School of Archaeology, University of
Oxford, and a fellow of Jesus College, Oxford. She completed her PhD, an
ethnoarchaeological study in Rajasthan, India, at the University of Cambridge. She is
Principal Investigator of the European Research Council-funded Sealinks Project, which is
studying early cultural and biological interactions across the Indian Ocean. She is author
of Material Cultures, Material Minds (2008, CUP), and co-editor of Soils, Stones and
Symbols (2004, UCL Press).
Dorian Q Fuller, FLS FSA, is Professor of Archaeobotany at the Institute of Archaeology,
University College London. He completed his PhD at Cambridge on the origins of
agriculture in South India and has subsequently worked on archaeobotanical material and
plant domestication studies in India, China, Sudan, West Africa and the Near East. He is
co-author with Eleni Asouti of Trees and Woodlands of South India: Archaeological
Perspectives (2008, Institute of Archaeology, University College London/Left Coast
Alison Crowther is a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of
Archaeology, University of Oxford. She completed her PhD in Australia on starch
microfossil analysis of pottery use and crop dispersals in the Paciﬁc Islands, and is now
collaborating with Oxford’s Sealinks Project in investigating the archaeobotany of
agriculture and trade in coastal East Africa. She is co-editor of the volume Archaeological
Science under the Microscope (2009, ANU E-Press).
THE GLOBALIZATION OF LANGUAGE
PLENARY SESSION III
The Globalization of Language
How the Media Contribute to the Spread of English
and the Emergence of Medialects
When words have ceased to bear witness to what takes place
in the Realm of the Living, we shun them – with the
possible exception of the philologists, for they have
always had a weakness for words as cadavers.
Jeppe Aakjær (1916:118)
In the following analysis of the role of media in the metamorphosis of modern Danish I
am particularly interested in the spread of English and the evolution of media-bound
varieties of language. My first hypothesis is that the media both are vehicles of AngloSaxon culture and contribute to the anglicization of global culture (Hjarvard 2003a). The
media are more than a neutral channel through which Anglo-American culture spreads;
by virtue of their institutional structure and a strong dominance of English-speaking
actors in the software industry in a broader sense (i.e., computers, television, music, etc.)
they actively contribute to cementing the paramountcy of English over other languages.
The linguistic effects of the media are not limited to spreading English; the media
themselves also give rise to new uses of the language. The media represent a material
and social infrastructure for communication among people, and as a consequence, their
characteristics quite naturally have an imprint on language. My second hypothesis is,
therefore, that as human communication becomes mediatized (Hjarvard 2003b), mediabound varieties of language will arise. Whereas linguists have focused on linguistic traits
relating to the user’s geographical origin (dialect) and sociological traits relating to class
or degree of formal education (sociolects), any analysis of an increasingly mediated society’s use of language must also take into account the linguistic variants that arise out
of specific media. These are what I have chosen to call medialects. Furthermore, there is
an interplay between English and the medialects in that the media-specific varieties of
language are strongly influenced by English.
Third, I posit that the linguistic effects of the media play a part in processes of social
and cultural distinction in Danish society and that it is therefore not adequate to view
these influences in national terms, as a question of Danish vs other languages. The
question of English influences on Danish is often treated as though it were a choice
between a pure danophone culture and a given foreign culture. Moreover, it is often
treated as a matter of taste and/or cultivation: English influences are often considered as
a symptom of carelessness, as a bad habit that heightened linguistic sensitivity and discipline might cure. Although influences on the national linguistic culture do play a role,
I should like to focus instead on the social and cultural aspects of the influences here. In
extension of Bourdieu’s (1984, 1992) theory of different kinds of capital in different
fields of society, I conceive of language as a field in which cultural and social conflicts
are articulated. Linguistic prowess (e.g., fluency in one or more foreign languages or the
ability to switch between a local dialect and the standard language as the situation demands) constitutes capital that the individual may use to attain social status, an identity
and/or power in relation to others. In Bourdieu’s terminology, linguistic ability constitutes symbolic capital that may be converted to cultural capital (repute, social status,
etc.) or economic capital (better-paid work, etc.) Thus, greater use of English in the media
not only represents a foreign influence, but acts to reinforce or change social and cultural distinctions and power relationships within Danish society, as well.
English, the Language of Globalization
Over the past two or three decades, English has come to occupy a singular position
among languages. Previously only one among several dominant European languages, on
a par with French or Spanish, it is today a world language, the language people use
whenever they wish to communicate with others outside their own linguistic community.
English has become the lingua franca of the global network: where the TCP/IP protocol
secures technical communication between computers via the internet, English is the
“protocol” for oral and written communication across national frontiers.
As English has moved toward paramountcy, the status of the other principal languages has changed. Even though they are spoken by more people today than ever before, they have been demoted, degraded in relation to English. Today, French, Spanish,
Arabic, German, Russian, etc., more or less have the status of regional languages, national languages that can be used beyond their national frontiers. But, they are losing
their currency as the language of international communication, formal and informal: both
in political and commercial contexts and in intercultural exchanges, as bridges between
people who cross cultural frontiers or who like to enrich their lives with media products
The different languages have also been affected by the challenge English poses,
tending to a greater or lesser degree to absorb English words, pronunciation, word order,
and so forth. At the same time, a growing number of languages and dialects are in danger of extinction. Linguists count approximately 6,800 different languages in the world
today. The languages differ widely in terms of the number of people who use them. The
eleven most widely used languages encompass nealy half the population of the planet.
While not the most widely spoken language, English was spoken by about 341 million
people as their first language in 1999. Roughly 500 million spoke English as their first or
Some 417 languages are considered virtually extinct today; they are spoken by very
few, elderly people. But many more languages have experienced decline in various respects (www.ethnologue.com). The trend is no new phenomenon, nor can it be attributed
exclusively to the spread of English. In fact, the trend can be traced back centuries, during which time European imperialism over most of the planet contributed to the dominance of a handful of languages at the expense of a number of local languages and dia-
THE GLOBALIZATION OF LANGUAGE
lects. Linguistic imperialism has frequently followed in the wake of economic and political imperialism (Phillipson 1992).
Linguistic homogenization is not only a consequence of global imperial domination;
the process of nation-building has also contributed. Frequently, the creation of nationstates has involved the adoption of a single national language, whereupon education
and cultural expressions in other dialects and languages within the national frontiers
have ceased. Not infrequently, use of subordinate languages and dialects has been forbidden or subject to political sanctions. In a similar fashion, different dialects of the designated national language occupy different positions in a rank order, where one dialect is
the prescribed norm (Milroy & Milroy 1999). Thus, globalization and the predominance
of English at the expense of other languages is nothing new. It is rather a question of a
radicalization and acceleration of a centuries-long trend, in which local varieties of language die out, and more universal varieties survive.
Some linguists and cultural historians speak of “linguistic genocide” and point accusing fingers at globalization. Rather than speaking of “extinction”, which connotes a natural and perhaps inevitable process, they use a term signifying “mass murder” to point
out the societal and premeditated nature of the phenomenon. When languages die out,
it is the consequence of the workings of specific institutions: “Among the principal perpetrators of this linguistic (and cultural) genocide are formal education and mass media,
and behind them are economic and political actors on a macro- level” (Skutnabb-Kangas
& Phillipson 2001:33).
Globalization has not, however, acted solely to homogenize language and promote use
of English. We also find examples of heightened political activity to gain recognition of,
and to generally promote regional languages like Scots Gaelic, Welsh, Catalan and Kurdish. Most of these movements have not identified their adversary as globalization per se
(or, for that matter, English when used as an international lingua franca), but rather the
dominant language of the dominant national culture, like, for example, Turkish in Turkey.
In some instances – in Norway, for example – the defense of dialects has been incorporated in national linguistic policy. There, mainstream media, too, are engaged in the effort
to preserve both parochial dialects and the synthetic, dialect-based national language,
New Norwegian (Vestad 2003). The political struggle for recognition of local and regional
languages is part of a greater striving for cultural identity and recognition, and against
the hegemony of the majority culture(s) of the nation-state. Viewed in this perspective,
national linguistic cultures may be said to be under attack from without and within,
which is very much in keeping with globalization theorists’ characterization of the process as being at once globalizing and localizing.
Danes Speak English – and Standard Danish
English has influenced the Danish language, as it has many other languages, throughout
the latter half of the twentieth century. The influence is noticeable in pronunciation, declensions and conjugations, as well as word order, but the most obvious influence is the
number of new words having their roots in Anglo-American culture. In connection with
a comprehensive inventory of new words in the Danish vocabulary in the period 19551998, Jarvad (1999:110) reports the following distribution in terms of the origin of the
Loans from languages other than English (e.g., tortilla)
Names, words, phrases taken directly from English (e.g., death metal) 13%
Hybrids, with an English element (e.g., hårspray; hår = hair)
Pseudo-English words (e.g., bigshopper)
Conceptual loans from English (e.g., turbulens)
Danish innovations (e.g., salgsbrev)
As Jarvad points out, the categories may be combined and tallied in numerous ways,
some of which support more or less alarming conclusions as to the influence of English.
If we choose to stress how foreign words and phrases are “danified”, we find that only
13% of the new additions to the language are borrowed directly and intact from English,
plus 5% from other languages. This means that 82% of all the new words in the Danish
language are more or less Danish. If, however, we stress English influences of various
kinds, we find that 38% of all the new words have an English connection. Irrespective of
what we choose to emphasize, the influence of languages other than English is relatively
The influence of English on the Danish language is only one facet of Anglo-Saxon
influence. Today, increasingly, there are settings in Denmark in which English has supplanted Danish. Some large corporations having extensive operations and contacts
abroad have introduced English as the company language; some fields of science, where
Danish and/or several foreign languages were once used, have converted to English.
Information technology, music and music publishing, and advertising are other branches
where English is rapidly gaining ground, in some instances to the exclusion of Danish.
Linguists characterize the situation as a “loss of domain”, and it is precisely losses of
domain that worry some Danish researchers most. Danish as such will surely survive,
but losses of domain may reduce Danish in terms of both extent and status. If Danish is
on the ebb in key areas of life in Denmark – not least in fields having to do with new technologies and so-called growth sectors – its vitality and versatility may be at risk (Davidsen-Nielsen & Herslund 1999, Jarvad 1999).
If Danish is becoming more and more receptive to influences from English, it is at the
same time becoming less receptive to local varieties of Danish. Danish dialects have receded steadily throughout the period of Denmark’s modernization, starting in the nineteenth century, and today we find hardly any true dialects left. Only among extremely
aged Danes do we find usage that is specific to a given locality. In their place we find a
handful of more or less diluted regional dialects like those spoken on the islands of
Funen and Bornholm and in Southern Jutland. These, too, are in decline, however. Generally speaking, regional dialects are spoken mostly by elderly people and people with
less formal education, whereas young people and more highly educated individuals tend
to speak standard Danish (Lund 2001). Meanwhile, new linguistic varieties that are specific to uses of new media – chatrooms, text messages, e-mail etc. – have emerged. These
are characterized by a mixture of formal and informal styles and new combinations of
spoken and written forms (Crystal 2001).
Mass media are often singled out as the most important factors behind the increasing
influence of English on Danish. Davidsen-Nielsen & Herslund (1999:11) speak of the
influence of “the whole American Star Wars arsenal of audiovisual media,” and Preisler
(1999a, 1999b) focuses on the influence of English in subcultures, where use of mediated
cultural expressions like rock music and computer games mold fans’ and players’ identity. In a similar vein, Phillipson (1992:59) cites film, video and television as vehicles of
THE GLOBALIZATION OF LANGUAGE
English linguistic imperialism. But few have specified the role the media play to any
Generally, the frequency of English in media content is simply taken as a sort of index of
the degree of influence without any further discussion of the role of the media in the process. Preisler (1999a, 1999b) has probed deepest into the relationship between English and
Danish in conjunction with his study of mediated subcultures. He tends toward the view
that the media themselves are not responsible for the influence. According to Preisler, the
prime factors are to be found in overall changes in Danish culture. Danish society is undergoing a general Anglo-Americanization, and it is here we find the causes of linguistic influences. In Preisler’s view, the media mirror culture rather than create it.
But the issue of media influences on Danish hardly originated with the advent of globalization. Media have played a role in linguistic rivalries and power struggles for centuries, and when we consider linguistic influences in a historical perspective, it becomes
clear that they are social and cultural phenomena and not simply a question of establishing a common national language with standardized diction. Standard Danish, the norm
now challenged by English and miscellaneous medialects, is no natural or even impartial
version of the Danish language; it is the dialect that emerged victorious out of a cultural
and social power struggle. A historical perspective also reveals the roles foreign influences on Danish have played in the articulation of social and cultural hierarchies in the
country. There have been periods when losses of domain to one or another foreign language were much more far-reaching than either the situation today or what is likely to
obtain in the foreseeable future.
Thus, “standard Danish,” the language virtually all Danes speak today, is the product
of a very long social and cultural proccess, the aim of which has been the establishment
of a unified national culture. Standard Danish is the linguistic result of a nation-building
project, whereby nation-state and society were to be forged into one, where state, people, culture and language were linked together through the construction of a common
Danish identity. In the course of the process, elites had to relinquish their ties with other
linguistic cultures, while commoners were made to sacrifice their local idiom. Standard
Danish became the common denominator, the basis for the homogenization of Danish
society within the framework of the welfare state. It is the language in which all Danes
could feel at home in a modern, industrialized and urbanized Denmark.
Given globalization, the bond between nation-state and people is no longer fully so
unequivocal. In an increasing number of contexts, “Danishness” is neither self-evident
nor adequate as a framework for social interaction and identity-formation. Whether in the
business world, in politics, or the Arts, Danishness is under stress. Danishness can no
longer serve as the common denominator of state and society when both state and society have been globalized.
Language by Class, Class by Language
The Danish language has not always been the universal language in Denmark. For long
periods, different classes and occupations spoke other languages. In the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries, when the kingdom was ruled by Divine Right, class distinctions were not primarily marked by differences in the Danish one spoke. Foreign languages were used widely, particularly in the capital. German, the language of skilled
craftsmen, was very important. Many craftsmen were immigrants from German-speaking
territory, and German was more generally the language of the Crafts. Many Danish crafts-
men had learned German through travel and apprenticeships abroad. German was also
the language of the military and remained the official language of command until 1773.
Parts of the state administration and Court both wrote and spoke German, both Low and
High varieties. Some Danish kings never wrote a word of Danish, expressing themselves
in German instead. Starting in the mid-seventeenth century, French began to gain currency. Knowledge of French conferred prestige at Court and in the Arts. French was also
the language of diplomacy throughout Western Europe. Correspondence between Danish emissaries abroad and the Ministry in Copenhagen was in French, as was correspondence addressed to foreign powers and their legations in the Danish capital. Latin
was the language of the Church and Academia. Academic lectures were commonly held
in Latin up to 1835 (Petersen, forthcoming).
The simultaneous currency of several languages in the capital mirrored both its diverse
composition – not least the presence of a good number of immigrants from German-speaking areas – and the social and cultural orientations of the upper classes of the city, irrespective of their origins. French, German and Latin were languages of high status in different fields; Danish was a sign of low status, the language of the peasantry and the uneducated. In most cases members of the social and cultural elite were at least bilingual, so that
members of the upper classes were able to use different languages, depending on factors
in the social setting and situation, e.g., the purpose of their communication, what etiquette
required, and the ability of the receiver to understand. That is to say, most members of the
elite could speak at least a modicum of Danish, but for many it was an actively acquired
second or third language. As Skautrup (1947) points out in his history of the Danish language, non-knowledge of Danish could confer status. He cites the report of the British
emissary Molesworth who, in 1692, commented that he “had heard many a Dane in high
positions boast of not knowing how to speak Danish!” (Skautrup 1947:305f).
The media of that day, principally print media, addressed elite audiences. Consequently,
a good number of them were published in German, Franch or Latin. That many printers and
newspaper publishers in Copenhagen were of German origin naturally contributed. In the
late 1600s and the first half of the 1700s, the wealthy classes of Copenhagen read newspapers imported from Germany, Holland and France. In the 1670s, book printer Daniel Paulli,
hailed as “the leading personality of Danish journalism of the seventeenth century”
(Stolpe 1879:II,97), started newspaper publishing in Danish on a regular basis. Paulli was
followed in the next century by, among others, Joachim Wielandt and Ernst Heinrich
Berling. In all three cases, newspapers in Danish represented only a part of the titles they
published. For the most part, they offered papers in three languages: German, French and
Danish. Papers in the respective languages differed somewhat in content and character,
inasmuch as they addressed different readerships. Jørgen Paulli published, for example, a
German weekly and a Danish monthly. Press historian P M Stolpe offers a concise characterization of the relationships between language, content and readership:
The superficial difference, that the weekly paper is in German and the monthly
is in Danish, grows out of this underlying difference; for it is in the order of
things that the organ for affairs of state, war and commerce should be written
in German in a country where German is the language of the Court and the
Military, whereas the Danish language is the obvious choice in a paper whose
principal purpose it is to convey domestic news and which, with an assortment of amusing miscellany and rudimentary excerpts from current politics,
would satisfy the news interests of that part of the population that was not
equipped to read German (Stolpe 1879:II,167).
THE GLOBALIZATION OF LANGUAGE
Ernst Heinrich Berling, who began publishing Kiøbenhavnske Danske Post-Tidender
(Berlingske Tidende today) in 1749, also published Kopenhagener Deutsche Post-Zeitungen and Gazette de Copenhague. As noted earlier, French was a prestige-conferring
language, spoken among the nobility; Berling’s Gazette addressed a well-to-do readership who wished to polish their language skills and keep abreast of French cultural life.
The publishing of newspapers in different languages in Denmark was motivated by a
wish to crowd imported newspapers, read by the upper classes, off the domestic market.
This goal was largely achieved over the span of the latter half of the 1700s in Copenhagen; in Jutland and Funen, however, foreign papers continued to dominate the markets
the century out. Use of foreign languages among the upper classes was widespread, but
not total, nor was the custom universally accepted. The comedies of Danish playwright
Ludvig Holberg, which playfully ridiculed the snobbery of using Latin and French, bear
witness to a danophone self-awareness among the Copenhagen bourgeoisie in the latter
The use of foreign languages among the upper classes gradually declined over the
course of the nineteenth century, in part due to a wave of nationalism and National Romanticism1 that swept over European politics and cultural life. Even if the National Romantic currents had welled up outside Denmark’s borders, in Denmark they gave rise to
a renewed orientation toward the Danish language and a sense of a special relationship
between the Danish people and the nation. The media played a central role in this reorientation toward the nation and things Danish. With the advance of the ideas of the
Enlightenment and liberal ideals in the wake of the bourgeois revolutions of 1789 newspapers acquired a more important role than had been envisaged in the era of absolute
monarchy. The press became an agent of publicity, first for the opposition to absolute
rule and later the movement for democracy. As the press evolved into a pro-democratic
medium, the various social classes and groups found it necessary to legitimate their
policies and arouse “public opinion”, and this could only be done via the publicity the
media offered. The democratization of political discourse, possible in great measure
thanks to print media, in itself contributed to the danification of the discourse and a
greater orientation toward, and use of the Danish language.
Toward the end of the eighteenth century, we find that varieties of spoken Danish
began to assume importance as indicators of social position. Above all, there arose a
distinction between what the elite considered “cultivated parlance”– i.e., a virtually dialect-free and placeless national language spoken by the rather small upper class of Copenhagen and the natives of a few villages on the island of Sealand, near the capital –
and other parochial dialects, which were considered rustic and vulgar (Skautrup
1953:213ff). As Danish gained status and currency even among the upper classes, foreign languages lost ground. French and German continued to exert considerable influence throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, albeit no longer in daily use, but
in the form of loan words.
The Media as Instruments of Standardization
Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Danish language underwent a process of gradual homogenization through the steady advance of “standard
Danish” at the expense of local and regional varieties. Today, standard Danish sets the
norm, but standard Danish, too, continues to evolve. One of the strongest influences
comes from the Copenhagen working-class vernacular, “low Copenhagenish”. As a con-
sequence, more elderly members of the population feel that Danish is being vulgarized: a
once higher norm is sinking toward the vernacular.
One of the factors behind the demise of local dialects is greater mobility. For every
new rail line, airport or highway built, a bouquet of local varieties withers and dies. Urbanization is another homogenizing factor. But material factors like these are not the only
hoes at work in the garden. Social institutions like the schools and mass media, too, have
done their part to weed out local varieties and to promote the national standard. Here, I
should like briefly to outline the media’s roles in this regard.
Jeppe Aakjær was an unfailing champion of local dialects and an early critic of the
verbal “uniforming of the Danish people” practiced by the schools, and by the press,
which he decried as “a giant grindstone bearing down across the land”.
It hones and scours us all, not just in the man of the capital, whom it polishes
so he gleams, but even the most remote peasant, sitting there between board
and bench, spitting between his clogs as he reads his daily paper (Aakjær
[…] Alas, the country has been roughly treated, and now the turn seems to
have come to the language, judging from the outcries in the press these days
when we, pastoral writers – as they call us – come along , toting our books
Newspapers, both their form and their content, helped standardize the Danish language.
Literature written in dialect was not well received by the critics, and the papers themselves clove to an urban patois, and, not least, the language of the capital. As a consequence, the people of the provinces gradually discarded their dialects. Or, as Aakjær so
colorfully puts it: “And if the peasant himself has become a bit dry and calculating, so
has his language, which now and again has the flavour of printer’s ink, fresh off the
pages of Folketidenden” (Aakjær 1916: 122).
Homogenization means not only that dialects are suppressed, but also that the written language takes a step or two toward the vernacular and away from the academic.
Viggo Hørup, who as Editor-in-chief of Politiken and political speaker was known to be
a fierce and fearless critic of social wrongs, saw a danger in all too liberal use of foreign
words and academic phraseology in newspaper copy. The purpose of the paper was to
speak to the people, therefore, it should use the language people use. Thus, Viggo
Hørup warned his writers: “Just as it is bad form to whisper when in company, it is bad
form to exclude people from a discussion through the use of foreign, unfamiliar words.
Anyone who wishes to be read by the public should take care not to leave his readers
by the wayside through sheer snobbery or carelessness” (17th January 1883, as quoted
in Skautrup 1968:180f).
As newspaper readership extended further among the ranks of the general public, the
press became more and more of a “grindstone”, on the one hand culling dialects, on the
other, bringing written Danish closer to the vernacular. Over the course of the 1900s, journalistic Danish grew more and more accessible to the common man. The commercial and
amusement-oriented press of the capital around the turn of the century, followed by general interest news dailies, which in turn were followed by the sensational tabloids, each
contributed to bring the written language more in line with the spoken, which also meant a
bringing together of the Danish spoken by the elites and that spoken by the people.
Non-commercial public radio and television have also been significant homogenizing
agents. Whereas the influence of print media could only be indirect, radio and television
THE GLOBALIZATION OF LANGUAGE
could exert a direct influence on spoken Danish. As a consequence of the educational
mandate of public broadcasting, particularly in its first decades, correct Danish, i.e., usage in keeping with the norm of standard Danish, was a prime feature of programming.
The privilege of addressing the Danish public was entrusted to speakers who had been
chosen for, among other things, their diction, that is, their ability to speak standard Danish. The role of radio in homogenizing Danish usage can hardly be exaggerated. With the
advent of radio, Danes all over the country were able to listen to spoken messages from
all over the country, but in practice, most of radio content was uttered by professionally
trained speakers in Copenhagen. Usage in the broadcast media precipitated many a debate as to the correctness of diction and grammar on the air waves; time and again the
media found themselves under attack.
The following general comment on the role of the language used in radio newscasts
gives an indication of public expectations in this regard:
The radio news clearly has a great – not to say enormous! – potential to come
to the aid of our native tongue, and that would be no little service, were it to
do so… A single radio news editor-journalist puts the entire transmission
together, that is, reads it aloud, and thus he is in a much better position to
correct grammatical errors, and it is of utmost importance to the language and
to public edification that he do that. The news reader has in his hand the mighty
power to influence hundreds of thousands of Danes – and with it a not insignificant responsibility (Kolding Avis, 11 April 1930, quoted in Christiansen et al.
Both the telephone and the cinema have contributed to the homogenization of the Danish
language, as well. Telephones, like radio, put Danes on speaking terms, no matter the
distance between them. To carry on a conversation from one end of the country to the
other meant that the parties had to strive to find a mutually functional idiom. In the case
of films, standard Danish predominated (Brink 2003). This was not so much the result of
a selection on the basis of the individual’s usage, as in the case of radio announcers, but
more a consequence of the fact that the actors were professionals who had learned
standard Danish in drama school and only now and then let a hint of their native dialects
be heard. In films from the ‘forties, ‘fifties and ‘sixties even children, farmers and servants speak astonishingly correct Danish; dialects are spoken only by the elderly, by
bumpkins and buffoons, or by gangsters in the Copenhagen underworld.
In the latter half of the twentieth century, we note a change in attitude regarding the
language spoken in mass media. Dialects have not necessarily assumed greater prominence, but there is generally a much greater tolerance of the vernacular, of everyday language, not least of expressions once branded as vulgar. The most recent broadcasting
legislation and guidelines make explicit reference to the duties of radio and television with
regard to the Danish language. Today, there is a greater general emphasis on cultural
diversity, which radio and television should mirror. This includes linguistic variants, so
that dialects and the various accents of recent immigrants to Denmark should be represented. Such ambitions are also clearly stated in Danmarks Radio’s policy on language.
Be that as it may, the fact of the matter is that there are not awfully many dialects left.
It is truly ironic that the very media which, during most of the past century, actively
worked to standardize the Danish language, to the exclusion of local variants, are now
charged to resurrect them. More realistically it is a question not of re-creating the diversity of Danish once spoken, but rather of securing the dialects a place in our collective
memory of “days of auld lang syne”. For, Moving Day is here: our dialects are leaving
the realm of living language, life that may be boisterous, harsh, intimate or loving, for
the rest-home serenity of institutional sound archives.
Even if the overall trend is as it is, now and again one or another dialect finds itself in
the limelight. Not because we are paying our last respects, nor is it the critical attention
dialects used to get for their various idiosyncrasies. No, today, dialects attract interest
because they are kitsch. They have such low status and are considered in such “bad
taste” that they have become “hip” and good-natured fun. Consider, for example, an
advertising campaign for multinational Sonofon in 2001: The characters in a series of TV
spots, “Polle from Snave”, are from the island of Funen. Polle and his friends gained
“cult” status because they are vulgar, dumb, lazy – and proud of it. In short, they are low
status, and one of the principal signals of their low status is their broad Funish dialect.
The banter that issued from their mouths leaves no doubt of their yokeldom. In the campaign, Sonofon’s customers were given the opportunity to make the language their own
by downloading greetings, some of them fairly outrageous, recorded by Polle & Co., to
their cell phones. It is an odd twist that a transnational company like Sonofon should
choose the yokel Polle and his friends, who sound more like their grandparents’ generation, to attract young consumers to a new, global lifestyle phenomenon, viz., mobile telephony. It is a case of using low-status “old-timer” bait – dialect-as-kitsch – to market a
new medium and a new language that afford new possibilities to signal high status.
Another instance of dialect-as-kitsch on television is a Christmas feuilleton (originally
aired in 1992 on nationally distributed TV2, but repeated in 2001) that starred De Nattergales, a comedy trio from Jutland. The serial, under the Anglo-Danish title, The Julekalender, revolves around the comical communication problems that arise in the meeting
of a rural couple, potato-growers, from Jutland, a fellow called Benny from Copenhagen,
and Christmas elves, who speak a kind of English, highly seasoned with Danish words
and phrases. The Julekalender poked fun at some Danes’ Malaprop penchant for dropping English words, but what made it really funny were the characters’ raving renditions
of a Jutland dialect and the Copenhagen vernacular. The series put the Jutlandic dialect
in vogue nationwide, but only as kitsch, as a sort of “exception that proves the rule” –
“the rule”, of course, being standard Danish. Dialects cannot be taken seriously; they are
used with a wink or, as one might say, even in Danish: “tongue in cheek”.
Continuity in Linguistic Hierarchies
When asked about dialects, Danes express favourable opinions of them. Most find them
quaint and pleasant-to-the-ear; it would be a pity if they died out (Maegaard 2002). But
if we instead consider Danes’ perceptions of people who speak dialects, the picture
changes. We find that there is a definite rank-order among the varieties of spoken Danish: after standard Danish come the dialects of Funen and Jutland, whereas the dialects
of rural Sjælland and the Copenhagen vernacular come in last place. The reasons given
for this ranking are generally put in terms of aesthetics: Funish sounds better, it is more
melodious, whereas the Copenhagen vernacular sounds mean and hard, even vulgar.
But these aesthetic characterizations actually reflect respondents’ perceptions of a
social hierarchy. Estimations of a given dialect involve an estimation of those who speak
it. Ladegaard (2002) has examined how different pronunciations of Danish are linked with
assumptions about the speaker’s personality traits, character and social competence.
Those who have a Funish accent are commonly assumed to be friendly and humoristic,
THE GLOBALIZATION OF LANGUAGE
but not particularly intelligent or well-educated. Similarly, people who have a Jutlandic
accent are considered reliable, but not particularly shrewd.
Lowest on the social ranking is the Copenhagen vernacular; it is not associated with
either favourable human traits or social competence. The only dimension it scores high
on is “self-confidence” – which shows that the traditional stereotype of the shrewd, but
culturally benighted Copenhagen “city slicker” is still going strong. The upper-class
Copenhagen accent, common to the northern suburbs of the capital is associated with
considerable professional competence, but not much in the way of “friendliness”. In
other words, people with that accent may be capable and clever, but they are not awfully
pleasant. Interestingly, standard Danish appears to stand over and above this fundamental contradiction between social competence and friendliness; speakers of standard Danish are perceived to be well-educated, and they inspire confidence. In other words,
standard Danish is a thoroughly agreeable norm; it casts no shadow on those who
speak it. Ladegaard (2002) conducted his study in the early ‘nineties, but a recent study
by Maegaard (2002) among young people in southern Jutland confirms the pattern and
also shows how standard Danish signals a modern outlook. “The more [of the dialect]
you speak, the more you sound like a hayseed,” said a student at Tønder Gymnasium in
Maegaard’s survey. And, it should be noted, she was a native of the region, not an outsider; she is rejecting the language of her place and people. Speaking standard Danish is
better in two ways: it sounds better, and it boosts one’s identity.
In his study of attitudes among the Danes toward English as a language Preisler
(1999a) finds overwhelmingly positive valuations of the language in both its British and
North American variants. By and large, Danes consider English important as a world language, as a vehicle for their contacts with the rest of the world, and an agent that broadens their cultural horizons. There is little support for the notion that the presence of
English in everyday life in Denmark might pose a threat to Danish. Nearly three Danes in
four (73%) disagree, either somewhat or strongly, with the proposition that English is a
threat to the Danish language, and fully 80 per cent disagree, somewhat or strongly, with
the proposition that English threatens Danish culture. Only 8 per cent of Preisler’s respondents expressed wholehearted agreement with the proposition that English poses a
threat to Danish (Preisler 1999a:68).
Danish views on the English language exhibit some variation, however, particularly according to respondents’ age and level of formal education. Generally speaking, younger,
better educated Danes are more accepting of use of English in everyday life, whereas the
elder generation with less formal eduction and less contact with working life tend to be
more skeptical. The respondents’ language abilities play in here; the better one’s command of English, the more positive one’s attitude. Preisler (1999a) points out that “functional illiteracy” in English is beginning to be perceived as a handicap in some quarters as
English becomes increasingly prevalent. That is to say, Danes who do not know English
more frequently encounter practical difficulties in daily life, including their use of mass
media, and consequently find their non-knowledge a disability. Preisler (1999a) calculates
that up to 20 per cent of the population may experience such frustration.
Interestingly, the groups who are most accepting of English and who have fewer
problems with the presence of English in their daily lives are also those who speak dialects least. By the same token, it is among those who speak dialects most, viz., the elderly
and less educated (Lund 2001), that we find least acceptance of English and more frustration due to the intrusion of English into their daily lives. This suggests that there is a
sort of continuum, a progression from dialect to standard Danish, and on to English.
Older, less educated Danes are less willing to abandon their dialects for standard Danish, and they are correspondingly less positively disposed toward the English language.
Younger and well educated Danes are more willing to switch over to both standard Danish and English. Their orientation toward English may in a sense be seen as an extension of the choice of standard Danish over the local dialect.
Thus, in a sense English may be seen to extend the social hierarchy articulated in the
relationship between standard Danish and the dialects. With the demise of the dialects
an older, Early Modern linguistic hierarchy dissolved in the standardized national language, and in its place arises a new system of stratification based on the lingua franca of
High Modernity, English. The contest between dialects and standard Danish, which included the conflicts between town and country, between agrarian production and its lifestyle and industrial production and urban living, articulated the social hierarchies of the
industrial revolution. The contest between standard Danish and English influence articulates new axes of conflict belonging to the “network society,” the economic and cultural
premium attached to mobility and interaction across national frontiers (Bauman 1998,
Castells 1996) among them.
English in the Media
In the following we shall consider the use of English in the media and examine more
closely the extent and character of English influences as well as when they began to
make an impact in a serious fashion. Before going any further, it should be made clear
that Danish predominates in most Danish media; it is used much more than any other
language. Danish is totally dominant in newspapers, radio and magazines, it also predominates in cinema film and television, particularly in prime time on the major public
service channels. Much of television output and a majority of cinema titles are of AngloAmerican origin, however, and even if the content is “danified” via subtitles and dubbing (for very young audiences), these translations often bear traces of English (Gottlieb
2002, 2003). Some media were anglicized quite early on; in popular music and the recording industry, for example, we may speak of a “loss of domain” for the Danish language.
Today, English is the norm for lyrics and song titles, and it is frequently used in the technical and commercial areas of the recording industry, as well. English has become the
rule in the music industry, indeed, to the extent that it has become something of a “statement” to choose to produce a CD with the lyrics in Danish.
The World Wide Web, “www”, is another realm in which English predominates. A tally
of the languages used on the web in 2000 found that 68.4 per cent of all websites were in
English. English, the most frequent language, was followed by Japanese, German and Chinese (http://global-reach.biz/globstats). This, of course, affords no more than a rough estimate and should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt. But, seen in relation to the fact that
only 8.3 per cent of the people on the globe speak English as their native or second language, the overrepresentation of English – and, by the sa…