>Are there any texts which played a
>similar role for the other languages, or are there other
>preservationist forces at work?
yes, and a very good point--the Icelandic sagas are the perfect instance. It
is SAID that school children can read them still, though with some help, I
suspect. They are such a major part of Icelandic culture than when Iceland
gained its independence from Denmark, the Icelanders begged for the return of
their sagas from Copenhagen, where they had been taken, and the Danes
actually did it. They were delivered by the Danish navy (Iceland's consists
of one Coast Guard cutter) and there was a huge celebration/greeting ceremony
in Rekyjavik. Hard to imagine that kind of turnout for, say, the return of
the original Winnie the Pooh bear from the NY Public Library to
Southamption--though the retun of the Elgin Marbles to Ahtens might draw a
The king James version of the Bible is another such text--more than anything
else, it created English as she was spoken for hundreds of years. English is
remarkable for its constant fluidity, but it was the King James (and its
precedessor the Great Bible, which is still used for the psalms in the
Anglican communion) that defined what English was. Then Dr. Johnson's
dictionary two hudnred years later regularized orthography.
St. Cyril designed an alphabet to bring the Bible to the Slavs. The result is
cyrillic, and it was in that that Russian became a written language.
I imagine the Bible played a similar role in other languages--anyone know? Of
course in Catholic countries, where the Mass was in latin etc., the
influence of a translated Bible might have been lass strong than in
I also vaguely remember--but this is so vague I might be making it up--that
Don Quijote had a powerful influence on Spanish
Italian is also a language where a literary text profoundly fixed the
language, though in this case the literature in question is also religious.
At the time when Dante was conceiving the Divine Comedy, he was equally
fluent in Italian (in its Florentine dialect, I think) and in Provencal. He
more or less tossed a coin, and ended up deciding to write his poem in
Italian. The resutl was to make Dante's Italian become THE Italian; it was
madeItalian a more important language than it was in the
Mediterranean-European scheme of things; and Provencal faded to become a
regional language. Provencal, like Catalan in Spain, was still important
enough that the state tried to stamp it out in the mid-20th century, and is
now trying to revive it. It's interesting to speculate about whether
Provencal would have been more important had Dante chosen differently; and to
wonder what Italian would be like.
Another such language: MS-DROSS