Going to preface this that I think this is probably more of an anthropological subject, but I couldn't find a stack exchange for that, so this was my next best guess.

The thought occurred to me recently that race (as the social construct it is) has heavily attributed to probably every major conflict in history. That said, I have noticed on a few occasions that individuals who speak similar languages seem to sometimes have a sort of bond, or immediate friendliness, regardless of whether or not they have ever met. To give an example of what I am getting at, the initiator of this thought process was a story my mother (who works in reservations for an airline) shared with me about a call she had the other day.

For context, my mother is natively from Argentina, but immigrated to the US with her family when she was 18, so Spanish is obviously her first language. My father (who is American) spent much of his childhood between Germany, France, and Sweden, and thus speaks fluent French and German. The other day my mother took a call from a French speaking passenger that was struggling with English, and my mother, being heavily exposed to French through my father and the obvious Latin roots, helped him bridge his words in French. The passenger, elated, immediately started speaking quickly in French and my mother had to explain that she didn't really speak French, but could understand it almost fluently. The conversation from that point on seemed to have a greater sense of comradery almost from the way my mom described it (people yell at her about missed flights all day, can't blame her for enjoying the good calls).

This prompted me to think about times I have had similar experiences myself where I have started speaking Spanish (which I'm not fluent in, but have inherited my mother's accent) to someone who immediately seems to feel more comfortable speaking with me. I have noticed however that this has a noticeable change when dealing with more stressful situations. Having had a lot of friends growing up that "came from the wrong side of the tracks" (or freeway more accurately), I always noticed that new people would treat me like "the white boy" until they new I could speak some Spanish, which somehow immediately gave me more credibility to be there. Or in the reverse direction, when I worked as a security guard in college it was always easier to resolve situations with Hispanic employees once I seemed to also be Hispanic, which led them to trust me more.

Hopefully some of you can see where this is going by now.

Generally speaking in the US, race (which again is just a social construct) seems to be divided up functionally as White, Black, Hispanic, (East) Asian, Indian, Native American, and more recently Middle Eastern. That isn't to say there aren't more than that, obviously it is much more complicated, but that is why I used the word "functionally" (Pacific Islander for example tends to get roped in with Native American). What I am getting at is that in some of these cases the relating factors that determine someone's race come almost entirely from what language they speak rather than origin, and some not at all.

Hispanic really comes up as the primary example to me for multiple reasons. Officially it is classified as an ethnic group rather than a race (which I'm still not sure what the real difference is), but in practice the Spanish language tends to be the more predominant factor of culture beyond color or origin. Likewise, Latin American technically includes Italian, French, and Portuguese speakers, but those are not culturally considered equivalent. Italian is almost entirely considered White (although historically not always) and French Canadians are easily considered White, but French speaking Haitians are Black (this of course is not always the case, but a good example of the confusion). In contrast to that exact example however, the Dominican republic has a large portion of the population that would be considered Black if not for the Spanish language. Meanwhile Argentina has an estimated 97% of it's population of European descent (White, to continue using equal terms), but is also considered Hispanic, despite technically outmatching the US in "whiteness". Portuguese seems to get the most blurry as it is so closely tied to Hispanic groups, but also it's own totally separate cultural group.

The other "races" I mentioned above of course are more closely tied to geographic origins, but of course are considered totally different in their own regions as well. I would however like to bring up the steady specifying of Middle Eastern as a race. Officially speaking, Middle Eastern is usually considered White ("Caucasian"), and Indian is considered Asian. With the increased conflicts in those regions over the past few decades however, Middle Eastern has steadily separated from White, and people of Pakistani origin have often joined it, despite Pakistan historically being part of India. Religion is really more of the primary driving force rather than language in that situation, but it can't be discounted as Northern Africa tends to become another blurry zone, where often the sole difference separating someone from being Middle Eastern rather than Black or White is whether or not they speak Arabic.

I'm unsure if the question I am trying to pose is quite clear from the way I have laid out information, but I have run out of time to write up what has gone from a short prompt to a full essay. My information of course is all coming from my personal, limited American perspective, but I imagine this is an issue that has come up globally, even if not specifically in these terms. Have there been any major studies that could quantify how much of a factor linguistic relations have in racial tensions and divisions?

Please correct me if I have misrepresented or misinterpreted any of the cultural situations above.

  • 1
    I’m voting to close this question because it is not about linguistics.
    – BillJ
    Oct 6, 2020 at 12:28
  • 1
    Your question is way too long, so I skipped to the end. Anyway, people fight over every little difference, and linguistic differences are game too. Look at all the flamewars the silly "spaces" people have started against the sensible "tabs" people.
    – prash
    Oct 6, 2020 at 14:05
  • Not sure if I understood you correctly, but perhaps you may want to take a look at language conflict studies, e.g. researchgate.net/publication/… or oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/…
    – Alex B.
    Oct 7, 2020 at 2:15
  • and Medeiros M. The language of conflict: The relationship between linguistic vitality and conflict intensity. Ethnicities. 2017;17(5):627-645. journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1468796815608878 or De Varennes, F. “Ethnic Conflicts and Language in Eastern European and Central Asian States: Can Human Rights Help Prevent Them?” International Journal on Minority and Group Rights, vol. 5, no. 2, 1997, pp. 135–174. www.jstor.org/stable/24674587.
    – Alex B.
    Oct 7, 2020 at 2:22
  • Do American Blacks and American Whites speak mutually unintelligible versions of English ? If not, then how to explain the various historical tensions between them ? How about Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian ? Did their mutual intelligibility ensure less slaughter and violence during the Yugoslav wars ? Are Romanian (Latin) and Serbian (Slavic), even in the slightest, mutually intelligible ? If not, then why were there no major armed conflicts between the two neighboring countries ?
    – Lucian
    Oct 10, 2020 at 16:31

1 Answer 1


There are zillions of bases for social conflict: race, politics, sexual identity, religion, and "ethnicity", among others. There is some degree of conflict between Hungarians and Slovaks, which is as far as I know just about ethnicity. The most identifiable ethnic feature that says whether you are one vs. the other is language. Language differences in this case is due to different histories of the populations. In contrast, the Hutu-Tutsi conflict is non-linguistic (likewise the Twa). Individuals are Hutu vs. Tutsi mostly by fiat, but this may correlate with earlier migration patterns: you might ask elsewhere among Rwandan's and Rundi's how easy it is to identify a person as Hutu vs. Tutsi.

This is not a reasonable topic for linguistic research. It's impossible to decide whether it is language versus "ethnicity" or even "race" that correlates with such conflicts. Even given a correlation, we have no linguistic clue about causation.

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