According to Anderson, nationalism cannot be understood if we do not appreciate that its emergence coincides with the large-scale diffusion of printing. In the eighteenth century, what he calls ‘print capitalism’ gradually emerged. From this period onwards, printing became a lucrative activity that attracted capitalist investment. The advance of literacy increased the proportion of the population engaged in reading, and social institutions were established – such as the literary and political societies that were to have a decisive impact on the French Revolution and hence modern nationalism – which encouraged the development of this practice. These factors converged to give rise to the emergence of a market in printed matter.
The advent of this market had two consequences for the spread of nationalism. First, it contributed to the emergence of increasingly standardized national languages. The capitalist character of printing impelled editors to publish works that could be read by the maximum number of people so as to increase their profits. This desacralized Latin and reduced its influence. In addition, the fact that the language was printed tended to stabilize it, rendering its evolution more gradual. This conferred on it greater historical ‘depth’, which facilitated identification by contemporaries with past periods in the national history. Such standardization also created a felt need for greater correctness in expression, leading to the promotion of institutions – for example, academies – charged with producing orthographic and syntactical norms. From a general point of view, this standardization implied that a growing number of people spoke an ever more closely related language. These people would increasingly tend to regard themselves as co-citizens, the common language being a criterion – not the sole one – of membership of a nation.