Language and Social Change in Central Europe: Discourses on Policy, Identity and the German Language

Language and Social Change in Central Europe: Discourses on Policy, Identity and the German Language

Language and Social Change in Central Europe: Discourses on Policy, Identity and the German Language

Language and Social Change in Central Europe: Discourses on Policy, Identity and the German Language


This book explores the dynamics of language and social change in contemporary central Europe. Many scholars recognize that the impact of global economic and cultural processes are not confined to the development of so-called world or global languages. These high-level sociolinguistic changes inevitably reconfigure the "linguascape" of particular regions, states, and localities.

Few parts of the world have witnessed such profound social transformation over the past twenty years as central Europe, with the end of the Cold War and the eastern expansion of the EU. One of the outcomes of this process has been the reshaping of the linguistic environment and the relationship between particular languages and linguistic varieties, especially newly assertive "national" languages and regional or ethnic minority languages. A number of studies have investigated these new relationships from the macro perspective of language policies, while others have taken an ethnographic approach to individual experience.

This book joins these two perspectives together for the first time, focusing primarily on the German language, which has a complex and problematic history. An influential lingua franca across central Europe for centuries, German became the language of fascist oppression during World War II, only to be rehabilitated as the language that bridged the east-west fault line. Today German is the "national" language of two EU member states, and in these states' eastern neighbors, it has become both a "heritage language" of dwindling minority communities and a language of wider communication" with renewed currency in industry, commerce, and tourism. By drawing on a range of theoretical, conceptual, and analytical approaches& -principally language ideologies, language policy, positioning theory, discourse analysis, and linguistic ethnography& -the authors show the necessity of combining these different perspectives in order to attain an understanding of the complex constellation of language politics in central Europe.


Why Switzerland? Jonathan Steinberg poses this beguilingly simple and provocative question in the title of his popular social history of the small alpine nation (Steinberg 1976, 1996). The choice of title was justified by the book’s project, which was to explain two – later three – key questions: ‘why a place as idiosyncratic as Switzerland existed, and why non- Swiss should care’ (the third question, added in the second edition, was ‘why Switzerland should continue to exist’; Steinberg 1996: xi). Curiously though, in his preliminary discussion of these issues, the author places Switzerland ‘at the geographical centre of Europe’ (xii). While a case can be made for including the country in some conception of ‘central Europe’, the geographical centre of the continent surely lies significantly further east – although, as Stanisław Mucha’s idiosyncratic search for this mythical place in the documentary film Die Mitte (2004) shows, there are many competing locations that lay claim to the title (Stevenson and Carl 2009: 1).

We raise these questions here because we were asked – and asked ourselves – similar questions in the course of the research on which this book is based. Why write about such a contentious and ill- defined space as central Europe? Why focus on the German language and its speakers? And why should anyone else care? We are, respectively, a British sociolinguist specialising in language ideologies and the politics of language in Germany, and a German social scientist with expertise in discourses on national and regional identity in the UK, so in exploring relationships between language and social change in what we should perhaps more properly call eastern central Europe we have both moved outside our familiar terrains. However, like Steinberg the historian of modern Europe specialising in Germany and Italy, we have taken our theoretical and methodological apparatus with us on our journey off - piste, not in the mistaken or deluded belief that we could travel virgin territory but in the hope of bringing a fresh perspective on what is indeed well- trodden ground. We are, for example, well aware of Tomasz Kamusella’s monumental and magisterial history of the politics of language and nationalism in modern central Europe (2008) and of the comprehensive survey of German linguistic minorities in this region provided by Eichinger et al. (2008), authoritative . . .

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