The Contribution of Language Use, Language Attitudes, and Language Competence to Minority Language Maintenance: A Report from Austrian Carinthia

Article excerpt

Abstract: During fieldwork in the Slovene-minority area of Austrian Carinthia in 1998-2000, over two hundred informants were interviewed in six localities. The interviews were designed to elicit three types of data: (i) language use in social networks, (ii) subjective perceptions of "ethnolinguistic vitality", and (iii) linguistic competence in Standard Slovene and Standard Austrian German. The three parameters were expected to correlate with each other. This article describes the questionnaire, scoring and analysis, and demonstrates that the three parameters of attitudes, social networks, and linguistic competence are indeed correlated with each other. Several specific conclusions are reported with regard to the factors which are involved in Slovene language-maintenance in Austria.

1. Introduction

Few quantitative studies of any minority language situation have combined the three parameters of language use, language attitudes, and language competence; such a study involves sociolinguistics, psychosociolinguistics, and descriptive linguistics, and perhaps it is this combination that has discouraged investigators. It appears, however, intuitively obvious that how many members of a minority use their language, what their attitudes toward it are, and how well they speak it are, to some degree at least, interdependent. The importance of a multidisciplinary approach is emphasized in theory by Giles et al. (1990) and in exemplary fashion in practice by Gorter (1997: 62), who, quoting Fishman (1965), writes: "The basic research question ... [is]: 'Who speaks what to whom when, why, and how'". He explains this statement as follows: to understand a minority language situation one must investigate four different kinds of variables: competence, use, attitudes, and socio-demographic characteristics. The last-named is clearly as essential as the others, but is not amenable to the kind of testing-by-interview of individual informants, which was the focus of the research whose results are reported here. (1) Austrian Carinthia, the home of a Slovene-speaking minority with a history of partial language-loss and familiar to the senior investigator who has worked in that location for over 20 years, is well suited to this type of multidisciplinary fieldwork, which was carried out in 1998, 1999, and 2000.

Nothing methodologically comparable to our study has been previously attempted in the Carinthian context; indeed to our knowledge nothing in the context of minority languages in all of eastern Europe. For Carinthia, which (largely because of the long-lasting political standoff between this part of Austria and the former Yugoslavia) has been relatively well-studied, historians, sociologists, political scientists, and linguists have made contributions, but each has worked monodisciplinarily. With two exceptions the only previous attempts at strict sociolinguistic analysis were the senior investigator's, were restricted to the same village, and were of a qualitative and not quantitative nature (see section 2.2). In the wider context of minority language study, this kind of multidisciplinary research has been carried out in several countries (2) (e.g., Canada: Allard and Landry 1992, 1994, Landry and Allard 1992; Spain: Cenoz and Valencia 1993; Netherlands: Gorter 1994; Israel: Kraemer et al. 1994), but, even in these instances, strictly descriptive aspects of research have seldom been correlated with sociolinguistic approaches. (3) The classical publications about European minority languages make data-based analyses of one or two of the three parameters, but even when two are analyzed, they are not correlated with each other. Thus Dorian (1981) describes her impressions of language use ("allocation") and language attitudes ("loyalty") and then carries out precise tests of competence; Woolard (1989) investigates language attitudes quantitatively, but her assessments of language use and competence (and other features) are qualitative; and while Vassberg (1993) performs statistical analyses of both language use and language attitudes, she does not correlate the two, and is not at all concerned with competence. …