Academic journal article Canadian Slavonic Papers

Maintenance of Slovene in Carinthia (Austria): Grounds for Guarded Optimism?

Academic journal article Canadian Slavonic Papers

Maintenance of Slovene in Carinthia (Austria): Grounds for Guarded Optimism?

Article excerpt


This is a report of some of the major findings from three years of fieldwork among the Slovenophone1 minority in Carinthia (Slovene: Koroska, German: Karnten), Austria.2 The aim was to investigate three of the most important factors which-as is generally recognized -support the maintenance of a minority language, namely: how much its speakers speak the languages at their disposal; how well they speak them; and what their attitudes are towards them.

The Slovene-speaking minority in Austria4 inhabits a strip of territory in the provinces of Carinthia and Styria (Stajerska, Steiermark) contiguous to Slovenia. The minority is very much larger in Carinthia than in Styria. Four language-varieties are used: Standard German, i.e., Hochdeutsch in its Austrian variant; Dialect German, i.e., Karntnerisch; Standard Slovene; and Dialect Slovene. Dialect Slovene is the first language of most minority members; there are no monolingual Slovene-speakers still alive. Minority competence in Standard Slovene varies very greatly, depending on, inter alia, education, frequency of church attendance, and strength of ethnic self-identification. All members of the minority speak German: they are taught Standard German in school, hear it in the media, and use it for official purposes; nearly all are more or less competent also in some form of Dialect German, and speak this with Germanophones in informal situations.

The Slavs settled in this region in the sixth century; Bajuvarian immigration began very soon. Thereafter government by German-speakers continued until the twentieth century. Over time, the territory inhabited by Slovene-speakers in what is now Austria diminished greatly. Already in the nineteenth century Slovene-inhabited Southern Carinthia was partly bilingual, with the greatest concentrations of German-speakers in the urban areas, especially in the capital Celovec/Klagenfurt. Today, this region is partly German monolingual, partly bilingual; only a very few areas remain preponderantly Slovene-speaking. Reasons for the extensive linguistic assimilation of the minority to the majority are many, including (1) demographic and employment mobility; (2) lack of educational opportunity; (3) economic pressure; (4) societal pressure; (5) political pressure; (6) the availability and application of the ethnic term Windisch (see Priestly 1997); (7) harassment, deportation, and reprisals during World War Two. Relative importance of these factors has varied according to date, locality and various other causes (Busch 2001: 121-22).

The size of the minority is very difficult to estimate, for two reasons: (1) it is usually unclear what is being counted; and (2) social, economic and political pressure on respondents affect both official censuses and other kinds of counting. For Carinthia, the official census for 1991 reported 15,500 with Slovene as their mother tongue; I estimate that at least an equal number could actually speak Slovene, but would not admit in writing to doing so, i.e., a more accurate minimum figure of those actively able to speak Dialect and/or Standard Slovene would be 31,000, or 5.7% of the total population of Carinthia (note that the bilingual zone takes up less than one half of the provincial area). I estimate that the number of Carinthians able to understand one or another kind of Slovene must have been at least twice this in 1991, i.e., close to 62,000, or 11.4% of the total.5


It appears intuitively obvious that how much members of a minority use their language, what their attitudes to it are, and how well they speak it, are to some degree at least interdependent; but very few quantitative studies of any minority language situation have combined these three parameters of language use, language attitudes and language competence. Such a study involves sociolinguistics, psychosociolinguistics and "plain" linguistics, and perhaps this combination has discouraged investigators. …

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