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

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Fieldwork in the Slovene-minority area of Austrian Carinthia is described. Over two hundred informants were interviewed. Three kinds of techniques were used: informants (1) reported on their patterns of language use; (2) responded to cues that test attitudes; and (3) were tested for their competence in Slovene and German. From the extensive results of statistical analysis, three sets are selected from the attitudinal data which bear on prospects for the future maintenance of Slovene. Only significant results are considered. Comparison of results for different age-groups shows sixteen respects where younger informants are more positive than their elders with respect to the "ethnolinguistic vitality" of Slovene, as against four which are more negative. Female informants are shown to be more negative than males, but only in four particulars; this is a potential symptom of the frailty of a minority language, but given the small incidence it is not considered an actual symptom. Finally, twelve "Present Vitality" results are compared with the corresponding "Future Vitality" results: in seven instances minority respondents are positive about the future, in four instances they are negative. The conclusion: minority "ethnolinguistic vitality" attitudes, which are crucial for language maintenance, suggest optimism; this must however be a guarded optimism, especially because of measures taken against the Slovenophone minority in the last two years.


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). …