The German language and the future of Europe:
towards a research agenda on the politics of language
German Life and Letters, 61, (4), . (doi:10.1111/j.1468-0483.2008.00438.x).
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Most accounts of nationalism and national identity include the idea of a ‘national language’ as a foundational element and key organising principle, yet even before the advent of new technologies of communication these defining codes were rarely, if ever, contained within national boundaries. The coexistence of what are perceived as distinct linguistic varieties (‘languages’) is therefore the normal condition of the nation-state. This contradiction between the multilingual reality of individuals and communities and what Ingrid Gogolin calls the ‘monolingual habitus’ is fundamental to Susan Gal’s (2006) discussion of the ironies of linguistic regimes in contemporary Europe that continue to be based on Herderian principles in spite of the pluralising rhetoric of European institutions.
In this paper, I start from Gal’s observations on migration, minorities, and multilingualism in Europe and consider their implications for a research agenda on the politics of language that takes account of the multiple layers of language policy on the one hand and the complexity of individual experiences with language on the other. I then illustrate this agenda with reference to a project on the present relationship between the German language and different forms of social identification in central Europe.
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