Orders of multilingualism in central Europe: linguistic regimes, social categorization and belonging
At Council for European Studies 16th International Conference.
06 - 08 Mar 2008.
My starting point in this paper is Jan Blommaert’s injunction to explore ‘the various forms of interconnectedness between levels and scales of sociolinguistic phenomena’ in the process of establishing a ‘sociolinguistics of globalisation’. My particular focus is on ways in which ideologies of linguistic differentiation are refracted through various discursive layers in talk about language in the context of the EU: from the institutionalised privileging of a certain kind of multilingualism in EU strategies through national policies on language and citizenship to individual perceptions and evaluations of linguistic experience.
National governments of member states sign up to multilingual strategies which are predicated on the unquestioned legitimacy of ‘national languages’ but at the expense of other linguistic varieties (whether or not they are identified as ‘European’) which lack their currency or authority. Discourses around the German language are emblematic of this process of elision: it is promoted above English as the language with the highest number of ‘mother-tongue’ speakers in the EU, it is the ‘national language’ of more than one member state and of the driving force of the EU economy, its embodiment of the cultural heritage of ‘central Europe’ gives it a special place in the emergence of the new European space. But it occupies a different position in the European ‘linguascape’ (Coupland) depending on the vantage point of the observer. In Germany and Austria, standard German anchors the idea of a national language, neutralising problematic processes of social categorisation, but simultaneously creates potentially exclusionary obstacles to the construction of new conceptions of citizenship; in neighbouring eastern states, the same standard language ideology underpins the foreign cultural policy of German and Austrian governments but requires a realignment or recalibration of the repertoires of German-speaking minorities.
My paper is framed by the encompassing discourses of multilingualism in national and European institutions, but it incorporates illustrative analyses of individual encounters with the politics of language in everyday life under different social and historical conditions in central Europe.
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