Carl, J. and Stevenson, P.
Central European time: memories of language - lost and found - in the life stories of German-speakers
Carl, Jenny and Stevenson, Patrick (eds.)
Language, Discourse and Identity in Central Europe: the German Language in a Multilingual Space.
(Language and Globalization).
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Language maintenance, shift and loss are standard themes in the sociology of language but they are generally framed as homogeneous effects attributable to macro processes of social change or political intervention and adopted as metrics of ‘ethnolingusitic vitality’. As Block (2007) points out, there is also an axiomatic assumption in the academic literature that these linguistic patterns are evaluated in a uniform way, reinforced by the institutional rhetoric of diversity.
This chapter takes a different perspective. We are interested in the evolving patterns of language contact and multilingualism in central Europe, and we focus on users and uses of the German language. However, we are not concerned here with the position or status of this language or with the vitality of putative ‘ethnolinguistic communities’, as deduced from an outside perspective. Rather, we ask how individuals who have lived through a turbulent period of social change recount their experience of changes in their linguistic repertoires and those of their families.
Our discussion is based on interviews and conversations with individuals in Hungary and the Czech Republic conducted between 1995 and 2005, for all of whom some form of the German language has played a role in their lives. Drawing on Gal’s notions of authenticity and culturally coded temporality (Gal 2006, Gal and Irvine 2001), we explore some of the ways language and linguistic practices feature in the memories of these individuals – stories of language lost, stubbornly maintained, and occasionally (re)found.
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