Project outline

Funding, location and project team

The project is funded by a 3-year Research Grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Board (2004-7) and is based in the Centre for Transnational Studies, a multidisciplinary research centre in the School of Humanities at the University of Southampton, in which several major projects are already located:

The project team consists of Professor Patrick Stevenson (project director), Dr Jenny Carl (Research Assistant) and Livia Schanze (PhD student).

Research questions

2004 represents a crucial turning point in the development of Europe. The expansion of EU membership and the revision of its constitution pose fundamental questions about the future direction of Europe and what it means to be European. The project will explore this issue from a sociolinguistic perspective by investigating the role of German in relation to other languages in the process of identity formation in Germany and Austria and in neighbouring states in the east.

The expansion of EU membership and the revision of its constitution pose fundamental questions about the future direction of Europe and what it means to be European.

The central research question to be addressed by the project is therefore:

  • What role does the German language play in the preservation and promotion of national and ethnic identities in 'post-national' Europe?

Answering this overriding question will entail addressing the following specific questions:

  • What are the ideologies underlying the language policies with which the German and Austrian governments seek to promote the German language internally and externally?
  • What implications do these policies have for the goals of enhancing social inclusion and integration within these states on the one hand, and of encouraging social mobility between EU member states on the other?
  • How do these policies contribute to public debates on the nature of citizenship?
  • What is the relationship between monolingual state policies and the multilingual practices characteristic of European urban societies?
  • How are these national governments and their agencies seeking to exploit the German language as a resource to secure influence in the emerging economic and cultural markets in eastern Europe, and to what effect?

While these questions highlight the role of the German language and German-speaking countries, the answers will also have significance for other 'national' languages and other countries in Europe.

Aims and objectives

The project will knit together the national and transnational foci of earlier work on the construction of national identities at different historical moments in Germany (Stevenson 1993, 2002; Stevenson & Theobald 2000) and the negotiation of ethnic identities in eastern European contexts in which German is a minority language (Stevenson 1997, 2000a, 2000b) by exploring the relationship between linguistic ideologies, policies and practices in Europe as the enlarged EU begins to take shape.

In addressing the research questions above, the project will thus pursue two complementary aims. It will:

a) analyse discourses surrounding language, migration and citizenship in Germany and Austria in terms of what Blommaert (1999) calls 'language ideological debates', in order to enhance understanding of the role of language in public conceptions of what it means to 'belong' in contemporary European societies (see Theme 1, below);

b) explore how German competes with English to retain and expand its influence in the cultural and economic space of central and eastern Europe in relation to the work of Phillipson (1992, 2003) and Mühlhäusler (1996) on 'linguistic imperialism' and Pennycook (1998) on language and the discourses of colonialism, and how the co-presence of these two 'extra-territorial' languages influences linguistic repertoires and communicative behaviours in this setting (see Theme 2 , below).

Research context

The context for this project is constituted by the coincidence of two major developments in the evolution of contemporary Europe. The first is the growing movement of people into and within Europe in general and the European Union in particular, and the second is the enlargement of the EU. Both of these processes represent important opportunities for European society, but both have also given rise to significant social and political tensions. The principal sources of tension can best be described as the conflict of interests between the national and the transnational on the one hand, and between the old and the new (effectively the west and the east) on the other.

Theme 1 The national and the transnational: language, migration and citizenship in Germany and Austria

As the traffic of people, ideas and cultural practices increases, transcending national boundaries and challenging conventional conceptions of social reproduction within narrowly prescribed national traditions, national governments in Germany and Austria (as well as other EU member states) are - apparently paradoxically - developing and implementing more restrictive policies on immigration, nationality and citizenship. These policies are being drawn up within the context of particular national circumstances shaped by differing historical conditions, but a key common feature is the attention paid to language. This highlights another apparent paradox: despite the repeated failure of linguistic nationalism (Barbour & Carmichael 2000), western European governments more than ever are invoking the idea of a 'national language' and identifying proficiency in this national language - or the willingness to attain it - as a touchstone of civic responsibility and commitment to the maintenance of monolithic national cultural traditions (Kymlicka 1995, 2001).

Theme 2 The west and the east: language policy, linguistic repertoires and identity formation in central and eastern Europe

While the accession of eastern European states to the EU is construed by some in the west as a potential threat to social stability in Europe and a drain on economic resources, it represents for others an opportunity for investment and economic expansion. Competition for shares in this emerging market has grown since 1989 and can only intensify following EU enlargement in 2004. Germany and Austria have been particularly well placed to take advantage of this expansion, not only because of their geographical location but also because of the status of German as the lingua franca of central and eastern Europe as a result of deep-rooted historical traditions and settled ethnic German populations. However, German influence in this reinvented Mitteleuropa is increasingly challenged by the dominance of the global language English (Ammon 1998, 2000, Graddol 1997, Grin 2003, Phillipson 2003). The relationship between status and policy at the macro level and individual and collective practices and repertoires at the micro level therefore remains to be determined.

By bringing together these two themes, the project will investigate some of the roles of the German language in the reconfiguration of European society. It is hoped that its thematic foci, its theoretical and analytical framework and its methodological approach will result in an original contribution both to current debates on language and (trans)national identity formation and to the development of research models in sociolinguistics. The questions it will explore will have an important bearing on social integration, economic development and political culture in the new Europe that is just beginning to emerge; the answers it seeks to supply will provide insights into the symbolic and instrumental potential of particular languages in this complex process. At the same time, by being carried out at this crucial early stage, it may be able to make a contribution to the process. Finally, by exploring the relationships between ideologies, policies and practices - each typically treated in isolation in previous research - the project will break new ground and stimulate further research in this area.

Research methods

The material input for the project will consist principally of three kinds of textual data:

a) official documentation (e.g. policy papers, government reports, legislation) and parliamentary and media debates relating to both themes;

b) semi-structured interviews with opinion formers and policy makers (e.g. politicians, journalists, educationalists, government advisers) in Germany and Austria and the EU Commission, again relating to both themes; and

c) ethnographic interviews with individual informants and focus groups in two representative eastern European contexts (in the Czech Republic and in Hungary); these interviews relate to the second theme only.

These complementary sources of data are necessary in order to fulfil the aim of investigating the connections and contradictions between ideologies, policies and practices. They will be interrogated in terms of questions such as: how is language incorporated into policies at national and supra-national (EU) level? how do these policies relate to ideas and beliefs about language and social identities and about moral and political value? how are they absorbed into public discourses? how do they relate to individual perceptions and practices?

The material will be analysed in two stages: first, textual analysis at the micro level within the frameworks of critical discourse analysis (van Dijk 1993, Fairclough 1992, 2001, Wodak 1999) and language biographies (Nekvapil 2000, 2003); secondly, identification and interpretation of discourses emerging from the case studies in terms of the theoretical models of language ideologies proposed by Blommaert (1999), Gal and Woolard (2001), and Kroskrity (2000) amongst others.


Ammon, U. (1998) Ist Deutsch noch internationale Wissenschaftssprache? (de Gruyter)

Ammon, U. (ed) (2000) Sprachförderung: Schlüssel auswärtiger Kulturpolitik

Barbour, S. & C. Carmichael (eds) (2000) Language and Nationalism in Europe (OUP)

Blommaert, J. (ed) (1999) Language Ideological Debates (de Gruyter)

Brutt-Griffler, J. (2002) Global English: A study of its development (Multilingual Matters)

Fairclough, N. (1992) Discourse and Social Change (Polity)

Fairclough, N. (2001) Language and Power (Longman)

Gal, S. and K. Woolard (eds) (2001) Languages and Publics ( St Jerome )

Gardt, A. and B. Hüppauf (eds) (2004) Globalization and the Future of German (Mouton de Gruyter)

Graddol, D. (1997) The Future of English (British Council)

Grin, F. (2003) Language Policy Evaluation and the European Charter on Regional or Minority Languages (Palgrave Macmillan)

Kroskrity, P. (ed) (2000) Régimes of Language ( School of American Research Press )

Kymlicka, W. (1995) Multicultural Citizenship: A liberal theory of minority rights (Oxford University Press).

Kymlicka, W. (2001) Politics in the Vernacular: Nationalism, multiculturalism and Citizenship (Oxford University Press).

Mühlhäusler, P. (1996) Linguistic Ecology (Routledge)

Nekvapil, J. (2000) ‘On non-self-evident relationships between language and ethnicity: how Germans do not speak German and Czechs do not speak Czech', in Multilingua 19, 37-53.

Nekvapil, J. (2003) ‘Language biographies and analysis of language situations: on the life of the German community in the Czech Republic ', in IJSL 162, 63-83.

Pennycook, A. (1998) English and the Discourses of Colonialism (Routledge)

Phillipson, R. (1992) Linguistic Imperialism (OUP)

Phillipson, R. (2003) English-Only Europe ? (Routledge)

Stevenson, P. (1993) ‘The German language and the construction of national identities', in Flood et al Das unsichtbare Band der Sprache (Akademischer Verlag Stuttgart)

Stevenson, P. (2002) Language and German Disunity: a sociolinguistic history of east and west in Germany 1945-2000 (OUP)

Stevenson, P. (1997) 'The dynamics of linguistic and cultural identification on the central margins of Europe '. Sociolinguistica 11, 192-203.

Stevenson, P. (2000a) ‘The ethnolinguistic vitality of German-speaking communities in central Europe', in S. Wolff, ed. German Minorities in Europe : Ethnic Identity and Cultural Belonging, (Berghahn), 109-124.

Stevenson, P. (2000b) ‘The multilingual marketplace: German as a Hungarian language', in G. Hogan-Brun, ed. National Varieties of German Outside Germany (Peter Lang), 243-258.

Stevenson, P. & J. Theobald (eds) (2000) Relocating Germanness: discursive disunity in unified Germany (Macmillan)

Wodak, R. et al (1999) The Discursive Construction of National Identity (Edinburgh UP)

Wright, S. (2004) Language Policy and Language Planning: From nationalism to globalisation ( Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan)