Language policy and language conflict in Schleswig-Holstein 1810-1888

People involved in this project

Principal investigator:

School Modern languages
Department German
Dates September 2009 - Present
Funder Alexander-von-Humboldtstiftung (Fellowship for Experienced Researchers) 2011-13, British Academy (Small Research Grant) 2010, University of Bristol (University Research Fellowship) 2010-11
Collaborator(s) Prof. Elin Fredsted (University of Flensburg), Prof. Michael Elmentaler (University of Kiel)
Contact person Nils Langer

More about this project

As historical sociolinguists and thus socio-cultural historians of the nineteenth century, we are interested in how minority and regional languages were viewed then, the Age of Nationalism, when the notions of language, nation, and identity were linked up in an explosive way. In particular we are keen to find out whether smaller languages were subjected to aggressive or restrictive language policies, whether they were openly - or simply by implication - excluded from official linguistic domains, such as schooling or administration, and what role they played in the nationalising discourse of the time. Agents of such stigmatisations can be found in government agencies, intellectual circles, journalists, school teachers or amongst language users themselves, who often transmitted a perceived stigma by their own unwillingness to pass on their native language to their children.

These questions are currently being asked by Nils Langer, for the area of the former Duchy of Schleswig, as part of his Humboldt fellowship at the universities of Kiel and Flensburg. He identified a number of complex scenarios in this area, which suggest that the regional sociolinguistic history there can only be understood by distinguishing very carefully between the five present languages involved, the various agents - civil servants, poets, school teachers, governments - , and the different time periods (at least the following: before 1810, 1810-1848, 1848-1864, after 1864). Most strikingly is the fact that whilst the regions boasted and in many ways still boasts of three indigenous native languages (South Jutish, Frisian, Low German), the metalinguistic debates of the time almost exclusively discussed the two other, autochthonous languages High German and Standard Danish. These latter two were the exclusive languages in writing, in church sermons , court trials, or publications. Occasionally, we find references to the native, non-dominant languages, e.g. in life memoirs when the direct speech of a farmer is represented, sometimes in private letters and, in the later period also as occasional poetry in school textbooks. By and large, however, the native spoken languages of the populations remain invisible in the linguistic discourses of the time - with significant consequences for their historiographies. Consequently, we face a number of interesting research questions: