Even before the German became an object of study in school and the sciences (today it is so mainly in German Linguistics) it had already been an object of study of the arts, philological, literary for centuries. It was above all a topic of debate and reflection in cultural and educational policy. This has not changed much. According to a representative survey by the Institute of German Language in Mannheim (IDS) a good two fifths of the German population are interested in the topic. It forms part of public debates in different contexts (to varying degrees):
- Critical examination of language change – often interpreted as language decay, especially with regard to the Anglo-American influence;
- The question of the international role of German (especially in light of the dominance of English);
- The question of politically correct usage of language (especially with regards to the linguistically equal treatment of men and women as well as non-discriminatory handling of minorities);
- The consideration of spelling (above all the debate about the spelling reform, which peaked in the nineties, but is now abating);
- In the realm of education and science there is a debate regarding the role of German, e.g. as a subject of study and as a language of science. Keywords here are: multilingualism, students with a migratory background, incorporation of soft skills, e. g. in the context of BA/MA courses, the replacement of German by English as the main language of science and (especially in Switzerland) the role of standard German and dialects in kindergarden and school.
- A further interesting point is the current politicization of German in Germany, Austria and Switzerland: this is particularly visible in the endeavour to anchor German or rather Austrian German more in EU-committees as well as – in Germany – the publicly backed demand to anchor the priority of German in the constitution. In Switzerland German is a political issue and subject of numerous debates especially in the light of multilingualism (the role of German as a national language, the tension between standard German and dialects within German-speaking Switzerland).
- Next to the commercialization of language in and as advertisement, German has also become a matter of entertainment (cf. the success of Bastian Sick a. o.)
- Further object of interest are dialects, sociolects, etymology, grammar, linguistic manipulation in politics and advertisement, language acquisition, etc.
The goal of the instigation of the domain of knowledge “German Language” is to connect the public debate of language (lay linguistics) and the findings of professional linguistics. This leads to the following question: How and by whom outside of linguistics does German become publicly and medially popularized, used and instrumentalised as a domain of action and knowledge? And: How do linguists react in light of this?
Not only the current but also the historical perspective are of interest here. From the perspective of linguistics, language has two different dimensions, both of which are to be taken into account: first, the part of language that the subjects to be tested know or believe they know (the view of language or rather language ideology: topics, questions, semantic concepts, programmes, attitudes), and second, the way in which the test subjects talk about language, how they constitute their knowledge or ideology of language linguistically. In addition, the object of study is identical with the research tool and the explanatory tool, so that this can also become an object of study, i. e. attention will also be paid to the linguistically formed knowledge as well as to the way of metalinguistic language used by the linguistic community.
The establishment of the domain of knowledge “German Language” wants to be understood as a forum that documents and analyses subject matters and tensions of this controversy as well as points out ways of mediation. Pertinent questions are:
- What does the speech community know about language?
- What is the speech community interested in?
- What are controversial issues; who debates and why?
- In what way is knowledge of language linguistically expressed (and thus constituted)?
- Which language ideologies are common in the German speech community? Are these culturally specific (e. g. through historical developments) or do other speech communities have comparable ideological patterns?
- What possibilities for research does the linguistic community see? Where are the limitations of the scientific view of language?
- How does the linguistic community handle the interests and questions of the public? Are there discursive gaps between linguistics and the public?
The portal is to be a forum for on-going projects on the topic. Currently the following projects are underway:
- German and English (J. A. Bär): In a comparative study concepts of “the German language” and the “English language” of German and English authors of the 17th and 20th century are to be analysed. Particular attention will be paid to the value judgments given as well as the specific thematic aspects that are discussed in the context.
- Language ideologies in an intercultural comparison (J. Spitzmüller): Today there is already a sizeable amount of detailed studies on language ideological debates in various cultures. The current project aims to compare these findings with the metalinguistic investigations on German. The goal is to bring to light how strongly culture-bound metalinguistic discourses really are and whether it is, for example, really true that the discourse on borrowing in Germany is largely formed by recent history, that the Swiss are particularly open towards borrowing or whether there are intercultural patterns of the perception of language and the consequent patterns of evaluation. This project is done in cooperation with AILA Research Network Language in the Media: Representations, Identities, Ideologies.
The following projects have been completed:
- Language reflection in the late Middle Ages and early Modern Period (J. A. Bär): On the occasion of a contribution to an anthology planned by Anja Lobenstein-Reichmann and Oskar Reichmann on Early Modern High German, the language knowledge in the 14th to 17th century has been investigated. Based on a corpus of German and Latin texts of the time the positions held on the origin of the German language, attitudes to varieties, standardization processes, questions of borrowing, translation and language teaching have been analysed. The contribution can be accessed online: http://www.baer-linguistik.de/beitraege/Fruehneuhochdeutsche_Sprachreflexion.pdf