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Metalinguistic Perspectives on Germanic Languages

European Case Studies from Past to Present


Gijsbert Rutten and Kristine Horner

In what ways has language been central to constructing, challenging and reconfiguring social and political boundaries? This volume traverses space and time to explore the construction of such boundaries. Focusing on the ways that language functions as an inclusive and divisive marker of identity, the volume includes case studies on Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Belgium  and Luxembourg. It also explores the northern and southern borderlands of present-day Germany as well as the city of Cologne and the surrounding Ruhr area. The chapters critically engage with focused accounts of past and present language situations, practices and policies. Taken as a whole, the volume stresses the importance of studying metalinguistic perspectives as a means of enabling detailed analyses and challenging generalizations.
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4 Ideologies of National and Regional Languages: Metalinguistic Discourses on Low German in the Nineteenth Century


1 Introduction1

The principal sociolinguistic effect of the standard language ideology appears to be the cleansing of linguistic diversity in a given region or country with the result that only one language and only one variety of that language be considered suitable or acceptable for use in official language domains (administration, media, print, schooling, public life). All other linguistic varieties and languages typically become suppressed (or ‘invisibilised’, cf. Langer and Havinga 2015) and only feature in private and oral communication. In this chapter, we will explore an example of such a suppressed language, namely Low German, which has provoked some considerable metalinguistic debate since at least the seventeenth century. Having lost its use as a written language after the decline of the Hanseatic league and the introduction of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, the nineteenth century saw a remarkable turning point, with Low German re-emerging as a language used in writing, in particular poetry, drama, and fiction. In our chapter, we will outline the intellectual tensions that surfaced between public intellectuals who, on the one hand, were very positive about the promotion of Low German as an autochthonous language and cultural heritage of northern Germany and, on the other hand, were at pains to ← 57 | 58 → emphasize that Low German speakers feel part of the German nation and fully accept that only High German can be the language to unite the nation. These tensions illustrate how important or perhaps even overpowering the standard language ideology...

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