The Social, Political and Cultural History of an International Prestige Language
8. Aristocratic Francophone Literature in Bohemia
During the Nazi occupation of Bohemia, Count Jiří Douglas Sternberg knew that the Gestapo were listening to his telephone conversations but he found a way to outwit them for a while.1 When he or his family were calling their relatives in the chateau Jemniště, they used a secret language, which confused the Nazis for it was neither German nor Czech. It was French. They simply opted for the language that had been an intimate variety for the European aristocracy since the Age of Enlightenment, a variety with which Jiří’s generation was still quite familiar. ‘My father and mother talked to each other only in French’, says Sternberg about these aristocrats living in the twentieth century.2 In the eighteenth century, when this fashion began, French, as the aristocratic sociolect, had fulfilled two contradictory roles. First, it was the ‘language of proximity’, that is to say a language used in the private sphere. Second, it was a literary language, a language used to address the literary public sphere. In what follows, I shall seek to explain this apparent contradiction, but first we need to consider the fact that aristocratic francophonie in Bohemia existed within a changing multilingual context.
By the twentieth century, the multilingual diversity of Bohemia had already been reduced to Czech-German bilingualism, which was complicated only by the relatively large disparity between written and colloquial forms in both of these languages.3 Back in the eighteenth century, though, francophonie existed within a much more intricate intellectual and...
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