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Review of  Sprachenpolitik in Österreich

Reviewer: Franz Dotter
Book Title: Sprachenpolitik in Österreich
Book Author: Rudolf de Cillia Eva Vetter
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 25.2477

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This collection of 13 articles in German analyzes Austrian language policy from 2001 to 2011, updating an original overview produced in 2001 (Busch, Brigitta & De Cillia, Rudolf (eds.): ''Sprachenpolitik in Oesterreich. Eine Bestandsaufnahme'', 2003).

The VERBAL group (Verband für Angewandte Linguistik/Association for Applied Linguistics; the Austrian section of AILA = Association Internationale de Linguistique Applique) is an active group which has often published important statements on language policy in Austria (e.g. in the interest of improving the linguistic situation of autochthone minorities in Austria, including Austrian Sign Language, as well as the important role of migrant languages in integration). With these activities, the group plays an outstanding role in Austrian linguistics.

In the preface, the editors see some improvements in Austrian language policy, like the recognition of Austrian Sign Language, positive developments in literacy and language teaching, or the establishment of an Austrian counseling organization (Austrian Language Committee/Oesterreichisches Sprachenkomitee; A negative evaluation is given about the growing discrimination against migrant languages.

Elfie Fleck describes the situation of pupils who are bi- or multilingual because they have ‘migrant background’ (''Zur Situation von lebensweltlich mehrsprachigen SchülerInnen: aktuelle Lage und neuere Entwicklungen in der Bildungspolitik''). She gives statistical data on migration to Austria: In 2011, 1,5 million persons, or 18% of the population were migrants. The largest groups were 220,000 persons with German as mother tongue; 209,000 from Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo, 185,000 from Turkey. Among pupils, about 201,000 (18%) had a first language other than German; the pupils being rather unequally distributed (e.g. Vienna had 56.3% of these pupils). Austria's school laws have been adapted to this situation: There is some special support to help immigrant children develop their competence in German (5-12 hours in a week), but the respective qualification of teachers is still lacking to a great extent. Also support for the pupils’ non-German mother tongues is possible within the curriculum (at the moment about 32,000 pupils with 23 languages take advantage of this offer). Intercultural learning is a so-called ''principle of instruction''. The author criticizes the continuing tendency towards monolingual German education contexts by examples; she also criticizes the apparently common belief that early language support in the kindergarten (only one year is obligatory) would be sufficient to overcome deficits some children already suffer by that point. She demands language support for the entire duration of schooling. She sees discrimination in the practice of having a significant number of pupils with low competence in German are forced to attend special schools as if they had developmental disabilities. Summarizing, Fleck describes some positive developments (efforts towards a general evaluation of the competence of all children in German shortly before entering school = ''Sprachstandserhebung''), but these were not sufficient to replace a systematic policy on multilingualism.

Monika Dannerer, Magdalene Knappik and Birgit Springsits deal with the training of teachers /pedagogues in the context of multilingualism and especially German as a second language (''PädagogInnenbildung in einer mehrsprachigen Gesellschaft -- Deutsch als Zweitsprache und Mehrsprachigkeitsdidaktik in der Aus- und Weiterbildung von LehrerInnen und Kindergarten-PädagogInnen in Oesterreich''). To prepare these professionals for a multilingual society, courses in German as a second language or in intercultural learning are offered at some universities for teachers of pupils 10 and older. There are normally 2-4 obligatory semester hours; additionally it is possible to choose up to 14 or even 24 hours for specialization. Primary school teachers get about 3-7 hours, for kindergarten teachers there is no systematic instruction in the curriculum. The article ends with recommendations.

Verena Plutzar analyzes legal obligations for migrants who want to stay in Austria (''Deutsch lernen per Gesetz'') to show a certain competence in German in order to be allowed to stay in Austria and gain citizenship (according to a 2003 law; similar obligations are spreading across the countries of Europe). The target competence is B1. She notes critically that a positive certificate of a respective course may not be sufficient as the authority can even then state that the competence is still to low, also the low extent of the courses offered (300 units in Austria against 600-1200 in Germany).In the meantime the possibility to expand to 1200 units has been realized. Summarizing, the author pleads for more interculturally oriented and flexible efforts to help immigrants.

Gero Fischer and Ursula Doleschal describe the changed role of spoken minority languages in the Austrian educational system (''Von Minderheitensprachen zu Nachbarsprachen - Die Rolle der Minderheitensprachen in Oesterreichs Bildungswesen 2011''). There are 6 recognized minorities: Croatian, Roma, Slovak, Slovene, Czech and Hungarian (Austrian Sign Language is not acknowledged as a autochthonous minority language). Their language rights are regulated rather differently by several laws, starting with the State Treaty of Vienna 1955 which defined Austria's independence after the Second World War and formulated some obligations for Austria. The authors describe the situation of every minority language in depth and add Polish as a language which should have minority status. The authors call attention to the increasing loss of minority languages as languages in use in families, institutions, etc. Instead they take on more and more the status of foreign languages used in neighboring countries. They recommend increasing efforts for these languages, especially in terms of materials development and research.

Susanna Buttaroni (''Frühe Mehrsprachigkeit in der Elementarbildung'') deals with multilinguality in kindergarten. As kindergartens are administrated by the individual provinces, there is no uniform Austrian perspective on it. There is growing awareness and some individual initiatives, but no structural changes are visible to date (the author analyzes official documents and research results). They discuss strengths and weaknesses of how children’s competence in German is evaluated, something which is done regularly (except children with special needs) in kindergarten shortly before the children enter school in order to identify possible support needs. Concerning training of kindergarten staff, only one institution in Carinthia offers a linguistic introduction within the regular curriculum, the other provinces only offer further training. The article closes with recommendations.

Verena Krausneker writes about the situation of Austrian Sign Language = OeGS (''Oesterreichische Gebärdensprache ist anerkannt''). She describes the constitutional acknowledgment of OeGS in 2005 and puts it into the international context. About 10,000 Austrians use OeGS as their first language. The sign language community has benefited from some advances, but in general the big hopes of the Deaf have not been not fulfilled. The Austrian Deaf Association has documented extensive discrimination, especially with the educational situation remaining as bad as it was before ( There is still no bilingual curriculum for OeGS-German while there are curricula for spoken minority and immigrant languages (see above). Access to information is still limited (subtitling in the public TV ORF is at only about 50%, with no subtitling at all in private TV). Barrier-free access to public information is generally lacking -- except some individual initiatives. Interpreting is guaranteed for public administration, the courts and work, but not for private purposes. University research is a very small niche; except interpreter education it is not possible to study sign language or deaf culture (only individual courses or small parts of alternative curricula). The article ends with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and Austria's respective National Action Plan. Summarizing, Krausneker states that language rights for the deaf are not yet given in most everyday situations.

Rudolf de Cillia and Michaela Haller discuss the learning of foreign languages in Austrian kindergartens and schools (''Englisch und ...? Vorschulisches und schulisches Sprachenlernen in Oesterreich'') in the context of the Council of Europe's ''Language Educational Policy Profiling'' and the Austrian Language Committee. They describe the legal framework of language instruction at every level of education in depth (aims, curricula, didactic principles and methods) and give a table of foreign languages offered in the 4th, 8th, 10th and 12th level: English is taught to 98.6% of Austrian pupils, French to 1.7%, Italian to 1.4%, Slovenian to 0.8%, Croatian to 0.5%, Czech to 0.3%, Hungarian and Russian to 0.2%, Slovak and Spanish to 0.1%. The authors finally turn to discussion/recommendations regarding multilinguality and innovative teaching forms.

Martin Stegu, Regina Winkler and Barbara Seidlhofer describe foreign language teaching in Austria's higher education system(''Fremdsprachenlernen an Universitäten, Fachhochschulen und Pädagogischen Hochschulen''). They list all languages taught, curricula and competences needed for starting a study, then turn to recent developments. The chapter ends with 13 concrete demands (including a general concept for tertiary language studies, a tight connection between research and teaching, the adoption of international standards).

Thomas Fritz gives an overview of language learning in adult education (''60 Sprachen lernen in Österreich. Sprachenpolitik -- Sprachenlernen -- Erwachsenenbildung''). There are no statistical data, but one can say that 60 languages are offered by the many institutions active in the field; there is a recent increase especially in German as a second language. The most frequently taught languages in about 10,000 courses of one of the biggest institutions, the Austrian Adult Education Centers (''Volkshochschule''), are English with 28% of all courses, German with 20%, Italian with 15%, Spanish with 10% and French with 6%. 78% of Austrians are competent in one foreign language, 27% in two, and 9% in three 9. Legal basics and the situation/training of teachers are also discussed.

Antje Doberer-Bey, Angelika Hrubesch and Otto Rath describe adult literacy and basic education (''Alphabetisierung und Basisbildung seit 2002. Vom Frosch zum Prinzen?''). The article starts with discussing the German notion of ''functional analphabetism'' which is now given up in favor of ''basic education'' (''Basisbildung'') or ''literacy'' (''Literalität''). Especially in the context of integration of immigrants, different concepts of basic education can be found. The authors discuss them and their respective practices using the terms ''critical'', ''social'', and ''new literacies'', as well as ''multiliteracies'', including digital competences. In order to establish criteria for the evaluation of basic education for abilities at the workplace, the ''Austrian National Framework of Qualification'' was developed. Many necessary data are lacking, but at least the scientific engagement in the field is increasing. Basic education plays a major role in the strategy of lifelong learning and is predominantly realized by networks of organizations and projects. Quality standards and profiles of trainers as well as their training are discussed and the situation of actual trainers is analyzed. Besides other recommendations the authors propose a nationwide campaign for basic education.

Judith Purkarthofer analyzes the relationship between language policy and the media (''Lokal, global und mehrsprachig? Sprachenpolitik und Medien''), especially that of the public-legal broadcasting institution ORF (''Oesterreichischer Rundfunk Fernsehen''/Austrian Radio Television). This institution has secured some legal support for e.g. autochthonous minority languages (there are regular broadcasts in these languages). Since 1998 there are also ''free radio'' broadcasting companies, mostly small, which dedicate up to 30% of their time to languages besides German. Printed media are overwhelmingly German, but there are a few commercial ones printed in Turkish or Croatian/Serbian/Bosnian (i.e. the largest immigrant groups) and also a few small printed media for autochthonous minority groups, partially funded by the state. Books and films in foreign languages as material for language learning are used by about 11% of the population, radio courses are not offered at the moment. The article ends with short recommendations to offer more integrative media initiatives.

Rudolf Muhr describes the situation of Austrian German (''Zur sprachenpolitischen Situation des Oesterreichischen Deutsch 2000-2012''), exhaustively covering language political issues 2000-2012 and comparing them with 1995. Furthermore, a complete annotated list of publications on Austrian German is offered: The number of publications on Austrian German has increased enormously in comparison to earlier decades: the author quotes 140 books and 95 articles and classifies them formally (monographs, collections of articles, dictionaries, etc.) as well as content-related (identity, literary language, attitudes, terminology, teaching of German, etc.). Muhr defines the notion 'Austrian German' comprehensively as covering all language phenomena in Austria related to German. This means that not only the Austrian variety of Standard German, but also all other language forms (regional colloquial variants and dialects of different extension) are taken under this notion, as they contribute to Austrian identity in the perspective of the author. With this he denies that Austrian German is only one among various regional varieties but instead a national variety of pluricentric German (which has been approved by the European Union). All relevant literature (including information in the internet) can be found in the chapter.

From a sociolinguistic/pragmatic perspective Muhr describes the image problem of Austrian German vs. German in Germany, the latter the dominant variety. This results in a lower status of Austrian German related to teaching German as a foreign language, in a tendency to replace Austrian German terms by 'German German' ones, leading to a gradual assimilation of the former to the latter, especially also by the media. Muhr takes what he calls the tabooizing of the relationship between nation and language in Austria as the main reason for the following phenomena: the non-codification of Austrian German; some ambivalences of Austrian identity; the characteristics of ''double language use'', i.e. public use of standard vs. internal use of colloquial registers; the dogma of ''good and unified German'' (= monocentric German), the stigmatization of Austrian German in some dictionaries, the ''purification'' of the language of Austrian writers by German editors (deleting Austrian variants) and the ignorance of ''internal plurilingualism'' in Austria. Related to the last, Muhr criticizes the ''old'' linguistic trichotomy of ''dialect -- colloquial/regional language -- standard'' as outdated due e.g. to a high mobility of the population. He would rather see a complex diglossia between the Austrian variant of Standard German and different forms of colloquial varieties, the respective communicative/pragmatic choice of speakers mainly dependent on the privacy of communication, namely nearness or distance, less on social status. The article closes with a discussion of the notion ''Austrian German'' vs. the notion ''German in Austria'' and of the allegation of nationalism toward those who insist on ''Austrian German''. The summary contains measures in favor of this language variant.

Karin Wetschanow and Ursula Doleschal write about feminist language policy (''Feministische Sprachpolitik''). Starting from the history of feminist linguistics in the 1980s they list 4 possible strategies for representing gender in German in a fair, symmetrical manner (see Mark Twain's ''Awful German language''): (1) to build upon the proposed generic meaning of the masculine; (2) to actively change the morphology of German; (3) to use the existing system for naming both genders equitably or ''feminize'' texts; (4) to ''degenderize'' texts. From the perspective of acceptability and economy, they go for the third variant in order to make women in German ''visible'' and generate gender ''symmetry''. They discuss ''psychocognitive'' effects of feminist language policy and describe the Austrian law on the issue of equality as well as its implementation e.g. in calls for proposals or in official texts, offering many examples from everyday usage (representing the diverse orthographic proposals). Negative attitudes against feminist language planning from public discourse are analyzed, followed by aspects of queer language policy. Finally, they propose public discussion of and research on the issue.

An appendix contains the ''Klagenfurter Erklärung 2011'' (Klagenfurt declaration 2011) on Austrian language policy containing a general statement and 12 recommendations related to the outcomes of the articles.

The book is of interest for every reader who reads German and wants comprehensive information on Austrian language policy or sociolinguistic issues. The 13 articles offer a wide spectrum from kindergarten to higher education, gives sound information and illustrates how Austrian linguists would like to configure language policy. I conclude that the book as a whole achieves their goals. Readers can acquire either a picture of a special area of Austria's language policy by concentrating on single articles or a rather coherent picture of this policy when working through the whole book (though the editors do not give a closing overview, but offer it indirectly with the Klagenfurt declaration). The comprehensive references make the chapters a valuable source for any survey or research task (as they are mostly overview articles of about 15-30 pages, they do not contain detailed data on e.g. school success of different types of pupils or on attitudes or opinions of politicians, parents or teachers). Muhr's article on Austrian German is exceptionally long (50 pages) and offers a complete bibliography for the years 2000-2012.

In order to illustrate the book’s main features, I highlight first Austrian school law, then Austrian German as a traditionally controversial issue, and conclude with comments on the situation of Austrian Sign Language.

First, Austrian school policy is regulated by a constitutional law stating that all school issues have to be decided on by a 2/3 majority in the parliament. Since that law was passed, many reforms advocated by scientists or educators were simply blocked because they did not attain this majority. Therefore progress in the Austrian school system is rather slow or even non-existant on major points.

Second, Muhr's statement that more or less all German dialects had died out and one should no longer use the trichotomy ''dialect - colloquial/regional language -- standard'' does not seem convincing: Naturally, mobility and other factors like tourism affect especially local dialects. But there are still at least valleys or regions, even towns with their ''dialect''. These are not the “dialects” of 1900 but reflect massively changed circumstances: In the 1950s, many farmers or workers had rather limited education; since the 1970s educational opportunities were increased radically. Therefore I argue for a dynamic view of the notion of ''dialect'', related to education: Many Austrians use the word ''dialect'' for decribing their ''variant of local nearness'', keeping some ''old'', specific usage to signal their identity, but also adapting to the regional society, by avoiding usages which they interpret as outdated or difficult to understand. The notion ''colloquial/regional language'' I would rather assign to official and partially public communication in the regions or provinces. And many speakers' utterances still show register phenomena which have to be distinguished into either dialectal or colloquial. It is also clear that the number of native dialect speakers decreases because there are e.g. many children of couples from different regions, then developing a compromise variety. In any of the registers, however, many people 'know' rather exactly which signals to use in which social-communicative context. Examples for the use of more than one register in pragmatic/stylistic functions in a single communication can be found in the speech of many Austrian politicians and in literature (hear e.g. into the recordings of Qualtinger's ''Herr Karl'').

Finally, though the VERBAL group strongly advocates for OeGS, the editors unfortunately 'separate' it from all other languages, concentrating discussion in one article (Krausneker) and isolating the language and its users from spoken languages since most other authors ignore it, making a comparison of the language rights of sign language users with others impossible. As a result, it has to be added to Fleck's article that autochthonous Austrian Sign Language is not contained in the list of languages available at school. This results in severe discrimination against deaf people. Similarly, it has to be added to Fischer's & Doleschal's article that ÖGS is not acknowledged as an autochthonous minority language because minorities are defined ethnically by the constitution and the Austrian government is not willing to change this (cf., again resulting in fundamental discrimination against Austrian Deaf despite the UNCRPD. Finally, Susanna Buttaroni ignores sign language for early language support.

In summary, the volume is a valuable resource for future research on Austrian language policy.
Franz Dotter has been retired since has 2013 and before that served as Associate Professor for General Linguistics at the Alps-Adria University of Klagenfurt, Austria. He earned his dr. phil. in 1975, and wrote his habilitation on iconicity in syntax in 1990. 1996-2013 he served as head of the Centre for Sign Language and Deaf Communication ( His main interests are typology and cognitive linguistics, sign languages, sociolinguistics of politics and minorities, text/discourse analysis, and deaf education.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9783631636862
Pages: 347
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