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Slovene Bilingualism and German Language Contact


This dissertation addresses the issue of Slovene/German bilingualism in the province of Carinthia in southeastern Austria. The study examines the relationship between learning Slovene in the home and the ability to speak good German later in life; it is based on research conducted in the bilingual community of Bad Eisenkappel (Eisenkappel) in Carinthia. Over the course of two years (January 2013—August 2014 and June 2015), I made many trips to Eisenkappel to establish connections with the community and begin my fieldwork. This consisted of person-to-person interviews with residents of Eisenkappel, ten of which are represented in this study.

I argue that there is no basis for the claim that raising a child speaking Slovene in this community disadvantages the child by undermining the opportunity to speak German as well as those children who are raised speaking German only. My argument is contrary to both a long history of treating Slovene speakers as second-class citizens, and to the lingering perception among many monolingual and bilingual inhabitants of Eisenkappel that one must be raised speaking only German in order to be successful in mastering German.

In this dissertation I investigate the historical and cultural underpinnings of bias against the dialect of Slovene spoken in Eisenkappel, as well as against the speakers of Slovene themselves. I then draw contrasts between the dialect of German spoken in the region (Eisenkappel German) and that of the standard language taught in schools (Modern Standard German) in order to establish the two major varieties of German that inhabitants of Eisenkappel encounter. Finally, based on original data collected from my fieldwork, I analyze the similarities and differences in the speech of bilingual and monolingual speakers in Eisenkappel.

My dissertation challenges not only erroneous stereotypes envisaged for bilingual speakers in Eisenkappel or for speakers of Slovene in Carinthia at large, but also for bilingualism in border communities throughout Europe and the rest of the world. The principles of this study are applicable beyond border communities as well. This project could be replicated in virtually any community in which more than one language is spoken and there is incentive for minorities to learn the dominant language of the region or country.

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