Negotiating Language and Group Boundaries in Luxembourg: Policies, Ideologies and Interests

Author: Kristine Horner (University of Sheffield, U.K.)
Speaker: Kristine Horner
Topic: Language Ideologie
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL COMELA 2020 General Session


Although ideologically entrenched relations between one language and one nation have had a profound impact on the social and political landscape of many European countries, there exist a number of exceptions to this state of affairs. Luxembourg is designated as a trilingual country, officially recognising three languages in the language law of 1984: Luxembourgish as the national language, and French and/or German as legal, judicial and administrative languages. Luxembourgish presents the somewhat paradoxical case of being a small and mostly spoken language with official recognition at national level. Language ideological debates in Luxembourg bring certain contradictions to light: though language-in-education policy continues to focus mostly on the teaching of standard (written) German and French and though Luxembourgish is not used widely for functions linked to standardised written languages, the 2008 citizenship law introduced formalised (oral) language testing in Luxembourgish.

This paper takes a language ideological approach to examining the augmented efforts to promote the national language within the context of large scale mobility, social change and the globalising economy. It explores how recent grassroots movements have challenged aspects of language policy, including the prioritisation of German and French for written administrative functions. Following heated debates in 2016 and 2017, sparked by a popular petition with the key premise being to make Luxembourgish rather than French the main administrative language of the country, the government launched a series of initiatives to promote Luxembourgish through the creation of a Centre for the Luxembourgish Language in 2018. The analysis of policy documents and media discourse reveals tensions inherent to the positioning of French as an official language of the state in certain contexts and as an immigrant language in other contexts. This case can be taken as an illustrative example of the need for researchers to engage with acts of resistance to language policy and consider interactions between various stakeholders as well as the ideologies that underpin rationale for language policy.

Keywords: Language ideologies, language policy, group boundaries, language and nation, globalisation