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Review of  Diglossia and Power

Reviewer: Wim Vandenbussche
Book Title: Diglossia and Power
Book Author: Rosita Rindler Schjerve
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 16.1244

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Date: Tue, 19 Apr 2005 09:25:04 +0200
From: Wim Vandenbussche
Subject: Diglossia and Power: Language Policies ... in 19th C Habsburg

EDITOR: Rosita Rindler Schjerve
TITLE: Diglossia and Power
SUBTITLE: Language Policies and Practice in the 19th Century Habsburg
SERIES: Language, Power and Social Process 9
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2003

Wim Vandenbussche, FWO-Vlaanderen & Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

All chapters in this edited volume deal with multilingual and multi-ethnic
areas in the Western (German-dominated) part of the 19th century Habsburg
Empire and address basically the same question: which were the
consequences for language choice and discourse of this multilingual and/or
polyglossic situation in which the German language was the prototypical
prestigious H-variety of the rulers? Contrary to earlier contributions on
the Habsburg language policy, the editor explicitly aims at a
multidisciplinary and multilingual approach of this issue, bringing
together insights from historical pedagogy and social history with
analyses from Slavic, Romance and Germanic linguists.


In the introduction (1-11) Rosita Rindler Schjerve defines the rationale
behind the present book. In order to understand the interaction between
language and social power in the specific setting of the 19th century
Habsburg empire, it is necessary to analyse the interplay between
centripetal and -fugal forces in the Empire during the long 19th century,
an era that was 'crucial for the political and cultural development of

This basically concerns the opposition between the objectives of the
central Imperial supranational power ('Austria') with German as its lingua
franca, and national linguistic tendencies in the peripheral 'Crownlands'.
The volume is composed of four major parts. An introduction about the
socio-historical background of the Habsburg empire is followed by a
concise discussion of theoretical and methodological aspects of historical
sociolinguistics. The third (and largest) part consists of two sets of
three case studies. The first are studies of language use and language
choice reflecting the power relations between centre and peripheral
powers, based on traditional diglossia research methodology. The latter
series of case studies shows how text/linguistic structures
reflect/reinforce issues of power and to this end discourse-analytical
methodology is used. In a concluding chapter the editor summarises the
insights from the case studies and relates these to the book's central

Chapter one by Thomas Wallnig (15-32) provides the necessary socio-
historical and political background for a sound understanding of language
issues in the period and area under discussion. Wallnig most notably
introduces and defines of number of crucial concepts ('long 19th
century', 'Austria', 'state', 'nation', etc.) which had a specific (and
sometimes evolving) significance in the Habsburg context. He makes it
clear that 'the' 'Habsburg' 'Empire'is not to be interpreted as a
monolithic nationalist block but rather as an overall a-nationalist power
structure which underwent great changes throughout the period under
discussion, incorporating great geographical and institutional

According to Wallnig, the conflicts described in the volume 'break out
simultaneously along the same fault lines that run through the entire
political fabric of the 19th century'. These fault lines were political
(national rulers vs. local elites), religious (+/- catholic) and, finally,
sociolinguistic (+/- German). The 19th century evolution of
the 'bureaucratized' state and the rise of the 'nation state' idea
interfered with these conflict issues. Regarding actual language planning
and language policy, Wallnig elaborates on a selection of crucial dates
and decisions (1849, for example, when all ethnic groups in the empire
were guaranteed equality and the right to use and foster their own
language). It might have been interesting to add a clear overview of ALL
language measures taken by the Empire and the local authorities in the
various regions of the Habsburg Empire (be it in a table or in a separate
chapter), although I do realise that this is an time- consuming
undertaking worthy of a book of its own. However, the indications that in
certain regions minority languages were promoted in order to downplay the
importance of other national language, whereas in other areas there was a
type of equality installed between German and a local language, does
inspire curiosity about the overall picture in the Empire. The separate
chapters in the present volume do provide full information on language
planning measures for the regions they deal with.

In chapter 2 (35-66), Rosita Rindler Schjerve and Eva Vetter outline the
theoretical and methodological rationale behind the present work's
approach to the study of multilingualism in a socio-historical context.
The concepts of diglossia and hegemony are central to the study. Diglossia
is explicitly understood as a manifestation of a power balance used to
construct, confirm and/or reinforce political, social or other dominance.
As such, their study of language distribution in various contexts and
areas within the Habsburg empire is to be understood as an analysis of
power mechanisms and strategies. This 'engaged' approach to language
history is reconfirmed in the first pages of the chapter, where both
authors stress that their study may contribute to a better understanding
of present-day language planning issues in Europe.

In order to reconstruct the creation of social identities, ideologies and
plain power balances through discourse (rather than through language
choice), the book draws heavily on the methods of Critical Discourse
Analysis (as developed by Fairclough, Wodak and others). It is worth
pointing out that this methodology has rarely been used, so far, in the
domain of historical sociolinguistics. As such, the present volume has the
merit of consistently attempting to broaden the methodological array of
the discipline.

These studies may also contribute to a fairer assessment of CDA, a
frequently controversial and polarizing methodology which has too often
been abused, so far, to suit and serve the overt political agendas of
authors under the veil of scholarly discipline.

In chapter three ( 69-105) Suzanne Czeitschner discusses the linguistic
situation in 19th century Trieste. She explains that German, Italian and
Slovenian co-existed in this region, a situation which affected language
choice in the judicial domain. In order to monitor the language
distribution in this domain no less than 43 laws and decrees were
published during Habsburg's long 19th century (1781 -1918). The author
analyses the use of the aforementioned languages in a number of distinct
judicial contexts, taking into account variables like addressee
(higher/lower power), topic (local/national issues) and nature of the
correspondence (internal/external). Her analysis of nearly 55000 (!)
original documents shows that the linguistic legislation had little
effect: Italian remained very much the overall dominant language,
regardless of the official attempts at language planning. It appears that
this legislation was only put into practice at a very slow pace - the
first signs of a change in favour of Slovenian, for example, only appeared
towards the end of the 19th century. It is also remarkable that hardly any
bilingual documents were produced (less than 2%). A study of the languages
used in distinct role contexts (higher/equal/lower authority) does show
that German predominates in communication with lower rank authorities (as
opposed to Italian) and criminal court cases (as opposed to Italian in
civil court cases). Slavic languages only managed to break the Italo-
German dominance towards the very end of the Habsburg empire.

Jan Fellerer deals with the situation of the Ukrainian language in Galicia
during the long 19th century in an elaborate fourth chapter (107-166).
This region was characterized by religious (Roman- vs. Greek-Catholic) and
linguistic diversity. He explains how the functional distribution of
spoken Polish, Ukrainian dialects, written Polish, Latin, Church Slavonic
and written Galician (or Ukrainian) assigned status to these languages and
their speakers. German remained, of course, in place as the language of
the rulers.

Fellerer focuses on the domain of public administration; following
Fishman, he analyses 'who spoke what language to whom and when' with
special attention to the use of Ukrainian in this domain. As far as
language planning is concerned, his focus is on whether language policy
affected the status of the whole language community or only of specific
social strata within that community. Fellerer compares documents from 3
communicative settings: official correspondence (and internal matters)
between officials of the imperial authorities, official correspondence
addressed to 'the public' (i.e. 'non- officials') and, finally, 'non-
imperial' correspondence. He looks at the language distribution before and
after the 1848 revolution, on the basis of a 3500 text corpus covering the
whole period.

An impressive 40-page analysis brings him to the following conclusions
(restrictions in space force me to oversimplify - I strongly encourage the
interested reader to consult the original article). Up until 1848
Ukrainian was systematically excluded from the public domain of
administration in Galicia (resulting in a de facto exclusion of the
speakers of Ukrainian). German (the language of the emperor) remained very
much the prime administrative language. Polish got certain privileges
as 'the language of the province' for communication with non- German
speakers; these privileges mainly served the Polish provincial elites, not
the speakers of Ukrainian. For a few years after the 1848 revolution,
there was a modest increase of written Ukrainian documents (translations
of laws and decrees, e.g) in a period of 'unstable polyglossia' backed by
series of language planning measures that granted the various ethnic
groups in the Empire the right to preserve their language. This apparent
activity in favour of linguistic diversity and equality, however, gave way
to a gradually increasing support for Polish (because of political-
strategic reasons, Fellerer suggests).

In 1869 a law was passed that made Polish (not German) the prime language
for official correspondence and internal matters in imperial Galicia.
After this 'polonisation' decision Ukrainian lost the increased attention
it had enjoyed during the preceding two decades (apart from law
translations). As such, language legislation (and the accompanying
discourse) favouring and protecting the use of Ukrainian stood in sharp
contrast with linguistic reality.

In chapter 5 (167-195) Stephan Michael Newerkla discusses the intended and
actual language use/choice in the educational system in Plzen (Bohemia).
Plzen was the centre of Czech/German bilingualism in 19th century Bohemia,
although the Czech-speaking population outnumbered the German-speaking
group by far (roughly 82/18% around 1870, 87/12% in 1910). Newerkla
studies the implementation of the diglossic/bilingual dimension in the
domain of education. Borrowing William Mackey's typological model for the
description of bilingual education in Quebec, he compares the oldest Czech
and German grammar schools in Plzen. The language practices in these
school are assessed on the basis of a corpus of several thousands of
documents including (but not limited to) law texts and decrees, directives
in original teaching manuals, class books and real life school documents.

The research results show how the (linguistic and religious) profile of
the population in both schools changed over time, from mixed multilingual
schools before 1869 to monolingual schools towards the end of the century.
The monolingual character was reached earlier in the Czech grammar school:
it attracted a mixed group (both language- and religion-wise) until 1878,
and became virtually exclusively Czech and Catholic afterwards. The German
grammar school always attracted a mixed Czech/German public, but the Czech
group dropped from 50% in 1865 to 20% in1875 and disappeared in 1924). As
far as religion is concerned, a smaller Jewish school population joined
the predominantly Catholic pupils.

Newerkla relates this evolution to the official educational policy in the
Empire at the time, and especially to the apparently opposed underlying
aims of the imperial government (in favour of the official hegemony) and
the local authorities (in favour of a bilingual mutual understanding
between communities). In order to keep its power base the imperial
Viennese government granted educational rights to other language
communities. The result in the end in Bohemia, however, was a situation in
which German had become a minority obsolete school language and Czech took
over as the dominant school language.

In chapter 6 (199-232) Gualtiero Boaglio looks at the language-related
discourse in an official newspaper during the 1850s in Lombardy, a
virtually exclusive monolingual Italian region in the Habsburg Empire
(barely 0,25 % of the population in 1851 was of German ethnic origin)
enjoying a 'liberal' Habsburg language regime. Italian dominated all
prestigious domains of public life (excluding police & military) and was
accepted/tolerated as the de facto official language by the imperial
powers. German only came into the picture when communication with the
central authorities was concerned. As such, language choice and planning
as a means for settling conflicts between local and imperial interests
were replaced by varying discursive practices in Italian (here
labelled 'invisible diglossia'). Boaglio looks at the way in which the
hegemonic power used linguistic strategies in the Gazzetta Ufficiale di
Milano to represent itself as positive as possible; he contrasts these
strategies with the more negative portrayal of 'the other' (i.e. the
enemies of the Empire) in the same publication. The first objective was
realised by systematically using terms form the word field 'peace' to
describe the nature of the Empire. This strategy was complemented by
repeated attempts to present the imperial forces as powerful keepers of
justice and strength through the use of the vocabulary from
the 'punishment' sphere. The Habsburg empire was also described as a
territory with excellent transport facilities, hence a political space
that was effectively organised and characterised by great cohesion and
civilisation, but also very well protected (enabling easy transport for
military troops to any part of the empire if necessary, e.g.). The
cohesion element was further reinforced through using the imagery of the
supra- national Emperor and by stressing trans-national elements of local
and imperial pride.

Individuals perceived as enemies of the empire, on the contrary, were
represented as underworld figures (with all negative connotations attached
to this imagery: marginal, violent, criminal elements). States that were
considered as enemies were described in equally negative terms: England,
e.g., was consistently described in stereotypes of misbehaving citizens
with low morality, on the one hand, and as a country with a chaotic,
impotent and paralyzed political system on the other. All these techniques
contributed to the implicit suggestion that the unity of the Habsburg
Empire has to be preserved and, accordingly, that any decentralised power
within Lombardy was to be dismissed.

In chapter 7 (233-269) Petrea Lindenbauer deals with discourse in Romanian
textbooks in Bukovina, an area in the farthest eastern fringe of the
Habsburg area with a large Romanian-speaking population . A whole series
of smaller ethnic groups lived in the area as well (including Ruthenians,
Jews, Armenians and others). As far as language is concerned in Bukovina
one can say that Ruthenian was the important vernacular next to Romanian.
German served as the main and imperial language of administration,
jurisdiction, military issues and higher education. Romanian was, in the
author's words, 'the language of a majority group that was a minority only
at the political level'.

She analyses how implicit discursive practices were used in the local
language teaching textbooks and grammars (intended to teach the Romanian
language) to create/sustain the specific attitudes and identities that
were considered necessary for the preservation of the power balance in the
Empire. Before doing so, she provides the reader with ample background
data on the historical, political and educational situation in the area.
This introduction makes it very clear that the Bukovina region a
fascinating case as far as multilingualism is concerned, deserving a close
analysis of social and political language distribution. A description of
12 case-studies (out of a whole series of analysed school books)
illustrates that it is not easy to define an overall image of the
hegemonic or nationalist underlying tendencies in these school books.
Certain grammars in the corpus were relatively 'neutral', for example,
whereas the textbooks contained either explicit pro-Viennese texts
reflecting the mindset of the imperial powers or implicit pro-Romanian
texts. Certain texts seem to be intended to be read as fables or double-
layered parables which the reader might have interpreted as accounts of
the Romanian opposition against the foreign rulers. Explicit references to
the Romanian national identity are rare whereas Vienna's greatness, on the
other hand, is frequently referred to. Certain school books present the
Romanian mentality in a positive light, others explicitly define Bukovina
as belonging to the Empire, and in yet another the occupation of Bukovina
by the Austrians is represented as aggressive.

The conclusion which may drawn from this chapter is that pro-Austrian
texts and assessments of the Romanian nationality both occurred in
schoolbooks at the time and that, accordingly, the underlying
representation of the imperial power is ambiguous. This may reflect
changing the power relations between centre and periphery at the time.

The last case study by Eva Vetter (Chapter 8, 271-307) is a comparative
discussion of two important imperial government documents from 1849 and
1859 relating to language choice in education. It is the first time these
texts are submitted to discourse analysis and Vetter's work shows that
this method can be an interesting and rewarding tool to (re)shape our
understanding of historical sociolinguistic situations. In addition to
this methodological challenge, a further added value of this chapter lies
in the close link with Newerkla's chapter 5: the latter discussed actual
bilingual practices in the schools whereas Vetter looks at the discourse
through which these practices were shaped.

The main rationale behind the Habsburg language policy in school matters
up until 1849 was the spread of German, combined with varying degrees of
tolerance versus other languages. Despite the aftermath of 1848
revolution, a 'neo-absolutist' return to the supremacy of German set in
soon afterwards (early 1850s). This restoration was made explicit in
higher education; for the lower grades the mother tongue could be used to
varying degrees in different areas (cf. Italian vs. Slavic, e.g. ). In
1859, however, this neo-absolutist phase was turned back to some extent.
From 1860 onwards the periphery in the empire acquired more autonomy when
it came to defining educational linguistic policies; this was confirmed by
the 1867 recognition of the right to be educated in one's own language
without any pressure to learn a second language. An increasing number of
monolingual schools was the result. Vetter's texts date from the very
beginning and end of the neo-absolutist period. The 1849 text defines the
language question in education as 'complex and delicate' and is construed
to underline the exceptional status of the German language compared to
the 'other' languages involved in the language-of-education debate. Vetter
shows how word choice, rhetorical strategies and the text structure are
all used to achieve this impression and to reflect and continue the
central hegemonic discourse of the Empire. The 1859 text announced changes
to the 1849 language policy: students still had to master German but this
goal could be achieved via other ways than German-dominant schooling. This
entailed a shift in power balance from the central (German-favouring)
Empire to the local peripheral powers (who favoured their local language).
Through the application of CDA to the text, it becomes clear how the
discourse had subtly changed by 1859. Although no radical shift towards
the discourse of the nationalities could be noted, one now found a mixed
hegemonic/national discourse reflecting the changed power relations
between centre and periphery.

In her conclusion (311-320) Rindler Schjerve relates the results of the
preceding case studies to the central questions in the introduction. She
further discusses the opposition between the so-called 'liberal' Habsburg
legislation in favour of multilingualism, on the one hand, and the
centralist German-centred Imperial political practices on the other. It
also appears that the across the various regions discussed in the book,
legislation did not succeed in promoting multi-ethnic co-existence, nor in
sustaining the Imperial power. As a matter of fact, she points out, the
1867 decision to guarantee the equality of languages in the Habsburg
Empire by law may have contributed to gradual desintegration of the
centralised Habsburg power. All case studies clearly show, however, that
language planning measures were a crucial element in the negotiations of
centre/periphery power relations in the Habsburg era and that changing
language legislations reflected changing power structures and strategies
within the Empire.


The present collection of articles brings together insights from diverse
linguistic methodologies on various domains of language use and choice
(administration, education, judiciary, etc.) in different parts of (and at
different times in) the Habsburg Empire. Despite the risk to end up with a
fragmented picture of a highly complex sociolinguistic period and
territory, the editor's approach actually resulted in a tight, well-
structured volume which is well-written and easy to read.

True, the data are not always comparable (schooling and administration can
be very different as far as language planning is concerned) but the
present work does make clear that 'the' Habsburg language policy (and
empire, for that matter) did not exist as a single monolithic block. The
discussion of these concepts calls for a highly nuanced and in-depth
discussion. A major first contribution to this endeavour is provided in
this work.

The blurb text promises that 'the empirical articles will be very useful
for scholars of the region and others for comparative materials'. Although
I, for one, can only judge the latter part of that statement, it is safe
to state that scholars specifically interested in the linguistic history
of the Habsburg empire will find clear, high-quality and useful corpus-
driven research results in this work.

As far as the relevance of the present work for historical sociolinguists
in general is concerned, Rindler Schjerve's book is an excellent example
of how a large historical sociolinguistic project can be set up and how
the various isolated sub-projects can combine to a relevant enhanced
whole. One of its main assets for the latter discipline is the fact that
it discusses the consequences of shared historical contexts on actual
language use across linguistic family borders, involving Slavic, Romance
and Germanic languages (whereas most studies in socio- historical
linguistics so far have focussed on one language only). Moreover, the
present volume provides many possibilities for comparative studies
involving, for example, the impressive amount of literature on the
historical sociolinguistics of German in Germany and Dutch in Flanders
during the 19th century (to name but two examples).

One major plus of this book is that it creates a constant urge on the
reader's side to know more about the 'sidelines' of the case studies
presented in the volume. How was language education organised in these
different territories? What was the quality of the written language like?
What about social differences within the separate language communities?
How was the scribes' linguistic competence acquired in these polyglossic
and multilingual areas? These and many other questions open up
possibilities for further research on the book topic and one can only hope
that the involved scholars will either take their research further along
these lines or inspire colleagues to continue their work now that the
appetite has been wet. It is equally hoped that the volume will inspire
the editors of the LPSP series to sustain their interest in historical

Finally: the report for the 2004 BAAL Linguistics Prize shortlist (on
which the present work figured) stated that this volume 'deserves a wide
audience, as it could be highly influential in stimulating further studies
and in taking forward the theoretical and methodological issues it
addresses.' The BAAL jury was right: apart from being an excellent
introduction to the linguistic situation in the 19th century Habsburg
empire, this volume is an inspiring, challenging and highly recommended
read for any scholar involved in historical sociolinguistics.


Dr. Wim Vandenbussche is a postdoctoral research fellow of the Flemish
Fund for Scientific Research. He is currently affiliated with the Centre
for Linguistics of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium) where he has
worked on various projects on the historical sociolinguistics of Dutch in
18th and 19th century Flanders.

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