In the news this week, we found out that the Christian Sociailst Union, which has been running Bavaria for decades, proposed a resolution to impose the use of the German language, in public and in the home, for all foreigners settled in the region. Their congress is being held this week in Nuremberg, I imagine in part to further discuss and possibly vote on this bizarre resolution.
The rest of Germany has by the looks as if it largely been rolling its eyes at these news, with the General Secreraty of the Social Democrat party stating that “it would be hilarious if it weren’t also highly dangerous”. What’s more, this region of Germany speaks in their very own variation of German, often largely incomprehensible to speakers from other regions.
So two questions raise themselves – are the CSU right in their belief that imposing the use of a particular language on people can also force their integration within a society? And if so, how on earth do they intend on enforcing this idea? Listening devices in foreigners’ homes? Spies outside the school gates?
Sadly (or not, depending on your point of view), history has shown that enforcing the use of a particular language, and punishing the use of another, has often resulted in accelerated acculturation. It can also result in the loss of the speakers’ original language and to some extent cultural knowledge within a generation (although the loss is not irreversable). Think of the punishments imposed in schools for the use of local languages like Breton, or the disintegration of certain cultural transmission in communities such as the Australian aborigines or the Native populations of Alaska, when English was imposed on children.
When this worked however, it generally involved the physical removal of children from their parents, sending them to English-language boarding schools for example, with or without the approval of the families. What these children gained in integration they lost in historical and cultural identity. Speaking one language in the home and another in school encourages bilingualism and the creation of a new generation at ease in both worlds, acting as a bridge between them.
What’s more, enforcing the use of a foreign language upon immigrants can be traumatic. Imagine being told that you were no longer allowed to use your mother tongue, that you had to get by and communicate even with your nearest and dearest in a foreign language. It would amount for many to a limitation on free speech and self-expression and would harldy encourages positive feelings towards the new homeland. Not to mention that to enforce anything similar would involve either isolating and seperating speakers of a foreign language, or the creation of a totalitarian 1984-like state.
So if this information is indeed correct, let’s at least hope that the CSU has a long and hard debate about this resolution before coming out in public with such absurd propositions again.