Why has the number of English language courses decreased

Ulrich Ammon. 2015. The position of the German language in the world

What is discussed here is a standard work in which a framework is created for a complex topic that extends far beyond the boundaries of sociolinguistics and linguistics. In order to make the anchoring of language in the network of socio-cultural functions transparent, it was necessary for the author (hereinafter abbreviated as A.) to consider the broad panorama of cultural factors, value categories of the self-assessment of speakers, pedagogical principles of language teaching, trends in the world economy and not Finally, to examine political currents and to provide evidence of how these factors control the choice of different languages ​​in global interaction. This framework will certainly provide valuable services as a methodical working tool for many years into the future.

The work actually deserves a longer review article. I will concentrate here on presenting some focal points and key findings of the current state of research, as they are accumulated in this book. I follow the thematic structure of the A. according to chapters (A – L).

A. The German language in the field of tension between national interests and global communication: Explanation of terms and theoretical approaches

The speakers of all major languages ​​are differentiated according to various criteria - such as native speakers, second speakers, foreign speakers - and the scope of a language is divided functionally according to the official language status, practical value in business and science, etc. The attractiveness of German in a global comparison is based on certain advantages associated with knowledge of this language. The A. specifies these in detail (p. 9f.):

  1. 1.

    easier communication with people who speak other languages ​​(especially when dealing with foreign countries),

  2. 2.

    closer relations between mother countries and foreign language speakers,

  3. 3.

    mutual image improvement, prevention and reduction of prejudice (s),

  4. 4.

    better knowledge of values ​​and culture,

  5. 5.

    additional job opportunities based on language skills,

  6. 6.

    financial income from the language industry and benefits from tax payments to mother countries,

  7. 7.

    Increasing the motivation of foreigners to learn the language (due to the improvement of professional opportunities for foreign language learners) and

  8. 8.

    Strengthening the self-confidence on the part of the native speakers and the pride in their own language.

Certain advantage criteria are subjectively justified (e.g. 3, 7 and 8), others can be objectified. It is plausible to use this mixture of criteria as a basis for research on the international position of German.

B. “German language”, “German language area”: what belongs to it and what does not, and the question of a German ethnic group

In order to determine the position of the German language in the world, it is essential to deal with the complex interrelationship between the language and the speaker community. Who is 'German', who is 'Austrian' and who is 'Swiss', or are all 'Germans'? A. does not avoid the delicate discussion about the traditional concept of the people and the character of the theoretical ethnicity construct, but takes a position with a clear definition according to which “an ethnicity is a larger group of people who are not citizens or who are not according to the laws of individual states are defined and who believe in commonalities in their history, language, culture or religion (...) ”(p. 150). The focus here is on the commitment to an ethnic group. Beliefs are subject to fluctuations, and therefore there are no exclusively objective criteria for differentiating regional groups and for assigning them to a higher-level unit. Being German is a matter of self-confession, whereby language, cultural traditions and ways of life can only provide directional arrows for identification in the eyes of outsiders.

C. Number of speakers and economic strength of German

Speaker numbers are tricky because there are no absolutely reliable sources or census results. A. evaluates the available sources critically. There are considerable differences in the number of speakers determined, which are based either on a combination of the criteria for native and second language speakers or on a combination of the number of speakers and official language functions of German. The calculation made by A. is thus an approximation of real conditions.

German belongs to the group of major languages, despite the decreasing number of speakers (including native speakers). Today, German is spoken by more than 100 million people as their mother tongue or second language (pp. 170, 173, 175). As a foreign language, German is spoken by around 14.5 million people all over the world (p. 177).

D. German as the state language

The network of official functions of German is complex and the official language status is interwoven with the status as the national language in the individual countries. The analysis of these status criteria extends beyond the narrow framework of sociolinguistic research into the legal domain and covers many aspects of national language legislation. The corpus of language laws in Belgium and Switzerland is particularly extensive. The status of German as the regional official language in Italy (South Tyrol) and Luxembourg is also enshrined in law.

The official language is not the same as the official language, and the A. confidently manages to determine the status of German in association with the territorial principle (as in Belgium, in Switzerland and in South Tyrol) and without being bound by it (as in Luxembourg). The states in which German is the national or regional official language are, with the exception of Liechtenstein, member states of the European Union (pp. 206f.). The absolute number of states in which a language has official status is - as A. correctly states - only partially meaningful with regard to the international position of languages. However, there are considerable discrepancies when one compares the position of English (the official language in more than 50 countries on all continents) with that of German (the official language in seven European countries) (p. 251ff.).

E. German as a minority language, but not an official language

German minorities outside of states with German as the official language are widespread in a total of 42 states (p. 207). The term 'German minority' can refer to groups who speak German as well as to ethnic Germans (citizens of German descent) who no longer speak German, but who have assimilated and adopted the majority language of the country in which they live (e.g. people of German origin in Uzbekistan). In all the states where German is a minority language, a majority language dominates public language use. Many people of German origin have made a change to the respective majority language in the communities of the regional minorities. In this context, for the purpose of terminological precision, the A. suggests the use of “language change” (to indicate the change to the majority language while giving up German) instead of the general expression “language change” (p. 273ff.). Depending on the context, language change can also refer to the bilingual situation of code switching, which is not associated with loss of language.

F. German in international business communication

A. does not speak of the role of the German in the 'domain' of economic life, but of the 'field of action' of business communication (p. 408f.). This choice of expression is certainly justified, but the question remains whether 'field of action' can assert itself in sociolinguistics. In order to assess the importance of German in business communication (because there can be no question of an absolute functional determination here), it is necessary to sound out the trade contacts of German-speaking countries with other countries with regard to the exchange of goods and services. The A. refers to Germany and its trade contacts as a focus.

Perhaps due to the complexity of the research field “exchange of goods”, the reader does not readily understand all the lines of argument that A. builds up on the relationships between the functions of German and the relationship between trade surpluses and deficits. On the other hand, one can easily agree with the A. when it says: "In the area of ​​services, common linguistic commonality facilitates cooperation to a particular degree" (p. 415). In the market economy, the phenomenon of linguistic adaptation to the communication partner (= business partner) plays a central role. Here, the German language opens up niche positions through company contacts that are otherwise reserved for English on the world market. The linguistic adaptation of business partners in different languages ​​naturally often affects the choice of a lingua franca that is not a separate language for both partners (p. 427). As far as the correspondence of German companies with foreign partners is concerned, German comes third, u.zw. with a distance to French in second place and to English in first place (p. 437ff.).

In the field of commercial advertising, German has occupied some niche positions outside of the German-speaking area. There is a Russian company with a German name, as well as an Indian and Italian company. The reason given for choosing German is that the association with German and Germany is understood in the world as a seal of approval for quality (p. 507f.).

The image of the German as a seal of quality for "Made in Germany" is used by German companies themselves in their advertising worldwide, for example with the slogan "joy through driving" (BMW), "Wir Leben Autos" (Opel) or "Das Auto" ( VW). It remains to be seen whether the recently uncovered scandal of the manipulation of pollutant emissions from VW diesel cars has caused lasting damage to the image of the German seal of approval.

In Asian (especially Japanese) media advertising, German (or German-looking) names are selected for local Asian products on various occasions in order to emphasize the image of reliability, to evoke romance (in the sense of a “Neuschwanstein romanticism”) or a nostalgic mood for one To awaken the product (e.g. "Märzen" for a Japanese type of beer) (p. 510f.).

G. German in international science communication

The A. limits the scope of German as an international scientific language ("world scientific language") to the period from the second half of the 19th century. until the middle of the 20th century. (P. 521). There are still echoes afterwards, but these are isolated in time and space. For example, scientific texts in German were received (and in some cases actively used) by scientists in Finland until the 1970s. Then it breaks. The next generation no longer learned German at school, but relies on English. It appears that since the 1980s there have been many scientific texts in which sources are only quoted in a foreign language, in English. The outlook on the use of German as a scientific language in Japan is very informative (p. 524ff.). The reception of knowledge in this language by the Japanese has significantly influenced the quality of the modernization process in Japan in the second half of the 19th century. contributed. The A. compiles a list of Nobel Prize winners from the beginning of the 20th century. were in close contact with German-speaking countries until the Second World War (p. 527f.).

German as a scientific language remained - consistently in second place worldwide after English - until the beginning of the 20th century. Between 1910 and 1930, German experienced a dramatic, temporarily limited rise to become the most important global scientific language. A downward trend set in in the early 1930s, which began in the mid-20th century. intensified and continues irreversibly to this day (p. 550f.). The A. shows in a wealth of material how the general global trend is broken down into individual branches of science. Natural sciences (e.g. chemistry, physics), theoretical sciences (e.g. mathematics), medicine, social sciences, economics, humanities are taken into account. In the humanistic disciplines, the time-related drifting apart of the scope of individual world science languages ​​is not as clearly observable as in other areas (p. 594f.).

As far as the offer of foreign-language courses in higher education in the German-speaking area is concerned, "the number of English-language courses has grown considerably" (p. 626). For this purpose, statistical material on the courses in Germany in the winter semester 2011/12 is used (p. 627) and an overview of English-language courses in the same period is compiled (p. 628ff.). The increase in English-language courses is a general trend that is noticeable in all EU countries and also in other European countries. On the other hand, there are no parallels to the English-language courses outside of the German-speaking area (e.g. in German). Foreign language courses do not increase the attractiveness of the host country (Germany), but rather the opposite is true: foreign students who were asked about their career prospects show a preference for other countries, not for Germany, where they are studying (p. 636).

H. German in Diplomacy and in the European Union (EU)

This chapter provides an overview of the history of language use in diplomacy, starting with the promotion of Franconian in this role by Charlemagne (p. 700ff.). This continued until the beginning of the 20th century. The dominant French is gradually being replaced by English. The German lost its support in 1919 with the loss of the German colonies ordered by the Versailles Treaty. English has restricted the functional range of both languages ​​(French, German) where they were previously used in diplomacy.

German had no function in the League of Nations, and it has no function in the United Nations, neither as an official nor as a working language. The position of German as one of the official languages ​​of the European Union is explained by the formality that the official languages ​​of the member states are automatically also official languages ​​of the EU. However, this regulation does not affect the status as a working language. All EU official languages ​​also have an official function for the European Court of Justice (based in Luxembourg), whose internal working language, however, is only French. In a global comparison, the conclusion is: "Obviously, German plays a relatively minor role in international political organizations, especially when compared to English, French and Spanish" (p. 727). The official language status of German in the EU is nominal rather than practical. In relation to the proportion of languages ​​in which texts of the EU Commission are prepared or written, German only accounts for 2.8% (compared to 72% for English and 14.4% for French; p. 747).

I. The German language in international tourism

When it comes to the choice of language in tourism, there is a decisive difference between individual tourists and tourist travel groups (p. 847f.). The choice of travel destination plays an important role. In the places preferred by tourists, travel companies are set to annual tourist quotas and ensure a routine service. In addition to the provision of travel brochures in the 'big' languages, this includes on-site staff who speak the language. In any case, tour operators adapt to groups and their needs and, where possible, provide travel guides who speak the tourists' mother tongue. In the case of German travel groups abroad, this is the norm. Regardless of whether the trip is to Spain, China or Brazil, local German-speaking guides are part of the service for tourists traveling in groups. This service offer corresponds to the principle "The customer is king" in the economy. After the political change of 1989/90, when the tourist hotspots in Western Europe and Southeast Asia were more and more frequented by Russian tourists, travel brochures soon appeared in Russian. A. cites the example of India, where even small German tour groups are offered service in German (p. 854f.).

In preferred destination countries for tourism such as the 'Turkish Riviera' on the Mediterranean coast, German tourists are offered service in German everywhere. During the holiday season, many bilingual Turks who were born in Germany and grew up with two languages ​​(Turkish and German) are employed there seasonally. At the Turkish tourist destinations, the most important service languages ​​are English and German, while French and Russian are much less represented. The A. encourages extensive research on language usage, especially for the tourism industry in Turkey, which supplements and expands existing preparatory work (p. 857).

J.German in media and the art of language outside of the German-speaking area

The term 'media' is difficult to narrow down nowadays, because the spread of electronic media (internet, e-book, CD-ROM, cell phone, etc.) is dissolving traditional boundaries. The position of the German in the international media landscape is expressed in a continuous trend towards shrinking. In certain media this is more evident, in others less. While the distribution of German films abroad was still significant before the Second World War, “today, in terms of international attention, German films look like a daisy next to a sequoia tree, next to the US one” (p. 872). As far as the German-language press is concerned, the A. records a steady decline in the export of German press organs abroad. Of the newspapers and magazines in German that used to appear in the Eastern European countries with German minorities, only one still exists in Romania (General German newspaper for Romania). During the end of the 19th century. There were a total of 727 German-language newspapers in the USA, all daily newspapers have disappeared to this day and only 16 weekly or monthly newspapers remain (p. 884). The decline can also be observed for radio and television broadcasts in German that can be received outside of the German-speaking area.

Contrary to the initial prognoses at the end of the 1990s about the monopoly of the Internet medium by English, it soon became apparent that larger and smaller languages ​​in particular are competing with English and expanding their own functional networks. The language shares on the Internet were determined based on the language selection for homepages and websites. The English share was 84% ​​in the mid-1990s, but had fallen to 55% by 2010 (p. 900). English is indispensable for communication on the Internet, but many other languages ​​are also vitally involved. Through the medium of the Internet, German is gaining a worldwide distribution that goes much further than the traditional position of this language.

K. German as a foreign language (DaF) outside the German official language area

In the historical flashback, it can be seen that the position of German in foreign language teaching in schools was relatively stable worldwide between 1908 and 1938. German ranked third behind English and French (p. 951). In European countries in the same period there has even been a slight increase since the 1920s (p. 953). In the post-war period, the number of participants in DaF courses remained constant at a moderate level. As a consequence of the unification of the two German states in 1990 and as a consequence of the relocation of German schools abroad from poorly populated to densely populated countries, a moderate increase in the number of German learners has been observed since the 1990s. The Goethe-Institut has recorded double-digit growth rates in this century (p. 974). However, the estimated total number of DaF learners worldwide has decreased from 20.1 million (2000) to 14.5 million (2010) (p. 981, 985).

The documentation of German as a Foreign Language and German Studies for individual countries is very informative (p. 992ff.): France, Great Britain, Italy, Poland, Russia, Turkey, Egypt, South Africa, USA, Brazil, India, China, Japan, Australia.

L. Policy of promoting the German language in the world

There is no agreement on how language-related funding policy should be described. The A. follows a concept formation according to which 'foreign policy' (AP) is the overarching term to which 'foreign cultural policy' (AKP) and 'foreign language policy' (ASP) are subordinated. The definition of the terms used by the AKP has been expanded and since 2000 has been officially defined as “Foreign Cultural and Educational Policy” (AKBP). In their association with German, these fields of action have their own very changeable history, which A. traces out in outline (p. 1079ff.). In this context he introduces the concept of transgrediens: "A transgrediens can be described as a phenomenon that transcends other phenomena or extends to them" (p. 1073). As an example, a general knowledge of pedagogy is cited, according to which the efficiency of teaching content depends on the level of knowledge in the language in which this material is taught. Poor language skills reduce the learner's ability to be receptive, while good language skills are the key to successfully absorbing the subject matter. If one's own language is activated as a transgredient for the AKP, this not only serves to cultivate the image of one's own country, but also, in a broader sense, to successfully convey information about the country in question, its people and culture.

The A. knows how everything justifies itself when he comes to the knowledge that he has worked out. The bibliography comprises 118 pages (pp. 1155–1273), with more than 2500 titles. The results of A.'s decades of own research experience have gone into this monumental documentation. This book creates an indispensable basis for future research. Whoever researches in which branch of the broad topic from now on has to deal with the knowledge accumulated in this work and with his methodology.

Published online: 2016-1-14
In print: 2015-12-1

© 2015, Harald Haarmann, published by de Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License.