Saturday, July 11, 2009

Language and immigration in Germany: Kiezdeutsch (guest post)

Below is an invited guest post from Flo, who blogs at CounterCloset.

Political placards of the conservative CSU party dotting Bavaria this summer call for integration. Integration through German language ability and more language courses — a public appeal to the apparent German language “deficiency” among some of Germany’s foreign residents. But can the daunting chasm between the German host and the foreign guest(worker) really be resolved through language? It seems here that the conflation of unity and uniformity only masks the larger historical and societal struggles between Germans, Turkish-Germans, Afro-Germans, Roma, Sinti, and others that have yet to be brought into genuine conversation at national, local, and individual levels.
Ischwör, lan, is so.
“I swear, dude, that’s how it is” ... a simple phrase heard in many of Germany’s multiethnic neighborhoods, or perhaps better ‘hoods’ (German Kiez). Walking through the Kiez, a trained ear (or even an open ear) can hear a German that is not only unlike the Standard, but also unlike what was once (very controversially) described as the “pidgin German” of the early guest workers. This Kiezdeutsch, the German of the ‘hood', is a current contact language spoken among Germany’s youth in multiethnic neighborhoods. As these kids come from diverse language backgrounds, so too comes diversity in their language. Indeed lan, in the example above, is a borrowing from Turkish, set within a German frame. And so linguists have their work cut out for them, describing this new contact language structurally, while also informing the populous that it is not simply simplified or broken German, but rich with complexity.

Sociolinguistically, Kiezdeutsch is so much unlike their parents’ “Gastarbeiterdeutsch” affected by social distancing from native German speakers (Meisel, Clahsen, & Piennemann’s ZISA, Klein & Dittmar’s Heidelberg Pidgin-Deutsch, and Gilbert & Pavlou’s Gastarbeiterdeutsch analysis). In fact one of the most intriguing aspects of Kiezdeutsch is its social attraction to native German speakers. While we provide a structural linguistic nod to the contact nature of Kiezdeutsch, we cannot ignore the agentive nature of younger ethnic Germans in learning Kiezdeutsch (similar to Mary Bucholtz’s findings in her cross-racial AAVE studies). In styling their language and separating themselves from older Germans, ethnic German youths are shaping their own social and linguistic territory. How’s that for integration! Indeed “sounding cool” in one’s formative years may provide better future dialogs on mutual respect and acceptance, yet unfortunately for the CSU that may be not via Hochdeutsch, but via Kiezdeutsch.

For more info, including video, audio and teaching materials, go here.


Anonymous said...

So, the CSU is trying to distance itself from Neo-Nazis? Or just draw a clear line on their outer limits?

chabeau said...

Is that "lan" related in some way to the Afrikaans "lanie"?

Flo said...

chabeau: I'm going to say "no." As far as I can tell, Turkish "lan" only came to mean 'dude' in Germany. In Turkey, it's still the pejorative interjection "ulan" ('hey!'). The Afrikaans word "laanie" means 'fancy' and was adopted from Afrikaans only (?) by Asian South Africans to refer to white people. Both borrowings are neat b/c they've taken on new meanings. I'm not an authority on grammaticalization, but it seems strange to me for an interjection to become nominal, like "lan" ... German goes the other way: du > du!, as does English: Jesus > Jesus! > Gee!

John Cowan said...

In Baltimore, the interjection yo has become a noun, sprouting the derivative yoette. This is not quite grammaticalization, but not too far from it either.