Full text: Sprachenpolitik in Grenzregionen

Introduction 
Language as mankind’s prime means of communication has two widely- 
differing side effects: a common language unites its speakers, whereas different 
languages separate them. Language has thus become an extremely important 
symbol indicating that a person does or does not belong to a given group. As 
such, this symbol may be used just for that purpose and may engender grave 
consequences. Examples of this are the biblical shibboleth (Judges 12, 6) or the 
password ciciri during the Sicilian Vespers. It is hardly coincidental that nu¬ 
merous languages use words to denote strangers that refer to linguistic matters; 
cf., e.g., Greek ftàpfîapoç or Slavic nêm- (whence nëmec ,stranger4 or ger¬ 
man1); both words are most likely of onomatopoetic origin and designate 
incomprehensible speech, with the latter eventually coming to mean ,dumb‘. 
The unifying effect of a common language and the separating effect of dif¬ 
ferent languages have long been recognised and have played a role in political 
considerations. (The earliest symbolic expression of this may be seen in the 
story relating the construction of the Tower of Babel.) Out of this general 
recognition various forms of language policy have developed in the course of 
time, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries. The most recent example of this 
in Europe is former Yugoslavia where „ethnic cleansing“ was accompanied by 
„linguistic cleansing“. 
When employed in a political context, language policy uses a given linguistic 
situation to achieve non-linguistic goals. It is especially helpful in justifying 
existing borders or in cases where existing borders are called into question. It 
does not come as a surprise, therefore, that language policy is of particular 
importance in border regions, which are more likely to be subjected to language 
policy intended to support political goals of the state as a whole without taking 
into consideration the interest of the population in the area. Furthermore, 
language policy, even though encompassing the state as a whole, will often be 
more marked in border areas. It is for this reason that border regions are of 
particular interest for the analysis of language policy. 
Such considerations led to the planning of a conference devoted to this topic. 
The organising body was the interdisciplinary research network „Border regions 
and areas of interference“ of the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of the 
Saarland. The network has been analysing typological and historical aspects of 
borders and the reciprocal and combined influence of various kinds of borders 
(„natural“, political, cultural, religious, linguistic etc.) as well as their effect on 
the life and the mental attitudes of the population in such border areas for some 
years. The network brings together scholars from various fields: geography, 
prehistory, history, Romance, Germanic and Slavic studies. The geographical 
domain of research is the so-called Saar-Lor-Lux area encompassing regions in 
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