Language(s): Identity Politics and Language Biographies

Language as a universal medium is what unites all people as everybody speaks at least one or more languages. However, at the same time language is more than just a medium: Language enables a person to not only discover and understand the world, but also provides access to it. Language fundamentally shapes man’s being in this world. Language makes it possible for man to explain himself to others and to shape relationships with his fellow human beings. Language can be the cause of wars by either heating up already existing conflicts or by being perceived as an object of conflict itself, for example by suppressing a language in a country. Thus, the phenomenon of language is intertwined with various dimensions, such as philosophical, political and religious.
Against this background, 23 KAAD scholars from 17 countries met in the St. Jakobushaus in Goslar, an UNESCO World Heritage City, from June 30th to July 3rd 2019 to discuss the topic of “Language(s): Identity Politics and Language Biographies” (led by Dr. Nora Kalbarczyk and P. Prof. Dr. Ulrich Engel OP).

After a first introduction into the topic by the speaker André Kreye, a workshop with the title “Language Biographies: Language and Identity” was held at the beginning of the first day of the seminar in order to get a better understanding of the biographical dimension of language. In the course of the workshop, the participants engaged in reflecting on the concept of “mother tongue”, their very own understanding of culture and the relation between majority and minority languages in their home countries. They presented each other their native languages and discussed both the question of linking behaviour with certain language structures as well as the (un-) translatability of specific terms from one cultural context to another. Another important aspect of the discussions was the topic of language as an element to construct national identities.

A second part of the seminar dealt with clarifying the concept of „language” from a linguistic-philosophical point of view. The introduction into this topic was made by Prof. Dr. Benjamin Schnieder (Theoretical Philosophy, University of Hamburg, s. photo on the left) who gave a his lecture on “Philosophy of Language: Misunderstanding and Other Linguistic Accidents”. With his lecture he gave the participants an overview of the different philosophical approaches to the phenomenon of language and emphasized the communicative meaning of understanding and misunderstanding by using many examples.
The third part of the seminar enlarged upon the political dimension of language which had already been addressed in the workshop about language biographies: The linguist Prof. Dr. Hajo Diekmannshenke from the Institute for German Studies of the University of Koblenz-Landau analysed language and metaphorical language in politics in his lecture “Speech-Picture-Communicates in Politics: The Linguistic and Visual Staging of Homeland and Foreignness in Political Discourse”. In this way, he gave the participants an insight into how language is used (and unfortunately, often misused) in order to form the concept of homeland and of collective identities in Germany.

Learning how to analyse metaphorical language in politics could be directly practised and applied during the guided tour through the imperial Palace of Goslar which had been a centre of political power for centuries. After the tour, the political dimension of language was further deepened from a different perspective by KAAD scholarship holder and Germanist Dr. Svitlana Kiyko: In her lecture “Language Politics in Ukraine” she dealt with the situation of Ukrainian and Russian language in Ukraine. Prior to her lecture, KAAD scholar Milad Ayoub from Syria introduced into the topic of language rights of linguistic minorities from the perspective of the United Nations. With her lecture on about “Multilingualism as lingua franca in Kenya” linguist and KAAD scholar Francisca Odero then vividly explained Kenya’s recent linguistic developments.

At the end of the seminar, the participants took part in an entertaining and interesting city tour which rounded off the seminar thematically in many ways. All in all, it can be concluded that the seminar already gave a small foretaste of the topic of the Annual Convention in 2020.