Faculté des lettres et sciences humaines

Orthographe, légitimation et construction des "publics": débats idéologiques et linguistiques autour de la récente réforme de l’orthographe allemande

Johnson, Sally

In: Bulletin VALS-ASLA (Association suisse de linguistique appliquée), 2006, vol. 83, no. 2, p. 33-52

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    When the recent reform of German orthography was challenged before the Federal Constitutional Court in 1998, the judges emphasised that individuals within the wider speech community were free to continue writing as they pleased, even after 2005, when the seven-year interim period for the reform’s introduction came to an end. Yet in this regard the Court’s ruling appeared to contradict the stated aims of the reformers that the new orthographic guidelines should serve as a 'blueprint' for usage within the wider speech community, thereby helping to preserve the unity of the written language in the longer term. In this paper, I propose that underpinning the apparent tension between the Court ruling of 1998 and the stated aims of the reformers is a complex political debate about the relationship between state and speech community that displays the classic features of a Habermasian 'legitimation crisis'. It is a tension, therefore, that can be fruitfully explored with reference to recent work in sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology that draws on Habermasian notions of the public sphere as a site for the enactment of 'language ideological debates'. By attending to the way in which 'publics' – particularly speech (or writing) communities – are invoked in such debates, much can be learned about the means by which the state attempts to resolve problems of legitimation in areas of language policy such as this, albeit without necessarily achieving satisfactory closure.