Faculté des lettres

Sprachgebrauch in der Deutschschweizer Justizvollzugsanstalt Pöschwies

Schumacher, Monika ; Studer, Thomas (Dir.)

Thèse de doctorat : Université de Fribourg, 2012.

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    Prisons are social systems with a distinctly authoritative and bureaucratic organisational structure. In the German speaking part of Switzerland, the inmate population is extremely multilingual, and therefore prisons would seem to offer suitable settings for sociolinguistic research. However, the specific setting has rarely framed the context for research so far, presumably due to its very restrictive access policy. This qualitative study is set in in the prison of “Pöschwies” in the canton of Zurich and investigates the communication between the non-native prisoners, who have little or no command of the German language and in particular the locally spoken dialect, and the warders. It is claimed that this communication is asymmetric both for institutional and linguistic reasons. In an attempt to overcome linguistic difficulties, the institution provides optional German language courses for non-native inmates; this is set against the diglossic background of the warders, who speak dialects. It has been argued that communication is generally prone to conflict. This study aims at discovering areas of such conflict in the situation described above. An explorative multimethod approach was chosen and data was derived from semi-structured interviews with both the non-native inmates who are learning German as a foreign language, and the warders. For the interview design, the issue of “vulnerable informant” was addressed and stimuli of visual, verbal and auditory nature were used. Participants were asked about their views on language learning, attitudes and behaviour in the prison context, and to suggest ways of improving the communication between the two parties. Results show that there are areas where the communication between non-native inmates and warders could be enhanced and made more effective for institutional goals to be achieved. They also indicate ways in which the language learning process could be fostered and made easier for individual non-native inmates. Two practical outcomes of this study are suggested: firstly, that a handbook on appropriate communication should be introduced to support the prison staff. Secondly, that an appropriate pedagogy for German language learning and all learning in the prison context, should be developed. The outcomes of this study suggest that prisons should be considered as a distinct sociolinguistic context within the Swiss German part of Switzerland. However, further research is needed to foster this view.