Viadrinic - A Language with a Grammar of its Own?
Dagna Zinkhahn Rhobodes started learning German as a foreign language from year six and wanted to study abroad after completing her school-leaving certificate. She chose the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt an der Oder, which is situated directly on the German-Polish border. Most students here come from Germany, but there are also a considerable number of Polish students. Zinkhahn Rhobodes decided to take the Cultural Studies programme, and in the course of her studies, her interest in linguistic questions grew.
Liminality, permeabili … – what?
Outside the purely academic discussions, Zinkhahn Rhobodes noticed during the first semesters of her course that the Polish students in her student hall of residence and on campus were using a strange mixture of German and Polish, which they call “Viadrinisch” or “Poltsch”. It adapts the German words so they sound Polish to the speaker. Zinkhahn Rhobodes observed that in the course of their studies, students become increasingly immersed in this language use, developing new forms which they then passed on to other students. She was fascinated by this creative use of language, wanted to know more about it and decided to take a closer look at this mixture of German and Polish in her doctoral thesis.
From Code-switching to Code-mixing to Fusionlect. The Permeability and Liminality of Linguistic Frontiers with Reference to the Example of Viadrinish was the full title of her project. “In so-called border studies, the permeability and crossing of borders is called permeability. I understand the language mixtures as resulting from processes where the borders of one language are opened, cut through and crossed,” explains Zinkhahn Rhobodes. Research assumes that the border is not a line, but that there are so-called liminal intermediate or transitional spaces with a high potential for innovation. Through her research, Zinkhahn Rhobodes aims to show that a multilingual space is forming at the German-Polish university where new linguistic hybrids are created through contact between the languages. She is particularly interested in the different stages of these language-mixing processes.
The first stage is code-switching, where one speaker speaks only in German, for example, and the other speaker replies in Polish. In other examples, speakers switch languages between two statements. The next stage is code-mixing, where the language is changed within a statement. Zinkhahn Rhobodes cites the example of a student who is going “na Sprechstunde do Rosenberg-a a później do Studienberater-a”, i.e. “to see Rosenberg in his office hours and then to the studies counsellor”. Finally, distinct hybrid language varieties may form, with their own grammatical and lexical standards, referred to by scholars as “fusionlects”. Zinkhahn Rhobodes is still at the early stages of her study. She is planning to collect and analyse more examples of the different stages of code-mixing over the next two years and hopes to discover regular patterns in the forms it takes.
Incorrect or creative language use?
One approach she uses is to record conversations between students. Another is to interview students about their course and their leisure time, but also quite specifically about the code-mixing phenomena. She is not only interested in the forms themselves, but in whether German students also use this linguistic mixture. She would also like to know whether, and if so why, different students are in favour of or opposed to this linguistic practice. “My own parents, for example, see code mixing as a sign of me not speaking Polish correctly. For them it is very important for me to cultivate my language,” says Zinkhahn Rhobodes. She can well imagine that some students, too, avoid code mixing for similar reasons. Zinkhahn Rhobodes takes a different attitude: “I think that the code-mixing corresponds to our reality and is part of everyday life in the border region. It is a playful way of using the language that is a lot of fun and may also strengthen the students shared identity.”
works as a freelance journalist in Cologne.
Translation: Eileen Flügel
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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