Typicalising language shift as inevitability: From German to English at an Austrian university.

Nao, Marion and Hultgren, Kristina Typicalising language shift as inevitability: From German to English at an Austrian university. In: 18th International Pragmatics Conference (Nao, Marion and Hultgren, Kristina eds.), 9-14 Jul 2023, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium.

URL: https://pragmatics.international/page/Brussels2023


The presentation draws on interview data with 18 participants in different roles within teaching, administration, and governance at university and ministerial level in Austria to examine the accounts they give of the increasing use of English for academic degree programmes unrelated to English, i.e., with no subject-intrinsic reason for the use of the language. Among these, we see a typicalising of English and corresponding atypicalising of German, the official and most widespread societal language. While bilingualism is projected as an outcome of Englishisation, or the increasing use of English, domain-specific monolingualism in the form of instruction paves the way. Such shift, from German to English, is largely presented as inevitable against the wider backdrop of an internationalised academe.

The paper is guided by the research question: How is the shift to English for academic programmes typicalised in participant accounts? In particular, this is explored via framing of formulations that either implicitly or explicitly link English with ongoing and increasing internationalisation, as both a present reality and future inevitability of the modern academe. Such typicalisation or symbolic representation, or indeed mapping of English onto the abstract concept of internationalisation, in itself atypicalises the default alternative, i.e., the German that has previously solely occupied the terrain, in an assumed bilingual relationship. Nevertheless, the atypicalising of German does not remain an unstated alternative; it is indeed exemplified in a participant observation that ‘Germanification is not internationalisation’.

While English has become, or is in the process of becoming, more typical as it increases its presence in the internationalised curriculum, a shift reflected in the accounts of the participants, there are domains within domains or speakers among speakers for which/whom it is formulated as atypical, and the German language as typical. These include stage-based domains of both structure of the degree cycle (bachelor programmes) and human work and life cycle (older academics), as well as relevance of the wider societal domain to disciplinary field. Such embedded reversal of typicality is also examined to better understand the contextual constraints that frame typicality in participant accounts.

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