Language culture

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Albrecht Greule and Franz Lebsanft (1998: 9) define language culture as a form of language control that refers to “languages ​​with a longer written tradition and a language standard that has mostly been developed in the early modern period and has been modernized again and again ”. The aim is to expand and specify language norms through the selection of exemplary language means in order to improve the functionally determined communication skills of speakers. In this respect, language culture makes a contribution to communication culture. The leading question is which linguistic means the speaker should use in order to make his contribution as good as possible in the linguistic interaction - that is, linguistically correct and appropriate to the communication purpose . Janich / Greule (2002: VII) add further meaningful differentiations. Accordingly, a distinction can be made between “language cultivation” as an activity and “language culture” as the result of this activity, whereby activity and its result in the sense of Ferdinand de Saussure can relate to “speech” (parole) or “language” (langue), i.e. to Use of language and language system .

Linguistic literacy and appropriateness

Opinions differ on what is right and appropriate. The starting point of language culture is therefore usually language criticism , i. H. the evaluation of the spoken language. This involves questions of orthography and pronunciation, grammar, syntax and vocabulary . An essential aspect of language criticism is the sophistication and accuracy of linguistic expression in terms of intelligibility. For this reason, language culture is dependent on the public, because the discussion, development and successful implementation of language norms depends on democratic discourse in which the selection and evaluation of language resources is negotiated argumentatively. How these discourses are regulated, however, varies depending on the social and linguistic tradition. While language academies play a decisive role in numerous Romance countries - in Italy the Accademia della Crusca (Florence), in France the Académie française (Paris), in Spain the Real Academia Española (Madrid) - there are e.g. B. Neither in Great Britain nor in the USA comparable institutions.

The authority and prestige of language institutions are based on the reputation of their members and the codification work carried out by these institutions . So has z. For example, the Real Academia Española has presented an orthography, a grammar and a dictionary since it was founded in 1713: these have become the benchmark for good language use through continuous revisions up to the present day (Fries 1984). Nonetheless, these works are supplemented in the mass media by language regulations from newspapers and news agencies, the so-called “ style books ” ( libros de estilo , English style books ), with which the gap between frozen codification and lively use of language is closed (Lebsanft 1997). An example that is now famous far beyond Spain is the Libro de Estilo in the daily El País .

Language culture and language maintenance

Language culture and language maintenance have a common subject area, but signal a different scientific approach and have different scientific traditions. The term "language maintenance" was coined in the German-speaking area. While language maintenance has its roots in the German "language work" of the 17th century, the term language culture comes from the Russian and Czech linguistics of the early 20th century. It is a concept that seeks to linguistically justify efforts to improve language use. It is based on considerations of the Prague linguistic group , to which Czech and Russian scholars belonged (Havránek / Weingart 1932). Linguistic culture is presumably nothing more than a loan translation from Russian kul'tura reči ( культура речи) and Czech jazyková kultura , which was shaped by GDR linguistics in the 1970s and which has also spread in the Federal Republic since the 1980s ( Wimmer 1985). The Latin origin of the word culture probably influenced the coining of the term care . The term linguistic culture has the advantage that, as internationalism, it can be used in many languages.

In the context of the language planning theory of the US linguist Einar Haugen , language culture (English language elaboration ) appears as the fourth and final phase of a process that still includes the selection, codification and implementation of a language as a communication tool in a society. It is based on the idea that a society or a state can plan the norm of a language. In view of the fact that several languages ​​are spoken in many countries, one or more languages ​​would initially be designated as national or official languages. According to this, these languages ​​would be codified in a binding manner, with the establishment of a state-sanctioned orthography playing a special role. The codified languages ​​would assert their privileged role through school and post-school education and training. The adaptation of an existing codification to the advancing language development - e.g. B. by modernizing the orthography or by expanding the vocabulary - forms the subject of language culture.

In democratic societies there are often violent disputes about the modernization of language norms, with language experts (linguists) and linguists (so-called "language lovers") often taking opposing positions. A typical example are the extremely dogged discussions about spelling reforms in numerous countries . While linguists are often open to this, linguists mostly want to keep existing regulations. These contradictions are also evident in the expansion of vocabulary : while linguists see the enrichment of vocabulary by borrowing from other languages ​​as a normal phenomenon, language laypeople often want to prevent the use of foreign words. Many linguists tend to underestimate the influence of the non-language professor on language culture. Only more recent studies on “lay linguistics” (English folk linguistics , Spanish lingüística popular , lingüística de los legos ) in various countries (Antos 1996, Lebsanft 1997) lead to a change in linguists' consciousness: Experts may turn up their noses at the unscientific nature of laypeople ; However, they have little chance of reforming language norms if they cannot convince the linguistic layperson of the rationality of their efforts.

The handbook by Albrecht Greule and Nina Janich (2002) provides an up-to-date overview of the linguistic and cultural situation in numerous language communities.

Scharnhorst / Ising (1976) offer the basic texts of the Prague linguists' circle in German translation. Wimmer (1985) gives a good insight into the discussions about the establishment of the concept of language culture adopted from the GDR in West Germany.


  • Gerd Antos: lay linguistics. Studies on language and communication problems in everyday life. Using the example of language guides and communication training. Tübingen: Niemeyer 1996.
  • Dagmar Fries: Language maintenance in the Real Academia Española. Dissertation Aachen 1984.
  • Bohuslav Havránek / Miloš Weingart (eds.): Spisovná čeština a jazyková kultura. Prague 1932.
  • Nina Janich / Albrecht Greule (eds.): Language cultures in Europe. An international manual. Tübingen: Fool 2002.
  • Albrecht Greule / Franz Lebsanft (eds.): European language culture and language maintenance. Tübingen: Fool 1998.
  • Jessica Andermahr: Language culture between the sexes - Do women speak more than men? Cologne 2013 (PDF file; 148 kB)
  • Franz Lebsanft: Spanish language culture. Studies on the evaluation and maintenance of public language usage in Spain today. Tübingen: Niemeyer 1997. ISBN 978-3-484-52282-4
  • Jürgen Scharnhorst / Erika Ising (ed.): Basics of language culture. Contributions of Prague linguistics to language theory and language maintenance. Berlin: Akademie Verlag 1976.
  • Rainer Wimmer (Ed.): Language culture. Yearbook 1984 of the Institute for the German Language. Düsseldorf: Pedagogical Publishing House Schwann-Bagel 1985.


  1. Nina Janich (2002): Advertising slogans and headlines as a contribution to language cultivation (PDF file; 220 kB)
  2. Libro de Estilos: El Pais ( Memento of 7 March 2008 at the Internet Archive )

Web links

Wiktionary: Language culture  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations