Article published in:Minorities in Italy in a changing legal landscape
Edited by Gabriele Iannàccaro and Vittorio Dell’Aquila
[Language Problems and Language Planning 44:3] 2020
► pp. 273–286
The dilemmas of ‘saving’ a dying language
Walser German between documentation and planning
Walser German is a prototypical example of ‘extreme’ minority language, the survival of which appears at present extremely critical, at least in the Italian context. From a sociolinguistic point of view, Walser German is dispersed in a discontinuous territory and subject to language shift, language attrition and demographic shrinkage. Linguistically, it is part of a dialect continuum that stretches north of the Alps; yet, the dialects spoken in Italy have developed independently from each other and from their Swiss counterparts, with the result that they are now mutually unintelligible, and structurally too distant from Standard Modern German for this variety to be eligible as their Dachsprache. Given this background, the effects of a law protecting and promoting minority languages were foreseeable: Walser German is not a language under any sociolinguistic respect and could neither be protected or promoted by encouraging its use in administrative domains or developing a standard variety. However, what actually happened was not foreseeable either. Legal and funding support fostered documentation activities creating or enhancing local expertise in various domains; in addition, communities started to feel legitimised of a cultural and linguistic ‘otherness’ that could be exploited as a commodity, especially in the domain of tourism.
Keywords: Walser German, linguistic landscape, language commodification
Published online: 05 July 2021
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