Negotiating legitimate language competence in Luxembourg

Fehlen, Fernand

University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg


Negotiating legitimate language competence in Luxembourg

The conceptual framework of Bourdieu’s major works, including his Language and Symbolic Power, is the nation-state. This is also true for the definition of the legitimate language he introduced for the monolingual French context. Confronted with Luxembourg’s multilingual and plural society, the legitimate language – as yardstick to determine the value of the linguistic capital – needs to be replaced by a legitimate multilingual language competence requiring a subtle understanding of Lëtzebuergesch, French and German, the three languages officially in use in Luxembourg. As financial centre, Luxembourg is in the heart of globalization and its labour market has become largely transnational. Subsequently besides the traditional national linguistic market others – more or less superposed – are developing.

The goal of my paper is to describe some changes the multilingual language competence underwent on the national linguistic market during the two last decades. The investigation will focus on “discourse as subject to a layered simultaneity” (Blommaert 2005) drawing on participant observation as well as the analysis of print media. The principal outcomes: Lëtzebuergesch has been valorised especially as written language and French is challenged by English as prestige language. The status of German being rather ambivalent: stigmatized as competitor and antagonist of Lëtzebuergesch, it remains – at least in print media – the most used written language.

What in a micro perspective seems to be a bargaining to find a common language of understanding can be analyzed on a macro-level as symbolic struggles over the power to produce and to impose the legitimate vision of Luxembourg. My paper will discuss the different actors of this symbolic struggle and explain why the largely spread official image of the Grand-Duchy as a multilingual country based on trilingualism, “the real mother tongue of Luxembourgers”, is more and more openly challenged.

Jan Blommaert (2005): Discourse. Cambridge: University Press.

Pierre Bourdieu (1991): Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge: Polity

Session: Paper session
Critical Discourse Analysis
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 11