German-Canadian language attitudes and identity in discourse

Jennifer Dailey-O'Cain, Grit Liebscher

University of Alberta, Canada, University of Waterloo, Canada


In this paper, we focus on the relationship between the attitudes of German speakers in Canada towards different varieties used by these speakers and the construction of their identities. Among the many immigrant groups in Canada, one of the largest is the Germans (Prokop & Bassler, 2004). These immigrants come from every part of the German-speaking world, bringing with them not only a wide range of varieties of German, but also different attitudes toward their own and other varieties. Once in Canada, however, they are conceptualized both by a government (e.g., in the census) and by a local community (e.g., in schools, clubs, and other institutions) as homogeneously German-Canadian in their language and culture. Linguists, too, have tended to neglect the diversity of German in Canada, focusing either broadly on language policy issues, or narrowly on the grammatical and lexical features that indicate a shift toward English.

Our data is drawn from a large-scale investigation of language use and identity in two urban German-Canadian communities: Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario and Edmonton, Alberta. In conversational interviews with approximately fifty German-speaking immigrants and their direct descendants in each community, different aspects of language use and attitudes are discussed: varieties they speak, under which circumstances, and why; what attitudes they hold toward the different varieties that exist in their communities, and where they draw linguistic boundaries of and within their communities. Focusing largely on language attitudes employing a framework for qualitative attitude research (Garrett et al., 2003; Winter, 1992), we use tools from interactional sociolinguistics and conversation analysis to study in-depth how speakers directly (in answers to questions) and indirectly (in language use) express those attitudes, often contradicting the attitudes they mention directly. We are further interested in language attitudes figure into the negotiation of identities among German-Canadians and, more particulary, the negotiation of the periphery and center (Giampapa, 2004).

Through this analysis, we address the following research question: What tensions exist between standard German and other German varieties in the construction of a "German-Canadian identity" in this multilingual setting, in terms of both individual membership, the drawing of community boundaries and, ultimately, the construction and negotation of identity/-ies for this group?


Giampapa, F. (2004) “The politics of identity, representation, and the discourses of self-identification: negotiating the periphery and the center.” In Negotiation of Identities in Multilingual Contexts, edited by Aneta Pavlenko and Adrian Blackledge, 192-218. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Garrett, P., Coupland, N., & Williams, A. (2003). Investigating language attitudes. Social meanings of dialect, ethnicity and performance. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Prokop, M., & Bassler, G. (2004). German language maintenance across Canada: A handbook. Edmonton, Alberta: Manfred Prokop.

Winter, J. (1992). Discourse as a resource: Methods of collecting language attitudes. Australian Review of Applied Linguistics 15/1, 1-22.

Session: Paper session
Attitude 2
Friday, April 4, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 09