Letter writing practices in World War II: language values then and now

Melanie Wagner

Universite du Luxembourg, Luxembourg

WS155: Renegotiating language policies and practices: multilingual Luxembourg in late modernity

The early 20th century marks the beginning of the discussion around Luxembourgish identity and Luxembourgish as a national language. The Luxembourgish language gained importance at this moment and the pressure for it to be used in situations, other than the private ones, grew. Even so, Luxembourgish was primarily a spoken and hardly a written language. The period around World War II is regarded as one of the many key points in this discussion. During this period the link between the Luxembourgish language and national identity was strengthened and so was the symbolic value of “Luxembourgish” – in strong dissociation from German and from the German dialects. Until then, most private communication was done in French or German, but with the start of the war, Luxembourgish became the written language for private writing in the case of a number of families during that period.

In this paper, a corpus compiled of letters written by one soldier and his family and friends will be analyzed in order to provide an insight into the language choices made in this particular group and this particular setting. The medium of “army postal service” is interesting for tow reasons: first because an insight into people’ language choices for private writing will be provided and second because people’ language ideologies in the period of WWII will be revealed. The metalinguistic comments made on language will be studied to explore possible motivations for the choices made as well as the writers' language ideologies. The authors’ letter writing practices during that time, and their view of these at present will be complemented by an analysis of interviews conducted with the surviving authors of these letters. The insights that these interviews will provide, should provide some information on how the discourse about language choice, language ideologies and literacy practices has influenced the discourse of Luxembourgish as the national language, or vice versa.

Session: Workshop (part 1)
Renegotiating language policies and practices: multilingual Luxembourg in late modernity
Friday, April 4, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 08