Linguistic diversity at South Tyrolean pre-schools: a sociolinguistic ethnography

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  • Project duration: December 2020 - December 2022
  • Project status: ongoing

Language issues matter in South Tyrolean pre-schools: there are three different, linguistically conceived, kinds of pre-schools (German, Italian and Ladin), and particularly for German-speaking pre-schools, there seem to be tensions about the kinds of language competences expected from and fostered in children. This project combines methods of critical discourse analysis and sociolinguistic ethnography in order to investigate how these tensions are negotiated in public discourse, as well as how they play out ‘on the ground’ in a linguistically diverse, but institutionally German-speaking pre-school in South Tyrol. 

There has been a recent surge of interest in language practices in preschools in multilingual contexts around Europe (Neumann & Kuhn, 2020; Thomauske, 2017; Zettl, 2019). Such research has provided in-depth observations of practices and policies in institutions of early childhood education, and has sohwn how these link back to discourses an ideologies circulating in the respective context. For the South Tyrolean context, such investigations are still absent from the literature, despite the fact that particularly for German-speaking pre-schools, there seem to be considerable tensions between its conceptualisation as a monolingual education institution and the complex linguistic repertoires of the children attending these preschools as well as of their parents. These tensions have also repeatedly caught media attention: local German and Italian media have reported extensively on concerns about linguistic heterogeneity in German pre-schools and on measures for dealing with this heterogeneity.

This project aims to investigate the nexus between language ideologies, language policies and language practices (Johnson, 2011) by combining methods of critical discourse analysis and sociolinguistic ethnography. The project aims to examine both how tensions around language in preschools is negotiated in policy documents and in public discourse, as well as how these tensions play out ‘on the ground’ in a linguistically diverse, but institutionally German-speaking pre-school in South Tyrol. In this way, interconnections can be made between the local ways in which language is made salient and in which values get attached to different linguistic resources in the daily business of the pre-school, the general language policies of German-speaking preschools and more widely circulating language ideologies.

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