This week, Austria’s Ministry of Education has decided to begin a campaign aimed at promoting the use of Austrian German over mainland German, which is the standard variety commonly used in movies and television. The decision was taken after a study from the University of Vienna found that one out of every two Austrian teachers believe the standard variety of German to be more correct than the Austrian variety.
A Government Book to Foster Austrian German
The Austrian education minister, Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek, has written a 64 page government booklet aimed at encouraging children to choose Austrian terms instead of German ones. The booklet is being distributed to schools and prompts students to choose “marille” instead of “aprikose” to refer to apricots, or “servus” instead of “tschüs” to say goodbye, among various other examples. According to the Minister herself, one of the main problems is that movies which are shown on television or online are often dubbed or produced in Germany using their local variety. She added that the direct consequence of this is that peculiarities of the Austrian variety of German are slowly eroded and could be eventually forgotten altogether.
Linguists in general have long supported a non-prescriptive view of languages where no one language is considered better than another. As long as communication can be effectively achieved, a language is fully valid as such. Austrian linguists argue that within their own country, Austrian German is seen as an incorrect, local version of “actual” German rather than an entirely different variety. The struggle to keep Austrian German alive is not new: In 1995, when Austria became a part of the European Union, the country insisted that the EU recognise Austrian German as a variety in itself and that it grant the language a protected status.