Bavarian Rhapsody

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"La Bavière veut imposer aux étrangers de parler allemand, même « en famille »" Le Monde

L'Union chrétienne-sociale (CSU) qui dirige la Bavière depuis des décennies veut empêcher les étrangers de parler une autre langue que l'allemand, même en famille….  C'est d'autant plus risible que les Bavarois eux-mêmes utilisent un allemand bien éloigné des standards officiels et parfois même peu compréhensible dans le reste de l'Allemagne.

The CSU, which has governed Bavaria for decades, wants to prevent immigrants from speaking a language other than German, even at home…. It's even more ridiculous that the Bavarians themselves use a variety of German quite far from the official standard, and often nearly incomprehensible in the rest of Germany.

Just one question:  how can the authorities control what people speak "en famille"?

[Thanks to Nathan Hopson]


  1. FM said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 12:35 am

    It sounds like actually they just put some language in their policy plank on integration that says that people who want to live in Germany permanently ought to aspire to be Real Germans who speak German at home. Which is certainly silly, but not nearly so Orwellian as Le monde suggests.

  2. Nils Wieland said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 1:32 am

    Not to be too condescending, but the CSU is the voice of the conservative, Christian, rather old majority of Bavarians.

    Everything they propose can basically be reduced to "We're afraid of change, we like things the way they are, i.e. know them, and everything strange scares us more than we'd like to admit."

    Thus a lot of their proposals don't make sense, and Merkel dislikes them for their disruptive behaviour. I dislike them for not having any political visions for the years to come, but they share that with all other major German parties, though the others don't tend to crawl all the way back into their respective conservative shells and echo out unrealistic, populistic demands like this one.

  3. Anschel Schaffer-Cohen said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 1:36 am

    Seems a bit unselfconscious for the French, of all people, to be complaining about a lack of minority language rights.

  4. Jan said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 1:36 am

    Postillon has a good take on the matter

  5. Tom S. Fox said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 1:37 am

    Actually, I have another question? Why didn’t you bother translating what it says?

  6. Chris Waigl said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 1:57 am

    I've followed this for obvious reasons, shaking my head, but not completely surprised as I grew up under CSU rule. What I find really remarkable is the complete ridicule this has encountered everywhere in Germany, and the hashtag #YallaCSU — with the "yalla" part from Arabic, of all languages (see ) meaning something like "let's get going!", which is a very CSU-ish slogan.

    The NYT article here: covers the issue in a distanced way, though with some good quotes.

    From the CSU we hear they are "re-thinking" the approach, and apparently no one wants to admit they wrote the incriminated passage.

  7. Charles said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 2:13 am

    I concur with what Tom said. I have a very rudimentary understanding of written french so can only just barely get the gist of what it says. (I took six years of mandatory french classes in school but, like most Canadians, retained very little of it.)

  8. Anton Sherwood said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 2:56 am

    "The Christian-Social Union which has ruled Bavaria for decades wants to prevent foreigners from speaking a language other than German, even at home … It's the more laughable that Bavarians themselves speak a German far removed from the official standards and sometimes even nearly incomprehensible in the rest of Germany."

  9. Keith said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 4:46 am

    It would not have been very hard to find reporting of this in English.

    I read about the story yesterday afternoon on the BBC news website.
    The wording is a little different. Anton's translation from le Monde is perfect, and does give the impression that the CSU wants to enforce the use of German at home. The BBC, however, says something slightly different.
    Immigrants should speak German not only in public but also in the home, Bavaria's governing conservatives say – provoking a torrent of criticism.

    The Christian Social Union (CSU), an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, says it is a matter for debate, and is not yet official policy.

    (bold emphasis is my own).

    This reminds me of something I was reading recently comparing the invention of nationhood, and how the French ideal of vountary adhesion to republican ideals contrasts with Fichte's idea that "whoevers speaks the German language is a German".

    Le Monde is indulging in a little bit of snide Bavarian-bashing, here; trying to poke fun at the Bavarians, saying "they don't even speak proper German".

  10. Stephen said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 5:41 am

    The line about how them Bavarians don't even speak proper German made me chortle. How French!

  11. Benjamin Massot said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 6:49 am

    This or similar ideas are "out there" in France too. See this citation from a report from 2004 "on the prevention of crime" (Rapport préliminaire de la commission prévention du groupe d'études parlementaire sur la sécurité intérieure – Présidé par Jacques Alain Bénisti – Député du Val-de-Marne – et les membres de la Commission – Sur la prévention de la délinquance)

    (p. 9) "Entre 1 et 3 ans:
    Seuls les parents, et en particulier la mère, ont un contact avec leurs enfants. Si ces derniers sont d’origine étrangère elles devront s’obliger à parler le Français dans leur foyer pour habituer les enfants à n’avoir que cette langue pour s’exprimer. […] Mais si [les mères] sentent dans certains cas des réticences de la part des pères, qui exigent souvent le parler patois du pays à la maison, elles seront dissuadées de le faire."

    (Between 1 and 3:
    Only the parents, and especially the mother, have contact with their children. If the latter are from foreign origin, they [the mothers] will have to force themselves to speak French in their home to get the children used to have only this language to express themselves. […] But if [the mothers] feel some reluctance from the fathers, who often demand the use of the patois of the country of origin at home, they will be dissuaded from doing it [i.e. speaking French].)

    This promted then a lot of criticism (for example here), one point being that multilingualism should not be seen as a handicap, the other one being the abusive use of the term patois when potentially refering to African languages with millions of speakers and a huge amount of culture expressed in those languages.
    I don't know how much of those ideas made their way into laws or official recommandations to teachers etc.

  12. RP said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 6:54 am

    @Anschel Schaffer-Cohen,
    Perhaps, but this isn't a government statement, is it? I mean, just because we have problems with racism in the UK for example, that doesn't mean I don't want my newspaper to tell me about racism in France or in the US.

  13. Benjamin Massot said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 7:02 am

    Two more points: I guess the controlling would be supposed to happen through social workers, teachers, etc. asking parents what language they use at home.
    And, of course, Le Monde should know better about Bavarian vs. standard German, especially that "proper German" (or in this case "non-proper") can't apply in Germany to dialects. Le Monde's view on that is an awful projection of French language attitudes towards non-standard varieties, which rarely apply here in Germany.

  14. RP said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 7:05 am

    If you read the full Le Monde article, it makes clear that this is a party conference resolution rather than a bill that is about to become law.

    The resolution apparently states that those "who wish to live here long-term must commit to speaking German both in public and at home" ( « qui veut durablement vivre ici doit s'engager à parler allemand dans l'espace public et en famille »). Le Monde says that "on voit évidemment mal comment cette disposition peut être contrôlée" (it is obviously difficult to see how this point could be checked".

  15. RP said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 7:22 am

    It seems none of the criticisms in Le Monde's piece are unique to Germany. The opinion piece at seems to indicate that Germans have questioned how it could be enforced, too, and that German critics too have compared the measures to those of notorious previous German regimes. The CSU has now backed down and said only that immigrants should be "motivated" to speak German "in daily life", dropping the terms "obliged" and "in the family".

    Even the reference to dialect was not unique to the French critique. It says at :
    "The Bavarian dialect was an obvious target for a heated debate in social media websites. Newspaper Die Zeit's online version posted a picture of a German dictionary, asking the question, 'Is Bavarian also German?'"

    Die Zeit is a German newspaper.

  16. RP said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 7:27 am

    (Correction: when I said, "not unique to Germany", I meant "not unique to French critics". Of course, it might also be true that they're not unique to German proposals, as indicated earlier by Benjamin Massot.)

  17. Ginger Yellow said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 7:47 am

    Le Monde is indulging in a little bit of snide Bavarian-bashing, here; trying to poke fun at the Bavarians, saying "they don't even speak proper German".

    It's a popular past-time apparently. For my sins, I was listening to a European Parliament committee meeting the other day and one German MEP chided another for not speaking in English (!) by saying "I don't speak Bavarian".

  18. Vanya said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 10:09 am

    @Jan, funny link. Maybe an obvious joke, but Postillon executes it well – "Die Entwiaf vo di Leitantreg, die wos mir regelmäßig fia unsre Parteidog machn, san scho guat vorbreitet und breit obgstimmt."

  19. Ben Hemmens said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 4:14 pm

    I've looked up the CSU initiative in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. It was a draft Leitantrag (a sort of general resolution, not necessarily very specific) for their party conference. The actual sentence that was used is slippery. It was Wer dauerhaft hier leben will, soll dazu angehalten werden, im öffentlichen Raum und in der Familie Deutsch zu sprechen. Now what does it mean, this etwas angehalten werden ? I don't know. It means it should be expected or demanded of them in some way. It doesn't mean explicitly that they should have a legal duty to do so (verpflichtet werden), with penalties for not doing so, but it's in the middle of a sketch of what the CSU sees as a desirable kind of immigrant. It's a load of stuff the more ignorant of the party faithful would wish for but formulated in such a way that it doesn't actually bind the party leadership, who are in government, to do anything in particular. It'll warm them up for a bit of lederhosen-slapping fun in their beer tent. It's almost the inverse of a dog whistle, more of a loud, pungent fart – and I can assure you the CSU never has a get-together without something like this.

    They emit it, the rest of the political spectrum throws its hands up in ritual disapproval and says you can't make a law about that. Their larger partner in the conservative Union, the CDU, is ritually embarrassed by its redneck southern cousins and then the CSU says oh but that's not what we said and all their supporters have a chuckle about the sly wording that allows them exactly this degree of highly implausible deniability.

    The point is that they are inviting the Bavarian-bashing on purpose because it reassures them in their self-image of being different to the rest of Germany. What's odious about it (to me) is the hypocrisy that Bavaria wouldn't be the technologically advanced, prosperous place that it is without actually being a rather cosmopolitan region. Munich is a city with thriving internationally-mobile professional classes, a massive concentration of academia and research and engineering, and in local politics, a steady social democratic-green majority. But the natives of the CSU persuasion tend to pride themselves on being so clever that they can have everything both ways. Rhetorically, they are certainly much more slippery customers than the great majority of Germans.

  20. Ben Hemmens said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 4:16 pm

    Ih should have said "this zu etwas angehalten werden". That's the weaselly verb.

  21. Ben Hemmens said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 4:34 pm

    Wrt the Bavarian dialect, even the CSU said it is sufficient for everyone to speak two languages, Bavarian and German. They just love when all the outsiders join in the joke. The CSU is all about cultivating this Bavarian identity. It's as though an Irish party liked to identify itself as leprechauns, and the more the rest of the world laughs at them as a bunch of silly gnomes, the more they lap it up.

    In principle, spoken Bavarian is different enough to be unintelligible to other Germans who haven't experienced it, but in reality the southern group of dialects are spoken over a large region by a large number of people (narowly: most of Bavaria plus Tirol plus South Tirol plus Upper Austria plus Salzburg; more broadly, all of Bavaria and Austria and a few other bits) and so most Germans have had some exposure and can make head and tail of it.

  22. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 8:51 pm

    It would be rather awesome in a way, even if administratively difficult, for whatever language-fluency test might be required for naturalization and/or the local equivalent of a "green card" to test knowledge of local dialect (for whatever part of Germany the immigrant had been living in) as well as standardized schoolbook Hochdeutsch.

    Different countries have historically had different attitudes toward immigration and assimilation. "If you're not interested in speaking German all the time, why do you want to live permanently in Germany instead of some country where your L1 is the dominant language" does not seem, at the conceptual level, like an unfair question to pose, although it might be unfair for there to be no acceptable answers to the question.

  23. FM 2 said,

    December 10, 2014 @ 4:32 am

    Back in 2002, British Home Secretary David Blunkett was also making the case for immigrants speaking English in the home:
    His proposal had been part of a rather interesting debate on English and linguistic diversity on BBC Radio 4:
    (unfortunately the audio cannot be retrieved, apparently).

  24. Ben Hemmens said,

    December 10, 2014 @ 4:54 am

    @jwbrewer: I learned to speak German while living in Munich. Since I didn't initially have the time or money for a German course, I basically picked it up in everyday interactions. That is probably fairly representative of the majority of immigrants who learn the language successfully. And then it happens that way, the dialect takes care of itself. When I did get around to taking a course, it was the standard language and its contrasts to the dialect that we had to polish up.

    The funny thing about moving to an area with a distinctive dialect is finding a level to which you adopt its features. Nobody gives you any guidance on that. At the one extreme it would be silly (and very difficult) to try to sound like a native who has spoken the dialect all their life; on the other hand, the undiluted standard language sticks out like a sore thumb and just won't work as well in many interactions where it is not expected.

  25. per incuriam said,

    December 10, 2014 @ 5:24 am

    "C'est d'autant plus risible que les Bavarois eux-mêmes utilisent un allemand bien éloigné des standards officiels… "

    "It's even more ridiculous that the Bavarians themselves use a variety of German quite far from the official standard… "

    Two quite different propositions. Insert the word given before the word that for a better match.

  26. Adam Funk said,

    December 10, 2014 @ 5:50 am

    Benjamin Massot wrote: And, of course, Le Monde should know better about Bavarian vs. standard German, especially that "proper German" (or in this case "non-proper") can't apply in Germany to dialects. Le Monde's view on that is an awful projection of French language attitudes towards non-standard varieties, which rarely apply here in Germany.

    Germany has (from what I've seen) a very healthy attitude towards dialects and diglossia; most Germans and Austrians regard standard taught German as a useful tool without which people from different areas would be unable to communicate with each other; they joke about dialects, but they don't really look down on them the way Italians do. I find that contrast quite interesting, and wonder if there's an explanation for the difference (the way the standard languages are presented in the schools, maybe?).

  27. cM said,

    December 10, 2014 @ 7:52 am

    Adam Funk: It heavily depends on the dialect. The saxon dialect group (as spoken today in Saxony and Thuringia) is universally ridiculed, and (outside of those regions) considered to be very unsophisticated.

    Close seconds on the "made fun of" list: Dialects from the Palatinate and Saar regions.

    Bavarian (and Franconian) on the other hand have an image of a strong traditional background. While they might be considered a bit quaint, they are not usually used as indicators of low status – on the contrary: There are several high-profile "proud Bavarians", especially in conservative politics.

    Northern dialects from around Hamburg on the other hand are almost by default seen as distinguished, cosmopolitan, and sophisticated.

    I'm unsure how those differences arose. Different economic strengths of the regions, and the history of east-west relations may both be factors.

  28. mollymooly said,

    December 10, 2014 @ 9:44 am

    To feed the CSU troll: I imagine that if an immigrant family speaks the host language more often en famille, this will indeed help the parents to learn the language from their children; however, it won't help young children much, given that they will pick it up anyway from school and television. I also imagine that if the parents' command of the host language is above a certain level, the children will resist speaking the heritage language at all. All of which may be what the CSU hopes for, but when those children grow up they may not be so grateful to have lost their heritage.

    @cM Based on your synopsis, I might map German dialects to British accents thus:-
    Hamburg:Bavaria:Saxony:Palatinate :: Oxford:Edinburgh:Somerset:Birmingham

  29. arthur said,

    December 10, 2014 @ 9:49 am

    To answer the one qeustion: It is very easy for a law to control what people do in their homes. Disabling home smoke detectors is illegal. Assault and murder, are also illegal and controlled by authorities even when they occur in the home. For a language statute, all it takes is a witness, ideally with a smart phone set to record, to file a complaint. If the wrong language is used in a text or a social media post, proof is even easier. Accusations that someone is speaking a disfavored language at home come up in child custody cases from time to time.

  30. Ben Hemmens said,

    December 10, 2014 @ 9:54 am

    High German and dialects have coexisted for many centuries, and the unification of Germany in the 19th century did not involve any drastic changes in language or language-related policy. In Italy, in contrast, the adoption/imposition of the modern standardized language was much later and an essential part of the drive to unification. Italy still has a patchwork of very distinct vernaculars, some of which are arguably not subtypes of Italian (e.g. Sardinian, Furlan, Ladin) and some of which are certainly not (German, Catalan, French, Occitan, Slovenian), see: Germany has hardly any regional dialects that are non-German or as distinct from standard German as, for example, Sardinian or even Venetian are from Italian. Italy also has much more dramatic and long-standing economic divides between regions. So overall I think its fairly clear that the sense of a common identity is still more tightly bound up with the use of the standardized language in Italy than in Germany.

  31. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 10, 2014 @ 12:36 pm

    I believe as a formal matter the current UK language-competency requirement for the naturalization of immigrants requires (perhaps subject to various exceptions) demonstration of such-and-such level of fluency in English or Welsh or Scottish Gaelic. I've always wondered exactly how many immigrants in practice avail themselves of the Celtic options.

  32. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 10, 2014 @ 12:45 pm

    Maybe Ben Hemmens or someone would have better information on this, since it seems like the sort of thing where second-hand information may well be unreliable. I have read in various sources that a non-trivial percentage of the German-born children of some groups of immigrants, in particular Turkish-origin gastarbeiter, have grown up with noticeably less-than-full-native fluency in German, despite having gone to German-language schools (perhaps not the very best ones in the system . . .) and despite the effects of TV and other popular culture influences. If this is true (and perhaps it's not), that suggests that the various mechanisms by which the US-born children of non-Anglophone immigrants (and I assume ditto for the British Isles per mollymooly's comment) almost invariably grow up to be fully fluent Anglophones (perhaps not of the prestige variety, but that is also true for many kids of non-immigrant parents) have for whatever reason(s) not been working as well in the German context. If one thought this outcome was a problem, one ought to think about how it might be changed, although trying to regulate intra-family language use is probably not the best place to start.

  33. Levantine said,

    December 10, 2014 @ 1:36 pm

    Chris Waigl, though indeed an Arabic word, yalla[h] is used with the same meaning in Turkish, which better explains the hashtag.

  34. Ben Hemmens said,

    December 10, 2014 @ 2:03 pm

    @jwbrewer that seems to be a phenomenon, albeit one that is regularly blown up out of all proportion by right-wing populists like the CSU. FYI: I now live in Graz, the second-largest city in Austria. Some notes:
    A, People from Turkey were actively recruited to come and work in Germany and Austria when there were labor shortages) in the 60s and 70s), largely to do unskilled work, and they were originally expected to return home; this were the Gastarbeiter. Official/policy acknowledgement that they were becoming a permanent community came very late in the day.
    B, some of them are from backgrounds where they were already quite severely disadvantaged/discriminated against in Turkey, and this had a linguistic component in that their native languages may be strongly discriminated against by the Turkish govt., so we are looking at people whose Turkish may have been rudimentary because their own language was being stamped on, and then they come here and get crapped on for being/speaking Turkish – you can't make this stuff up. So major literacy problems and a history of trauma in terms of their linguistic identity. (This is where the idea of just requiring them to speak some language at home gets furthest away from reality.)
    And then, C, both Germany and Austria happen to have educational systems in which school begins at 6 and lead the European league tables for the efficiency with which they reproduce social and educational inequality. Austria finally introduced a compulsory, free pre-school year a few years ago, but as part of the kindergarten system, where the staff do not have a university-level pedagogical education and are mostly completely unequipped to deal with bilingual children (and have groups of up to 25 children to one qualified kindergarten person).
    D, But to put that all into context, this system is failing a greater number of children without migratory backgrounds, whose native language is German, who have difficulties with language and literacy. It seems that Austria and Germany historically had an economy with enough unskilled or semi-skilled jobs to absorb people with literacy issues and therefore a long-standing rather high rate of people who have trouble reading and writing did not begin to be addressed until recently.
    E, a massive investment program in the kindergarten sector would probably yield excellent returns, but they would need to increase both quality (reform the training system) and expand capacity, which will cost money that doesn't exist in current budgets, and doesn't get votes because the usual suepects will paint it as giving money to integration-resistant/criminal/lazy/xenophobic-yadda-yadda foreigners. Although of course it would benefit more "native" children than "migrant" ones.

  35. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 10, 2014 @ 3:18 pm

    Ben Hemmens: thanks, that all sounds plausible. It's interesting to me in part because I don't have a good sense of how much of the American success in linguistic integration of kids of immigrants comes from our not-uniformly-awesome public school system versus the more informal mechanisms of exposure to tv and mass culture, informal interactions with kids from outside ones own ethnic group etc etc. Obviously schooling is probably important for reading/writing proficiency in the formal/prestige/standard variety of AmEng, but I have always assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that the US-born kids of non-Anglophone immigrants would probably pick up oral/aural fluency regardless of the quality of their schooling because schooling (at least the formal instruction part versus the interacting with other kids outside of class part) wasn't the key factor.

  36. Zeppelin said,

    December 10, 2014 @ 5:59 pm

    J.W. Brewster:

    I've got nothing systematic to add, but I went to school and live in the German city with the largest immigrant population, Frankfurt, and I don't think I've ever met any young person from an immigrant background who grew up here and didn't speak fluent German.
    It's common for them to have an accent or non-standard grammar, but often that's more sociolectal than interference from their (other) native language as such — I've known many German teenagers who adopted the Turkish-influenced sociolect in particular.

  37. Ben Hemmens said,

    December 11, 2014 @ 3:26 am

    Yeah, the fuss is created by people who equate the sociolect with not being able to speak German, while the actual number of kids who really have low German competence is very small.

  38. Vanya said,

    December 11, 2014 @ 9:00 am

    Germany has hardly any regional dialects that are non-German or as distinct from standard German as, for example, Sardinian or even Venetian are from Italian.

    Oh, that is a controversial statement. Seems to me that Alemannisch is possibly further from standard German than Standard Spanish is from Standard Italian, never mind Venetian, which seems to me fairly comprehensible to a speaker of standard Italian . On the other hand, Sardinian is arguably as different to Standard Italian as Castilian is. Frisian is also pretty far from standard German.

  39. Ben Hemmens said,

    December 11, 2014 @ 5:54 pm

    I may be off the mark on the details, and how to estimate the similarity or difference of languages and dialects is a very debatable area even for people who know a lot more about these things than me; but I think the general point that Italy is a linguistically more fragmented country than Germany (in terms of long-standing regional dialects and languages, not just the diversity brought by recent immigration) is pretty safe.

  40. Milan said,

    December 13, 2014 @ 5:28 am

    The difference between the German dialects and standard German might be debatable, but there are at least three native minority languages in Germany which are definitely no German dialects: Lower Sorbian spoken in and around Cottbus, Upper Sorbian spoken in Upper Lusatia, and Danish spoken in Southern Schleswig. Linguistically the Frisian dialects are no German dialects either (they are more closely related to English then to any variety of German), but they are perceived as such by many speakers and non-speakers.

  41. Milan said,

    December 13, 2014 @ 5:35 am

    Immigrants from Brittany (which, undoubtedly, account for a low proportion of overall immigration) might choose to learn a Gaelic language due to the similarity to his native Breton.

  42. Ben Hemmens said,

    December 15, 2014 @ 5:36 am


    I didn't say there were no non-German languages in Germany. But is has only these few. In Italy there are arguably up to around 30 long-established languages. See the Wikpedia page for a start.

  43. James Wimberley said,

    December 15, 2014 @ 6:35 pm

    I suppose there are a few Sorbs in Bavaria. They could have fun publishing a video of their home conversation on Facebook, and challenging the CSU to accuse them of failing to integrate with Teutons in 1400 years.

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