Posted on December 16, 2008

Germans Debate Place for Language

AP, December 11, 2008


. . . [M]embers of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic party agreed at a recent party conference to seek to “anchor” the German language in the nation’s constitution.

The proposal envisions a six-word phrase being added to the 22nd article, which stipulates Berlin as the capital city and the German flag as horizontally striped black, red and gold: “The language of the Federal Republic of Germany is German.”

It’s no big surprise some Germans feel a need to prop up their language.

With its four cases, three genders, maze of clauses and propensity for hanging verbs at the end of unusually long sentences, even Germans poke fun at their native tongue.


Yet despite the World War II stigma, some of the strongest support for the German language proposal came from Germany’s Central Council of Jews.

“The German language is part of the national identity,” the council’s general secretary Stefan Kramar said. “It is not exclusive, but is part of the identification with our country.”

The Christian Democrats’ resolution—which Merkel herself opposes—comes as Germany debates ways to better integrate its millions of immigrants, many of them Turks who moved to Germany as guest workers in the ‘60s and still struggle to speak German.

Merkel’s government has stressed the importance of assimilating its more than 10 million foreign nationals and immigrants, including measures ensuring that immigrant children learn German in preschool.

“Language is our cultural identity and the basis of our mental existence,” Christian Democratic legislator Anette Huebinger said in defense of the resolution.

“Consequently learning and mastering of a national language is the key to successful and sustainable integration.”


Party conference resolutions are not binding and—in addition to Merkel—the CDU’s junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats, as well as leading members of the opposition, have expressed opposition to the proposal.

Experts on constitutional law say such a constitutional amendment would have no immediate legal implications.


Seventeen EU states guarantee their native tongues in their constitutions including neighboring France and German-speaking Austria. German is also a national language in Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg.

Since 2006, Germany has lobbied hard to have the language elevated to “official” status in the European Union, alongside English and French.


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