Languages & Creativity: Identity and multilingualism in South Tyrol by Jamie Green

The European Literature Network is delighted to be collaborating with Creative Multilingualism – a large-scale research project led by the University of Oxford, which studies the interconnection between linguistic diversity and creativity. In our new series of blogs entitled Languages & Creativity, ELNetter and post-doctoral researcher on the project Heike Krüsemann will curate a selection of Creative Multilingualism posts for a fascinating glimpse into the world of language research. Over to you, Heike!

It’s official – languages and creativity go together! Who knew? Well, clearly not everyone, so the Arts and Humanities Research Council gave us money to do some research and spread the word. Don’t you just love it when things fall into place like this? Our intrepid research teams right now are busy studying the creative power of metaphorthe construction of a meaningful world in nature (that’s naming plants and animals to you and me), intelligibility between languages and communitieslanguages in the creative economyworld literaturescreative possibilities in translation, and creativity in language learning. While we’re doing that, we’d like to share some of our findings and related musings with you, dear ELNetters, in bite-size chunks and blog post format. Do let us know what you think – we’re always happy to hear from you!

By Heike Krüsemann

Heike Krüsemann is a UK-based researcher, writer and translator with an interest in Language, Culture and Education. Blog: German in the UK, Twitter: @Dr_Heike_K. Heike’s #RivetingReview of Sand by Wolfgang Herrndorf; Heike’s #RivetingReview of Bühlerhöhe by Brigitte GlaserHeike’s Short Story with a translation twist: German Cinnamon


Blog post 19:

Identity and multilingualism in South Tyrol

It’s hard to think of two people with more different backgrounds than Sebastiano Vassalli and Alexander Langer. The former was an Italian-speaking novelist from northern Italy who had yet to visit South Tyrol before he travelled to the province to research Sangue e suolo in the mid-1980s. The latter was a political campaigner who, although he spoke fluent Italian, grew up in a German-speaking household in South Tyrol.

Despite their differing backgrounds, both showed a dissatisfaction with the status quo in South Tyrol. It was for this reason that I used Langer and Vassalli as the foundation for my first thesis chapter, which focused on the debate around cultural identity in South Tyrol from 1972 (the year of the Second Autonomy Statute on which much of South Tyrolean society has been based) to the present day.

However, whilst both men were united in a desire to change the status quo in South Tyrol, the nature of these challenges presented by Langer and Vassalli were very different. Vassalli expressed his frustration with what he perceived as the excessive dominance of the German-speaking population in South Tyrol. Meanwhile, Langer put forth his multilingual concept of the Gesamtsüdtiroler, which he envisioned as a unifying alternative to the more restrictive identities that he believed were encouraged by the 1981 Sprachgruppenzugehörigkeitsgesetz, a law which legally obliged all South Tyroleans to align themselves with one of the province’s three main language groups (German, Italian or Ladin).

During the course of my research, it became clear to me that challenges to the status quo in South Tyrol  did not only come from individuals, but groups too. Ladins challenge any perception that South Tyrol could be defined by a German-/Italian-speaking dichotomy. The presence of South Tyroleans who have grown up in German-Italian bilingual households questions the idea that South Tyroleans must belong to a single language group. Increasing levels of immigrants from other countries undermines the notion of South Tyrol as a purely trilingual province whilst the ongoing political debate over whether to offer South Tyroleans dual Austrian-Italian citizenship challenges the official status of South Tyroleans as Italian citizens with Italian passports.

My research on South Tyrol to date has reinforced both the benefits provided and challenges posed by multilingualism. Moreover, multilingualism in South Tyrol is an everyday and widespread phenomenon. It has been fascinating to explore the evolution of this multilingualism from South Tyrol’s status as a 95% German-speaking part of Austro-Hungary in 1919 to its current status as a province with three official languages (German, Italian and the Rhaeto Romance language Ladin).

My next chapter will trace the representation of identity in the contemporary literature of South Tyrol to the present day. The themes of this chapter align especially closely to the World Literatures strand to which my project belongs. I am especially excited to look at how engaging with more than one language has affected how authors from the province present themes of belonging and identity. I will use Norbert Conrad Kaser’s controversial 1969 Brixner Rede, which questioned the value of literature from South Tyrol, as a starting point for my chapter before focusing on the works of German- Italian- and Ladin-speaking writers from recent years.

By Jamie Green


Jamie Green is a DPhil candidate attached to the Creative Multilingualism programme. His research is examining interactions between cultural diversity, identity and multilingualism in South Tyrol.


Image by Hubert Berberich (HubiB) [CC BY-SA 3.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons


This post was first published on the Creative Multilingualism site on 5 November 2018.


Read previous blogs in the Languages & Creativity series:

Blog 1: My love affair with eight languages by Alice Sze

Blog 2: A tale of two city guides: multilingual identity, writing, and translation by Heike Krüsemann

Blog 3: How language learning can be inspired by a fictional world by Emma Huber

Blog 4: Do you have butterflies in your stomach or little deers jumping in your heart? by Marianna Bolognesi

Blog 5: Creative translation: bending to rules to keep it personal by Philip Bullock

Blog 6: Why translation matters by Julie Curtis

Blog 7: We are Children of the World

Blog 8: Helping to balance the European argument – John le Carré speakes out for language learning by Katrin Kohl

Blog 9: “Reader, I went through a wedding ceremony with him”: Translating Jane Eyre by Eleni Philippou

Blog 10: How curiosity led me to learn 7 languages by Yulia Polishiuk

Blog 11: How I produced my first-ever (multiligual) school play by Ann Poole

Blog 12: How learning languages can help in a career as a film producer and writer by Jessica Benhamou

Blog 13: ‘Lessons learnt’ by a professional translator – adapting the same play three times over three years by Noah Birksted-Breen

Blog 14: Creative translation in the classroom by Charlotte Ryland and Lucy Christmas

Blog 15: Korean pop – BTS and fan translation by Sowon S Park

Blog 16: Translating a Russian play into Hip-Hop theatre – a conversation by Rajinder Dudrah and Noah Birksted-Breen

Blog 17: Are creative or functional teaching approaches more effective in the language classroom? by Suzanne Graham and Heike Krüsemann

Blog 18: Tracing prismatic rays of translation by Matthew Reynolds

Category: Languages & Creativity

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