What is European language criticism?

What do we understand by language criticism? A definition of our research subject:

We define language criticism as the practice of evaluative language reflection. By this we mean published or publicly accessible texts and utterances in which speakers explicitly or implicitly comment on a specific language behaviour as an appropriate or inappropriate convention or norm.

What do we understand by criticism in general?

By criticism we broadly understand an “academic linguistic statement” that comprises a description as well as an evaluation of phenomena based on criteria, values and value judgements, where applicable. A distinction is made between negative criticism (reprimand) and positive criticism (recommendation).

How is language criticism defined in German linguistics?

Since the 1970s there has been a debate in German linguistics about whether or not language can be criticised linguistically—and if so, how. In this context, language criticism was first understood to be the descriptive and criteria-based collection and assessment of language-reflective comments of a society. With the turn of the millennium, however, this purely descriptive and criteria-based process of describing and debating comments that postulated a certain norm of language use was extended to include a further approach. Those forms of language use that are actually being employed by society and that have language-critical implications are now being identified, described, and debated on a meta-level. This is done from a contemporary as well as a historical perspective. After a criteria-based discussion, linguists no longer rule out an appeal for a certain position or an evaluation of a presented stance on this meta-level. It can thus be said that on the one hand linguists nowadays describe language criticism, while on the other hand they practise language criticism themselves. Both methods follow the rules of linguistic appropriateness.

How do we define language criticism for European comparability?

When comparing the term Sprachkritik (‘language criticism’) to other philologies, we see that it is unique to German linguistics. There is no translation equivalent for Sprachkritik in English, French, Italian, Croatian, Spanish, or any other European language. Nonetheless, there is a long-standing tradition of language reflection on practices of language use within descriptive, evaluative, and normative paradigms in all of these philologies. These practices are discussed from academic as well as lay linguistic perspectives and are subsequently accepted or rejected. When compared to the German linguistic tradition, it may be said that the other philologies are more open to evaluations and value judgements concerning controversial language-related issues.
Our definition of language criticism as the practice of evaluative language reflection aims to do justice to this discrepancy between the documentation of language phenomena in a purely descriptive fashion (reflecting the descriptive linguistic perspective) and its evaluative assessment (reflecting the expectation of a public interested in language and politics). Therefore, evaluative refers to “measuring on a unit of value” as well as to “bestowing or revoking a certain ideological value”. In this context, the definition of language criticism as the practice of evaluative language reflection refers to the academic linguistic as well as the non-academic, lay linguistic description and assessment of the various possibilities of linguistic expression, the cases of doubt and uncertainty, etc. By disclosing criteria and lines of argument, linguistics supports language awareness in society alongside the public.

What do we understand by a European language criticism? A definition of our research subject from a European perspective:

With the label of a European language criticism, which may hardly seem modest, we would like to promote a new subject field rather than postulate its completion. We consider the aforementioned contexts to be highly relevant for all languages. Due to the complexity of the phenomena associated with this topic, we have focused on just a few languages, namely those which we can work with in the European Centre for Linguistics using the resources of the participating institutions of Heidelberg University’s Faculty of Modern Languages and the Institute of German Philology in Mannheim.

European language criticism, then, means two things: First, the description of (selected) single-language and (sometimes) national traditions of evaluative language reflection, and second, the comparison of traditions between these European languages in current as well as historical perspective. We will thus attempt to start filling a research deficit, which we consider to be a desideratum. Our main focus is on describing language reflection as it is practised in Europe and our aim is to stimulate academic discourse about language criticism. However, we will also practise language criticism ourselves in short articles (e.g. concerning the problem of political correctness with respect to the term Negerkönig—literally ‘Negro king’−−in German children’s literature).

Therefore, with Bär 2002, we endorse the strengthening and institutionalisation of language criticism in Germany as well as Europe. However, we do not mean to establish a centralised language-normative institution after a French or Italian model, but would rather like to provide a platform for exchange and discussion that invites international universities and other circles of people interested in language matters. The platform Europäische Sprachkritik Online (European Language Criticism Online) is intended as a first step in this direction.