The PhD programme

 „Language criticism as social criticism in a European perspective” (2012–2017)

The doctoral study course „Language criticism as social criticism in a European perspective” was a fixed component of the ESO-project group. It was financed by the Postgraduate Scholarship Programme of the state of Baden-Wurttemberg and was supported by Heidelberg University’s graduate academy. Since January 2013, five doctoral students have been working on dissertational projects on language critical questions in German, Italian, English, French and Spanish. Their doctoral theses foreground the sociopolitical perspective of language criticism and focus on subjective language reflection as an indicator of specific thought styles and cultural characteristics in the respective European speech communities. Focal points concern the role of language criticism with respect to the establishment and implementation of language norms on the one hand, and language criticism within the linguistic construction and constitution of authenticity and national identities on the other.

The work of the research group was further supported by junior researchers whose dissertations are also thematically close to the field of language criticism. The doctoral students and junior researchers were closely involved in the plannings and publications of the project group and also partook in all other concerns.

In addition, they received intensive mentoring through various professors. The group meetings were regularly used for presentations and discussions of the ongoing dissertational projects. The doctoral students and junior researchers also regularly discussed current language critical issues between meetings. A blog was available for exchanges with an interested public and for small-scale publications. For instance, the doctoral students’ reflections concerning the debate on political correctness in children’s literature was published in Aptum, a journal for language criticism and linguistic culture, under the title “Negro king or king of the South Seas? A linguistic and language critical comment” (2014, Issue 1).

In the planning of events and in finding national and international cooperation partners, the ESO-group attached great importance to the main research foci and objectives of the stipendiaries. At the inauguration of the doctoral study course in January 2013, Professor Deborah Cameron from the University of Oxford gave a talk on “Verbal Hygiene after 9/11: English, Language and Britishness”, in which she set forth her concept of language criticism for the English language. In May 2014, national and international experts intensively discussed the predominantly European perspective of the project and the application of ‘language criticism’ to other languages during a workshop in Heidelberg. The workshop focused not only on the objectives of the ESO research group in general, but also on the specific topics and aims of the doctoral projects. In the summer semester 2014, ESO invited various national and international cooperation partners as guest lecturers for a lecture series on ‘language and identity’. In this context, the doctoral students had the opportunity to present their theses and to discuss their objectives as well as those of the ESO research group with these experts.