Until the 19th century, East Central Europe has been characterized by overt diversity and multilingualism. Since the birth of nation states, linguistic homogenization has been set as a goal to follow prestigious Western European examples. Since 1989, the area has entered a new period of post-multinationalism (Brubaker 2011) in the form of transition from multilingual federations (e.g. the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia) to officially monolingual nation states (e.g. the Ukraine and Slovakia). One of the last significant elements of historical diversity that has remained until today have been the Hungarian minorities in the states bordering Hungary. Visual language use (e.g. Shohamy 2006) has been an emblematic and overtly politicized indication of diversity in the region. Here I investigate current developments in the Hungarian LL in Slovakia, with a focus on the language policies and ideologies among private entrepreneurs, a relatively popular profession among the minorities as well after the turn to free economy.
In the dominant ideology, the areas where the Hungarians form a majority in Slovakia are seen as a potential threat to the state language, national identity, public order and enjoyment of basic rights (e.g. Venice Commission 2010: 26). Accordingly, a brief overview of signs photographed in two settlements shows that there are no signs in minority languages in the non-local realms (communication, transportation, mobility etc.). The local municipalities in turn practice bilingualism in their local signage, whereas private individuals use most often only Hungarian, which is the dominant language of spoken interaction among the inhabitants of Southern Slovakia. The entrepreneurs of the Hungarian region have faced an ideological and practical dilemma. That is, to serve their customers in their language, they should use Hungarian, too. However, at the same time, they have to be on guard, not to risk overt visual use of Hungarian due to the (minority or separatist) nationalist image that goes with it.
“Circulating socio-political discourses about multilingualism are concretely observable in how languages are deployed visually in constituting the LL.” (Hult 2009: 91). Beyond constructing such discourses from the analyst’s point of view, the accounts and narratives of the “readers” and producers of signs have recently come to the fore. However, the interactional analysis of such data has hardly been ventured (but see Garvin 2010). Building on an earlier experiment of combining the fields of language ideology and conversation analysis (Laihonen 2008) I engage in an analysis of narratives on the LL in Southern Slovakia by local Hungarian entrepreneurs. The narratives offer a plethora of connecting language with LL, communities of speakers, spatio-temporal entities and socio-cultural features, all provided as a part and parcel of the interactional activity in the interview, which will be analyzed as well. Beyond investigating the ways the local entrepreneurs manoeuvre between linguistic homogenization and preserving diversity in their accounts, my goal is also to explore the gains and challenges this new analytical set up has to offer for the study of LL in general.
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