Behind the scenes of language quantification

Multilingualism in institutions and society
01.2016 to 12.2018

Bettina Blatter

Les coulisses de la quantification des langues
Alexandre Duchêne, Renata Coray, Philippe Humbert

The purpose of this project is to conduct a detailed analysis on language census issues in Switzerland since the 19th century and to better understand the role this tool plays in the Swiss political landscape. This project will also support the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) in developing future census tools. This will ensure that actual sociolinguistic facts are taken into account when designing thematic questionnaires on languages.

It will draw on historical sources but also on ethnographic and interactional data collected for a former project conducted by the RCM while collaborating on FSO’s “Language, religion and culture survey” (LRCS) in 2014. It will analyse the origin and the history of language census in Switzerland particularly the LRCS (section “langue”), linguistic issues and categories considered as well as the way the political and academic scenes and the general public received the results.

Purpose – Expected results: 

This project is of great interest in terms of sociolinguistics, particularly when it comes to understanding discourses and practices in the area of language census which make up implementations of language policies and show how we deal with languages. It will also supply new insight for other disciplines, particularly for political specialists and historians who work with language census data.

In addition to a final report (including the Executive Summary), a series of scientific articles should be released (for instance a special issue of the “International Journal of the Sociology of Language” on language census across the world) and two workshops will be organised (in collaboration with the FSO) with international sociolinguists and experts on linguistic demography.

In addition, a review of scientific literature on the topic has been prepared.