Soziale Identität und soziale Distanzen

Language use, social identity and social distances


Social factors such as age, educational level and social status affect the speech communication, both in in-group and out-group interactions. Language variety depends on social circumstances such as “who speaks what language to whom and when”. These questions can be investigated in immigration contexts. Germany, a country hosting a large number of immigrants with different backgrounds, can provide a rich material to study language, language behaviour and social identity.

In this study, the following fundamental question for intergroup relations shall be empirically examined in the case of immigrants living in Germany: How does language use contribute to the identification with and differentiation from different groups? This project is set out in accordance with the Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT), which, on the basis of general sociophsychological concepts, enables a comprehensive understanding of the importance of linguistic actions of intergroup perceptions and contributes to the explanation of divergent motivations of the communication in intergroup situations. In doing so, CAT distinguishes three basic strategies: Convergence, whereby group members adapt their communicative behaviours to each other by means of increasing the linguistic and/or thematic similarity; Divergence, whereby group members accentuate the prototypical communicative practices of their in-group in order to differentiate themselves from the out-group more clearly; Maintenance, by which the respective communicative starting positions are maintained.

This subproject will provide new answers to the question whether and to what extent the assumptions of the CAT are applicable to the constellation of immigrants living in Germany and the autochthonous population. Whether the intergroup communication shows approval, disapproval or neutrality, which strategy occurs each time and whether it is perceived as such by the “other” and what the consequences are – especially in the integration process – shall be examined on the basis of the linguistic actions of both groups. From such a multi-group-design informative reconstructions of the perceptions of the group members can be expected. The evaluation of the data obtained through empirical research shall be implemented in the form of a qualitatively-oriented analysis.

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