Traces of covert multilingualism in Graz in the 1880-1910 census data

Traces of covert multilingualism in Graz in the 1880-1910 census data

Main priority of the project Traces of covert multilingualism in Graz in the 1880-1910 census data will be the reconstruction of historical multilingualism on the basis of census data from 1880-1910. Although the census forms recorded the citizen's vernacular language, their actual multilingualism remained invisible as a result of interventions in the census process (deletion of certain languages).

In the 19th century, Graz (like other European cities) developed into an important center of social change and was characterized by immigration and expansion. From the 1880 census onwards, the citizens' vernacular languages were recorded, which, however, produced contradictory data as far as linguistic diversity is concerned: in 1900, 29.795 people statedthat they were from Slovenian-speaking regions, but only 1.430 mentioned Slovenian as their language of everyday life. Source material from original census forms show that interventions occurred, such as the deletion of non-German languages. Hence, the processes of completion and evaluation of the original census forms can hardly be considered an ideology-free practice.

Until today, academic research works with official statistical information that is based on the deletion of languages and reflects only a small percentage of non-German speaking persons. This project seeks to provide a critical appraisal of the original census forms. In the course of the project and as an important additional result of the research process, census files will be accessed and digitalized.

Aims of the project are

  • the reconstruction of historical multilingualism in Graz that has so far been invisible

  • the reconstruction of language biographies as individual representations of statistical data

  • a critical representation and discussion of discourses on practices of completion and evaluation of statistical data

A basic assumption of the project is that migration and mobility are permanent and ongoing processes. Cities have always been preferred places of settlement for newcomers, from outside as well as within national borders. Urban settings are often characterized by a juxtaposition and an interplay of "old" and "new" forms of plurality that are expressed in sociocultural and linguistic diversity.

The project combines quantitative and qualitative methods in its analysis of the micro and macro layers of historical multilingualism. The quantitative analysis comprisesan evaluation of the original census forms of approximately ten percent of all houses located in Graz with a focus on vernacular language, place of birth, and social structure. The qualitative analysis focuses on language biographies of individual speakers. Additionally, the biographical trajectories of people beyond the censuses will be traced in order to reveal possible correlations between their languages of everyday life and their socio-economic status. The project will furthermore analyze the language ideologies and discourses that are behind the census practices; the framework of critical discourse analysis will be applied for this task.


A project by treffpunkt sprachen / Plurilingualism Research Unit at University of Graz

Persons responsible: Elke Murlasits

Photography: city archive Graz, scan of the questionnaire for Ballhausgasse 3, census 1880