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Metrolingualism in Berlin: Decline or Change in Heritage Languages?

Olga Olina

Languages worldwide are undergoing a profound shift, with global languages and regional lingua francas gaining prominence while indigenous languages face challenges in survival. According to Ethnologue, half of the 7’168 world’s languages are in danger of disappearing. Globalization and urbanization are among the leading factors contributing to the decline of indigenous languages as their speakers leave their homes for big cities in search for better economic opportunities. The aim of this study is to investigate the linguistic landscape in Berlin. With over 3.5 million inhabitants, Berlin is the most populous urban center in the European Union calculated by city-proper population. According to the Berlin-Brandenburg Statistics Office, approximately every fifth person in Berlin comes from a non-German cultural background with over 160 different countries represented, making Berlin one of the most multicultural urban centers in the world. However, no comprehensive data is presently available about the linguistic background of these people. What factors contribute to the decline of heritage languages? Does Berlin offer spaces for networking among heritage language speakers? To address these questions, students conducted 25 interviews gathering qualitative data about personal experiences of speakers of various languages residing in Berlin. We included speakers of various ages, cultural backgrounds, and professions in our study. The results reveal several factors influencing language decline, including the size and cohesiveness of the community, the involvement of embassies, the presence of rivalries in the country of origin, and the availability of essential infrastructures in Berlin such as libraries, cultural centers, religious facilities, food stores, and restaurants. Language acquisition opportunities in kindergartens and schools also play a significant role, as they facilitate intergenerational language transmission. The existence of a standardized writing system is another significant aspect, as the absence of established input methods for orally transmitted languages leads to their lower visibility in social networks and mass media. In our talk, we will present our contributions to the projects ‘Berlin spricht!’ and ‘Sprachen Berlins’. Additionally, we will discuss the results of the interviews, address the challenges of conducting urban field work as well as consider concrete measures to support language communities in Berlin.

Präsentaion: Metrolingualism in Berlin