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Focus on Culture

Focus on Culture

Culture & Identity

Focus on Culture - Culture & Identity

"Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiß auch nichts von seiner eigenen." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Who doesn't know other languages, also knows nothing about their own.

Understanding the nature of the relationship between language and culture is central to the process of learning another language.

In learning other languages we become more skilled at reflecting on how our own language and culture shapes our understanding of the world, and how languages are (mis)interpreted or (mis)used by ourselves and others. Being multilingual can enrich our experience of and access to the world.

Defining 'German' language, culture and identity

German is spoken as the first language of the largest number of people in Europe as both a standard and minority language. It is classified against English and Dutch.

'Standard German' is just that - a standard. There are many regional varieties of German of equal value throughout Europe.  'Standard German' is literally 'governed' by rules of e.g. Rechtschreibung (orthography) or Richtiges und gutes Deutsch (Correct and Good German), in that only governments can approve changes. Since 1902, the twelve volumes of Duden have dictated the official standard form of the German in Germany, and later in Austria and Switzerland. [Find out more about Duden on Wikipedia]

The 'Neue Deutsche Rechtschreibung" is the most recent significant change to writing of standard German. Many teachers have had to re-learn their German, including mother tongue speakers.

As with languages, so the cultures in Europe vary from location to location and over time, and this is reflected in regional variations of the language in both its formal and social use. There are now examinations conducted where candidates must show a good command of the regional variations of standard German. The Swiss learn Standard German as a foreign language, being far removed from the regional varieties of Swiss German.

Regional varieties of German reflect the linguistic and cultural diversity across Europe: Guten Tag! Hallo! Moin! Servus! Gruezi!  -  just like our regional variety of Australian spoken English - G'day!

Defining ‘German culture’ is equally fraught with pitfalls, depending on if you live in, for example, Austria, Germany, Switzerland or Liechtenstein, and moreover, in what particular part of each country.

The German language, like all languages, changes over time and is subject to contemporary values and trends. We need to keep the time, place and context in mind when considering the perspectives, artifacts and practices of a particular German-speaking community.   We can identify common themes and practices for a particular group in a particular time and place; and all the time we must remember that these will not be true for all members of that community, and will most probably be different for people in different periods of time. For example, what we understand by the name 'Germany', will depend on to which particular moment in time we are referring and where the political lines on the map were drawn. Determining what is 'German' is problematic for German mother-tongue speakers too, depending on when and where you live/d.

Post WWII migration of Gastarbeiter (guest workers) to help re-build Germany, the foundation of the European Union, and the fall of the Berlin Wall have resulted in the communities in Germany being increasingly influenced by multiculturalism. Lying in the heart of Europe, Germany and Austria have always been influenced by different cultures with changing political maps and fortunes. How do the Germans see themselves?

British Germans

The BBC published an article and produced a radio program about the issue of identity for British soldiers and their families, who chose to stay in Germany post-WWII.

What is culture?

Everyone has a culture. It shapes how we see the world, ourselves, and others.

Culture is a system of beliefs and values, behaviours and traditions, arts, and other human endeavours, reflecting particular assumptions about life and the universe, and shared by a particular community, period, or people. The cultural worldview of any group is embedded in the language and reflected in the artifacts and practices of that particular group in a specific period of time. Cultures are transmitted from generation to generation, and influenced by the geographical location, history and interaction of the group over time. Language develops in response to the different needs required by its speakers, their tradition and culture, and the environment in which they live.

We each have a particular world view of how we personally see, interpret and make sense of the world, an understanding unique to each individual 's experience. Our personal worldview is influenced by many factors such as: where and in what period of time we were born, our experience of the world through our senses, our family and friends, people we meet, the environment in which we grow up and live or learn about, by the dominant cultural group in different settings, and by the language/s we use to interpret and express ideas and information. It is often only by the study of different languages and cultures that we understand more deeply how our first language is used and that what we thought was 'normal' is related to our specific cultural practices and world views.

Language = Culture

How language is used to interact with the world around us provides insights into cultural understandings, values and beliefs. How we understand words like 'freedom', 'education', 'art',  'beauty',  'good' and 'evil' have different interpretations in different cultures that also change over time. Learning other languages enable us to access the world view of others as expressed through the language they use. By comparison, we can make discoveries about our own language and how ideas and information are expressed by ourselves and in society. The language/s we speak reflect and project our identity to the world and is different for each language. Languages, like the people who use them, are alive and change over time.

Australia's Cultural and Linguistic Heritage

Australia is a plurilingual society with a rich and diverse cultural identity. It began with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages and cultures, and influenced by the languages and cultures of the people from throughout the globe who have since moved here. The prevailing worldview of what it means to be Australian reflects the history of settlement of Australia by Britain and the English language. This worldview has since been influenced by generations of migration to our shores. The ancient linguistic and cultural heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are in danger of being lost through the domination of English. Steps to maintain, revitalise and reclaim these languages and knowledge of the cultures are underway. The new Australian Curriculum requires all subjects to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives. Victoria has enshrined Aboriginal languages through curriculum studies for both VELS and VCE.

The wealth of languages successive waves of migrants have brought to Australia are a national resource to support Australia's engagement with the world. Michael Clyne advocated strongly for families to raise their children bilingually

Our German-speaking Heritage

German has a long history of use in Australia . German-speakers have been migrating to Australia since pioneering families arrived in 1838, and successive waves of migrants have made significant and lasting contributions to the lives and culture of the Australian community.

See Focus on Culture: German in Australia

Racial Prejudice

Anyone who spoke German in Australia during both World Wars were often regarded with deep suspicion, regardless of how long the families had been in Australia, or the contribution they made, or that sons and brothers of German-speaking families were fighting and dying to support Australia. Many were interned, and some brought from far away lands e.g. Templer communities were transported to Australia from Palestine to be interned in Australia. Names of towns were changed to erase any relationship with the 'enemy'. Much of Australia's German-speaking heritage was covered up.

The assumptions made by governments that if you spoke German or were of German-speaking heritage, then you were an enemy. The effect of the two wars on the underlying perceptions of German-speakers, especially German-born, has endured.

Challenging Stereotypes

Stereotypes can be based on elements of truth, but are superficial and ignore the similarities and differences of individual experience with groups and across cultures over time. In identifying typical characteristics or patterns of behaviour of any cultural group, it is important not to depict all of the individuals within any group as having the same characteristics or beliefs. How would you define what is typically Australian? Is your definition inclusive of all groups that make up our community?

The stereotypes related to Australia project selected images of Australia, as happens to all peoples in the world. Certainly, there are aspects of life in Australia that are typically Australian and shared by all, and diversity is one of them, as the Seeker's song reflects: I am, you are, we are Australian. Any society has more than one worldview and every individual develops a particular worldview. 

Each worldview is a comprehensive collection of beliefs and values, which guide behaviour of that individual or group. The prevailing worldview of any cultural group reflects the worldview of that society’s current dominant group, often the group with political power.

Respecting Languages and Cultures

Australia has always been a plurilingual and pluricultural society. As a nation, we are learning to honour our linguistic and cultural diversity. 

We have taken steps towards reconciliation of the mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people since European settlement.

The federal government declared the 21st March Harmony Day to celebrate diversity, the same day as the United Nation's International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It is not a national holiday. The Victorian Multicultural Commission actively highlights and supports the celebration of diversity in our community.

We have enacted laws to protect the rights of all citizens and programs to promote anti-racism in Australia.

Competing World Views and Changing Perspectives

Germans, as with other peoples from nation states, are subject to ongoing stereotypes pertaining to character and values of the people who live there.

The Holocaust was an horrific period in European history that should never be forgotten, to which the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin attests. Resistance to the policies and practices of the Nationalist Social Party by the German people was dangerous and often fatal as the young student group known as The White Rose found out. Young Germans learn about this period in school and the importance of expressing an opinion. It is a criminal offence in Germany to use symbols and greetings of the Nazi era.  Article 88 and 86a in the Strafgesetzbuch of post-WWII outlaws the use of symbols of unconstitutional organisations outside the contexts of art, science, research or education.   Strafgestzbuch 86 und 86a

The physical and political experiences of the citizens in East and West Germany  led to the development of different world views dominated by different political ideologies. The fall of the Berlin Wall witnessed a peaceful revolution that signaled a new era in European history and the expansion of the European Union. We cannot think of Germany today without also thinking of the European Union, of which West Germany was a founding member. Maintaining political stability in Europe is an ongoing challenge and Germany is playing a key role in supporting its neighbours. Large numbers of refugees and migrants who were entering Europe from 2015 has provoked tenstions between citizens and is impacting on the political landscape across the European Union.

Contemporary Germany

Around 15 million of the 82 million citizens in Germany have a migrant background. Germany is a multicultural community just like Australia.

Hosting the Soccer World Cup in 2010 was an occasion for the German people to welcome the world to the new Germany and to be proud of being 'German'.

For information on research into contemporary youth culture, visit this portal:

Turkish Community in Germany

Learning about Languages and Cultures World Wide through German

Goethe-Institutes were first established by West Germany around the world in 1951 to repair the relationship between the German people and the world post two world wars. They continue to be opened and funded world wide by the German government . to promote global understanding, intercultural exchange and networks.

The Goethe-Institut host dedicated websites to promote intercultural language skills through learning German.

German in Africa

The Young Germany website provides information about University and Education, Business and Careers, Life in Germany and Deutsch.

Austria also promotes intercultural understanding and diversity through promoting regional varieties of the German language and cultures of Austria, as well as international dialogue across cultures through German.

Young people born in Australia and throughout the world today live in diverse communities and are entitled to be understood in their own time and place in history.

Learn Languages for Life in a Global Community

Learning languages promotes intercultural understanding across languages and cultures. We not only expand our ability to access ideas and information, but also become aware of how our behaviours and attitudes have been shaped by the language/s and cultures we experience. Being multilingual provides us with new ways of thinking that we can explore to express ourselves creatively in our own time and place.

The AGTV values all languages, and supports the promotion of a plurilingual Australia, its rich cultural and linguistic heritage, and the intercultural skills that can provide future generations the understanding and means to find creative and peaceful solutions to significant global challenges.

Die Grenzen meiner Sprache sind die Grenzen meiner Welt.

The limits of my language are the limits of my world.

Ludwig Wittgenstein


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