Narratives of Emancipation through Language Learning: The Case of Refugees and Migrants from Former Yugoslavia in Multilingual South Tyrol


This paper investigates how thirty-eight people who emigrated from the former Yugoslavian countries to trilingual South Tyrol represent and negotiate language power relationships in their narratives of language learning and use. Power relationships are strictly mediated through language competencies at both the community (i.e., with regard to the institutional distribution of resources) and individual levels (i.e., with regard to how individuals can get access to them) in the province of Bolzano/Bozen. As for our dataset, several participants declare having at least low competencies in both Italian and German, while a few of them also understand a local Austro-Bavarian dialect. Specifically, four types of stories are identified in the interviewees’ language biographies. These are labeled as narratives of i) exclusion, ii) assimilation, iii) empowerment, and iv) emancipation. In the first two types of stories, narrators mainly reproduce master narratives concerning newcomers’ language learning habits and outcomes in South Tyrol. By contrast, narratives of empowerment and emancipation are ‘contesting’ strategies (e.g., Fairclough 1989/2001; Pennycook 2001). However, they differ in terms of their underlying conception of power – i.e., as a property vs. as emerging from social relations – and in terms of the linguistic and textual strategies employed by tellers to convey their moral position (also: moral agency) and align their interlocutors to it.