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International Journal of the Sociology of Language

Founded by Fishman, Joshua A.

Ed. by Garcia Otheguy, Ofelia / Duchêne, Alexandre / Coulmas, Florian

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Volume 2018, Issue 252


How to ask questions on language? Ideological struggles in the making of a state survey

Alexandre Duchêne / Philippe N. Humbert / Renata Coray
Published Online: 2018-06-16 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ijsl-2018-0014


The purpose of this article is to analyze the conducting of a state survey on language and to highlight the ideological tensions that are embedded in the search for an appropriate formulation of a question, as well as in the conduct of the survey interviews. Relying on historiographic data, as well as on interactional data, and focusing on the opening question of the survey that deals with the main language(s) of the respondent, defined as the language(s) they know the best, we first explore the origin and the history of this question in the Swiss census. Second, we examine how, by whom, and with what rationales the main language question has been formulated and selected within in the most recent survey. Finally, we analyze how this question is enacted in the interactions between interviewers and respondents. By engaging in a genealogical examination of language questions in Swiss censuses, we provide insight into the ideological formation in which these questions are embedded, revealing conflicting and ambiguous interests, thus implying complications and uncertainties with regard to interpretations of available census data.

Keywords: language census; interaction; survey; language ideologies; multilingualism; sociolinguistics; diglossia


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About the article

Published Online: 2018-06-16

Published in Print: 2018-06-26

Citation Information: International Journal of the Sociology of Language, Volume 2018, Issue 252, Pages 45–72, ISSN (Online) 1613-3668, ISSN (Print) 0165-2516, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ijsl-2018-0014.

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