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Learning to Belong: School, Language, and Identity in North Schleswig in the 1980s

Byram, Michael (2022) 'Learning to Belong: School, Language, and Identity in North Schleswig in the 1980s.', in Like Snow in the Sun? , pp. 133-154.


In a seminar in 1982 for “leading members” of the German minority in Nordschleswig, one of the statements which “crystallised” was that “the spiritual basis of the German minority is the declaration of allegiance to German-ness” (emphasis added) and, it was said in the seminar report, “The declaration must be clearly and self-confidently made visible vis à vis the surrounding society” . The need to review the contemporaneous situation behind closed doors perhaps betrays a fear that all was not well, that some people, mainly in the youngest generation, were losing interest in or commitment to their (social) identity as members of the minority, and needed to be encouraged to maintain their “German-ness”. One of my purposes here is to capture the experience and views of the young people about whose commitment there was some doubt and who were the carriers of identity and German-ness into the future. They were pupils in one of the minority’s schools and I shall show that schooling and language learning were crucial in facilitating the process of socialisation into and identification with the minority. My focus on schooling and schools is a consequence both of the visibility and strength of the minority’s school system in the life of the minority and of the scholarship which has demonstrated the power of schools in any society to create social identities, not least identification with a national or ethnic group, in this case the Norschleswiger.

Item Type:Book chapter
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo until 07 March 2023.
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:The final publication is available at
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:10 March 2022
Date of first online publication:07 March 2022
Date first made open access:07 March 2023

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