Linguistica Berolinensia
  • ISSN 0302-5160
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9781
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The present article discusses politically relevant aspects of the work of the Prussian statistician Richard Böckh (1824–1907), a renowned specialist on language statistics, nationality policy and general demographics in his day. Two of his publications are focused on: the article “Über die statistische Bedeutung der Volksprache” (‘On the Statistical Significance of the National Tongue’, 1866), in which Böckh expresses the view that nationality is defined exclusively by virtue of language, and the book Der Deutschen Volkszahl und Sprachgebiet in den europäischen Staaten (‘The Number and Areal Extension of Germans in the States of Europe’, 1869), in which he proposes a catalogue of linguistic human rights. The purpose of the present article is to analyse the public reception of Böckh’s works in two contexts: the Franco-German war of 1870/71, when the German public interpreted Böckh’s ideas as justifying the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, and the debates over the Official Language question in Prussia in 1873–1876. Finally, two characteristic aspects of Böckh’s activities in his later years are highlighted: his active support of Auslandsdeutschtum (German minorities outside the Reich), and his protest at the misuse of statistics for anti-semitic propaganda around 1880. The latter issue in particular, though courageous, proves just how much the formerly popular language-based concept of nationality was already on the defensive ten years after the foundation of the German Reich in 1871.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
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