Vajt und Brajt – Decentralizing German

ZG-20The Vajt und Brajt t-shirt label created by Goran Novaković, a teacher of Serbian and an artist living in Vienna, feature German words or phrases transcribed using Serbo-Croatian or Turkish spelling rules. Several of the slogans reflect positive and nice things to say to people, such as: ojforiš (euphorisch) and şön (schön). Other phrases such as ferštendnisfol (verständnisvoll) and bite hohdojč (bitte, Hochdeutsch) reflect a reaction against Austrians who assume that immigrants do not speak or understand German well, and who speak to them using Ausländerdeutsch, a simplified version of German, which does not conjugate verbs. This act of transcription, especially into the non-prestige languages of the two largest migrant groups in Austria, decentralizes the German language and makes the familiar unfamiliar.

The t-shirts exemplify the post-monolingual paradigm as defined by Dr. Yasemine Yildiz, a Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies from the University of Illinois, describes this “one language, one culture” paradigm for a country or person as a “monolingual paradigm”. Yildiz argues that this monolingual paradigm is slowly being replaced by a “post-monolingual” paradigm, where the monolingual paradigm still prevails, but multilingual characteristics reemerge (5).

By transcribing words and phrases in German using the spelling systems of non-prestige migrant groups, the t-shirts decentralize the primacy of the German language and culture in Austria and question the stereotype that migrants can’t speak German well. The t-shirts are also a call by those with immigrant backgrounds to be accepted by mainstream Austrian society. As Novaković says, one of the goals of making the t-shirts is political: “[d]ass es uns allen leichter miteinander geht.” (Alte Sprache). In other words, a plea for a more harmonious coexistence between Austrians and those with immigrant backgrounds and a visual display of how migrant and Austrian culture can mix together.

By challenging the current integration process, Novaković’s project questions what it means to be “integrated” and a member of Austrian society, and redefines Austria as a multi-cultural and multi-lingual society where immigrants integrate on their own terms.

Works Cited

Alte Sprache, noje Šrift. oegj.at. 12/15/2012. http://www.oegj.at/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=S01/Page/Index&n=S01_4.1.a&cid=1356596114592. Accessedd on 11/2/2015

Feš und falsch, daStandard. 25 May 2011. http://dastandard.at/1304552735304/Fes-und-falsch. Accessed on 9/24/2014.

Yildiz, Yasemin. Beyond the Mother Tongue: The Postmonolingual Condition. New York: Fordham University Press, 2012. Print.

Vajt und Brajt. http://www.vajtundbrajt.com.