Workshop: Language & Immigration II

After an extensive and re-creative lunch break on our second day in beautiful Madison, the workshop: Language and Immigration continued. Now, that we knew about the German-language materials in Wisconsin, sort of the historical record as well as the mapping of historical language data, we were looking forward to an exciting and informative afternoon. The issues about to be covered during afternoon agenda had a lasting impact on the availability of seats in the room.

The first presentation given by Mark L. Louden focused on ‘Pomeranian Immigrants and Dialect Shift in Wisconsin – Madison’. Mr. Louden is a professor of German and Jewish Studies as well as a current co-director of the Max Kade Institute.

He mainly talked about the process of koineization and the maintenance of multiple dialects. Of particular interest was the shift from the use of dialect (Low German) to Wisconsin High German, before eventually shifting to English. Hence, linguistic features like phonology and grammar need to be taken into consideration. Blending, leveling as well as the mixture and the loss of a number of dialects also played a decisive role.

When the Pomeranians arrived in the 1840’s they had a receptive knowledge of Standard German, their English was limited – as was their schooling altogether. Throughout the beginning of the 20th century, Pomeranian and Wisconsin High German were being acquired during childhood. The knowledge of English advanced. During the 1920’s up to the 1940’s, Wisconsin High German no longer only played a role during adulthood. The usage of Pomeranian within the homes diminished.

Mr. Louden highlighted his presentation with audio material which showed the differences in the clausal structure, case, tense and ‘tun’-support. He argues that bidialectical rather than bilingual would be the fitting term. Closing his well-elaborated contribution with ‘Dankescheen’, he scored by getting the laughs.

The second presentation of the afternoon was given by Joshua Bousquette and Todd Ehresmann – both current graduate students of the University of Wisconsin. Their topic dealt with ‘The Sociolinguistic Factors of Immigrant Language Use and Maintenance’ – especially focusing on Frisian immigrants. Center of attention was Friesland, a small farming community in the northeastern part of Madison. The majority of the population came from the Dokkum area of the Netherlands.

Both students are still working on this project, but they presented their present research facts including linguistic proficiency, bilingualism as well as verticalization. Their contributions were astonishing – all the work is worth it, when thinking of the data they will get out of it.

The last presentation brought up the issue of ‘How German Immigration Shapes Wisconsin English’. Although, Angela Bagwell had to present the research results by herself (unfortunately, Mike Olson had another appointment), she inducted us in the lasting effects on regional dialects. Language change does always involve imposition and koineization.

In 1830, when the Germans began to immigrate, the linguistic imposition started – the beginning of influence. They adopted the language very early by using structures of the target language (English) based on the structures of another language (German). This has been a systematic process and the German accent spread throughout SE Wisconsin. Koineization basically means that the varieties of the new language results from language contact. This provides an explanation of ‘Germanisms’. Those even remain within the third and fourth generation. German immigration plays a lasting role concerning  the formation of English variety spoken in the region today.

After gaining this interesting insight, we closed the workshop with a lively discussion and completed this action-packed day with a cold beer and popcorn.

Christiane Vogel


About this entry