The present work examines nominal case marking in Wisconsin Heritage German, based on audio recordings of six speakers made in the late 1940s. Linguistic data provide positive evidence for a four-case nominal system characteristic of Standard German. At the same time, biographical and demographic information show that the heritage varieties acquired and spoken in the home often employed a different nominal system, one that often exhibited dative-accusative case syncretism and lacked genitive case—features that surfaced even when Standard German was spoken. These data strongly suggest that speakers were proficient in both their heritage variety of German, acquired through naturalistic means, as well as in Standard German, acquired through institutional support in educational and religious domains. Over time, these formal German-language domains shifted to externally oriented, English-language institutions. Standard German was no longer supported, while the heritage variety was retained in domestic and social domains. Subsequent case syncretism in Wisconsin Heritage German therefore reflects the retention of preimmigration, nonstandard varieties, rather than a morphological change in a unified heritage grammar. This work concludes by proposing a multistage model of domain-specific language shift, informed by both synchronic variation within the community as well as by social factors affecting language shift over time.
From Bidialectal to Bilingual: Evidence for Multistage Language Shift in the 1946–49 Wisconsin German Recordings of Lester W. J. “Smoky” Seifert
Joshua Bousquette is associate professor of linguistics and Germanic studies at the University of Georgia, where he teaches courses in historical linguistics and sociolinguistics, primarily within Germanic. His research focuses on the effects of bilingualism and language contact on grammatical change, as well as the sociological factors affecting language shift, especially in heritage language communities. Recent publications include articles in Language Learning and the Journal of Language Contact. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joshua Bousquette; From Bidialectal to Bilingual: Evidence for Multistage Language Shift in the 1946–49 Wisconsin German Recordings of Lester W. J. “Smoky” Seifert. American Speech 1 November 2020; 95 (4): 485–523. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-8620496
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