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Bilingualism and Language Contact in American Speech, Past and Present

Curated by Joseph Salmons

University of Wisconsin – Madison

We may think of this journal foremost as an outlet for work on English, but its Editorial Policy states that American Speech accepts “contributions dealing not only with English” but also “with other languages influencing English or influenced by it.” Since literally the first issue, many pages have been dedicated to immigrant and Indigenous languages and their impact on English in North America. Some things have changed — early on, the journal published amazing numbers of papers on names, especially surnames in particular groups, for instance. But more importantly, this journal has long anticipated trends that are in full bloom today. Consider a few examples. The whole subfield now known as “heritage language linguistics” is richly represented from the beginning, especially European languages (Czech, Finnish, Norwegian) but reaching beyond (Japanese and more recently Korean) and distinctly American languages (ASL, Cajun French, Gullah). Immigration itself is in evidence as well from early on, from historical migration patterns to dialect geography in the hearth country and North America. One theme in such work is variation and change within these languages in their new setting, often anticipating recent research on new dialect formation and koineization. Beyond structural change in these languages, we find important contributions to language maintenance and shift, and substrate effects after shift. Finally, and especially striking to me, the still-new field of historical sociolinguistics is defined by the North American Research Network in Historical Sociolinguistics ( as “the study of the interaction of language and society in historical periods and from historical perspectives.” Its roots are often dated to the 1980s, when the name first gained a foothold, but articles on the subject appeared decades earlier in this journal. The selection of papers below is highly personal, even idiosyncratic — some are classics and most have shaped my own thinking — but it’s a small fraction of what American Speech has published in this realm.

Linguistic Substrata of American English

E. C. Hills
American Speech (1929) 4 (6): 431–433

This note engages a major issue in historical language contact, disputing Antoine Meillet’s then-new views on substrates. It provides a notable statement of fundamentally skeptical views about substrate effects in American English, views which have been repeatedly challenged in recent years and decades in the pages of this journal.

Bilingualism in the Middle Colonies, 1725–1775

Allen Walker Read
American Speech (1937) 12 (2): 93–99

This short paper anticipates much current work in historical sociolinguistics to give us a picture of multilingualism in the precolonial period. Instead of relying on printed language or even private correspondence among literate individuals, Read draws his evidence from newspaper advertisements seeking the return of escaped enslaved people and indentured servants, where linguistic abilities were often mentioned. Alongside German and Dutch, he finds numerous mentions of Romance and Celtic languages, either spoken as heritage languages or learned as second languages.

Amish ‘Triple-Talk’

J. William Frey
American Speech (1945) 20 (2): 85–98

American Speech has published dozens of articles on Pennsylvania Dutch and Dutchified English, covering a wide range of structural, historical, and sociolinguistic issues. Frey provides a classic description of trilingualism among the Old Order Amish, involving what he refers to as Amish Pennsylvania German, Amish High German, and Pennsylvania Dutch English. Many aspects of the situation have changed today, and this article provides valuable historical context.

Bilingualism and Dialect Mixture among Lubavitcher Hasidic Children

George Jochnowitz
American Speech (1968) 43 (3): 182–200

This remarkable article covers language maintenance, multilingualism (involving eight different languages, excluding Hebrew), Yiddish dialects, language and dialect contact, as well as emerging varieties of English in a group of Hasidim. The study is based on the author’s observations and interviews while the consultants vacationed in the summer of 1967 (reflecting a pace of research, writing, and publication that many of us envy today).

A Language Survey That Failed: Seip and Selmer

Einar Haugen
American Speech (1992) 67 (3): 330–336

The last of six articles Haugen wrote for American Speech, this paper details a 1931 survey of American Norwegian. Like much work describing heritage and Indigenous languages going back decades, this was undertaken as a kind of linguistic salvage work, anticipating the rapid demise of Norwegian with new immigration restrictions, though some Norwegian American bilinguals remain to the present day. Haugen sees the project as “failed” because most of the recordings were lost (though the remaining ones are easily available today at and Seip did not continue to publish on the topic, though Haugen himself was prolific on it.

Settler Colonial Englishes Are Distinct from Postcolonial Englishes

Derek Denis and Alexandra D’Arcy
American Speech (2018) 93 (1): 3–31

This position paper draws a distinction between “settler colonialist” contexts, like English in North America, and contexts where Indigenous languages continue to vigorously influence colonial languages, such as Singapore and India. While this distinction clearly reflects social and political history, the authors show equally clear structural linguistic consequences, ranging from types of lexical borrowing (including core or basic vocabulary in the latter but not the former type), grammatical contact innovations (found in the latter but not the former), and greater linguistic homogeneity in the colonial language in the former than the latter type.

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