LINGUIST List 2.261

Thursday, 30 May 1991

Disc: The Survival of Immigrant Languages

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  1. Herb Stahlke, RE: The Survival of Immigrant Languages
  2. "ELISE EMERSON MORSE-GAGNE", survival of immigrant languages
  3. "ELISE EMERSON MORSE-GAGNE", survival of immigrant lgs again

Message 1: RE: The Survival of Immigrant Languages

Date: Wed, 29 May 91 15:47 EST
From: Herb Stahlke <>
Subject: RE: The Survival of Immigrant Languages
I can confirm some of what Christine Kamprath said about the survival of German
in Lutheran communities and also shed some personal insight into how these
communities lose their first language. I grew up in a Lutheran parsonage in a
small town south of Detroit called Waltz--five miles west of Flat Rock. My
father regularly preached in German, having grown up in a small town in central
Minnesota. Our table prayers and some of our bedtime prayers were in German.
My elder siblings all have a near-native command of German, but since I was
born in 1942 I have school German. Regularly during World War II, FBI agents
would come down from Detroit to listen to my father's German sermons, and about
the time I was born my parents decided to stop speaking German at home, hence
the difference in proficiency between my siblings and me. There are also some
Stahlke's in Ontario, along the route that Ur-Stahlke took in migrating from
Danzig to central Minnesota, but one Ontario branch of the family changed the
spelling to Stalkie during World War I on the advice of provincial officials.
A good bit of German is still spoken north of Detroit in the Frankenmuth and
Frankentrost areas. Incidentally, we considered ourselves really rather
enlightened in Waltz. There was one Catholic family in the town of 230 people,
of German-Russian descent like most of the town, and we were allowed to play
with their children.

 Herb Stahlke
 Ball State University
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Message 2: survival of immigrant languages

Date: 29 May 91 19:23:00 EST
Subject: survival of immigrant languages
Thank you, Margaret. Yes, the Amish communities are a good counter-example
to my generalization. It might be very interesting to compare the (language-
survival) results of the Amish/Mennonite _communitas_ to the enforced
segregation Bill Eldridge is talking about for the slaves. But if I remember
correctly, the slaves were not all equally segregated from native English-
speakers. Field workers were far more so than house servants, particularly--
I should imagine--the small children of house servants, who may have played
with the small children of the owners. This difference between levels of
exposure to English is discussed in Edgar Schneider, _American Earlier Black
English_, p. 262-67. It seems to me that this issue verges on the one raised
in his query by Mark Louden, who points out that many people assume that all
(black/Amish/...) individuals speak (BVE/"Amish-style" English/...). It's not
true now, and it apparently wasn't entirely true even in the slavery era.
I'm not saying that Bill Eldridge is falling into that trap, I'm just trying
to say that to my mind, given the different languages they started with, the
diversity of their cultural backgrounds, and the fact that a certain number of
slaves were in close contact with (all sorts of!) white English speakers, it
is not s
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Message 3: survival of immigrant lgs again

Date: 29 May 91 21:11:00 EST
Subject: survival of immigrant lgs again
I should have finished reading my backlog of mail before sending my last
message--cardinal sin! Thanks to everybody who has made it impossible for
me to say again that "I don't know of immigrant groups who have maintained
their lgs past 3 or 4 generations". What I meant to convey--and obviously
I put it much too strongly--was that surely it is not extraordinary that
African languages have not survived in this country (that is, in the sense
that Pennsylvania German, etc., has), considering the many immigrant groups
which no longer retain their languages.
There seem to be three major groups being discussed here. (1) is the African
slaves, and it would be wonderful if John Singler or John Rickford or other
specialists in the area of creoles and Black English origins would contribute
to this. (2) are such communities as the German-speaking or Swiss-German-
speaking Amish and non-Amish farming communities. I seem to recall a mention 
of Spanish-speakers in California? who retain old European Spanish traits; I
wonder if they also fall into this category. Are they rural, agricultural
communities with a strong shared religious tradition? (3) are waves of immi-
grants who have been more or less dispersed and assimilated, with no speakers
of the original language after the 3rd generation or so in this country.
(1) and (3) apparently share language loss (and influence on at least some
varieties of American English). Whether for the same reasons, or not, I
certainly can't say.
As I remember, this was originally a branch of the Banned Languages discussion.
My understanding of Bill Eldridge's first message on the subject (I should
say that I think my computer scrambled a recent message from Bill, or someone
with the uppercase initials B E, so forgive me if I am missing something) is
that he wondered whether a ban on African lgs was in part responsible for the
-ir non-survival, but found no records of such a ban. Or something like that.
It would certainly be interesting to compare local attitudes towards the lgs.
of groups (1), (2), and (3)--and the degree to which the communities in
question maintain some imperviousness to local attitudes. Can someone like
Mark Louden say whether there has ever been restricitve legislation aimed
at Pennsylvania German, for instance? If not, why not? 
My apologies for the length of this message.
--Elise Morse-Gagne

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