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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Dissertation Information

Title: The Dynamics of Language Obsolescence in a Divided Speech Community. The Case of the German Wischau/Vyškov Enclave (Czech Republic) Add Dissertation
Author: Filippo Nereo Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: University of Manchester, Department of German
Completed in: 2011
Linguistic Subfield(s): Sociolinguistics;
Director(s): Martin Durrell
Patrick Stevenson
Eva Schultze-Berndt

Abstract: This investigation explores the linguistic consequences of the expulsion of Germans in 1945/46 from the Wischau/Vyškov speech enclave in the Czech Republic, part of the wave of population transfers of ethnic Germans at the end of World War II, which remain to this day a highly sensitive topic in Czech-German relations. In the context of language obsolescence, this study examines the causal connections between this historical trigger, processes of identification, the wider sociolinguistic context, and the
system-linguistic structure of the language variety, adopting and expanding the theoretical framework developed by Sasse (1992). This study is largely comparative in approach, looking at the parallel communities which emerged after the expulsions, i.e. both the few 'stayers' in the enclave, who until 1989/90 lived under Communism, and the majority of 'expellees', who began new lives in the Capitalist Federal Republic of Germany. It is the first (and probably last) detailed linguistic study of this small, rural and
invisible vestigial group of speakers, whose language variety will invariably become obsolete over the next few years with the death of its last speakers.

This study is based on data elicited chiefly between 2007 and 2009 during fieldwork in the Czech Republic and Germany with the last few remaining witnesses of the expulsion from Wischau/Vyškov, and the last remaining speakers of its language variety, i.e. the oldest living generation. Data from fieldwork undertaken for the Atlas der historischen deutschen Mundarten in der Tschechischen Republik (ADT) were also analysed. The data were elicited through a mixture of participant observation, unstructured interviews, an authorised recording of native-speaker consultants without the researcher present, and, in the case of the ADT project, traditional dialect atlas elicitation techniques.

Data from the Wischau/Vyškov enclave show that during this stage of atrophy:
* identity nonetheless crystallises around language for both stayers and expellees, and language is framed within the context of expulsion, which is the primary marker of identity;
* the relationship of stayers with the language variety is largely motivated by nostalgia, whereas the relationship of expellees with the language variety is largely emblematic and motivated by a conviction that, despite the irreversibility of language obsolescence, the language variety has a unique quality and must therefore be preserved for posterity;
* stayers and expellees alike have assumed multiple identities given the parallel assimilatory measures at force in the Czech Republic and Federal Republic;
* stigmatisation, severe functional limitations and a lack of intergenerational
language transmission were crucial contributing factors in language contraction;
* there is no evidence of linguistic decay. On the contrary, the variety remains structurally intact to a large extent, probably owing to the rapidity of loss and absence of 'semi-speakers';
* possible contact features in the speech of stayers are characterised by occasionality and inconsistency most likely as a result of the destabilisation of micro- and macro-level norms.
Finally, this study suggests two avenues to consider for the future, namely a quantitative study of language and identity, and a wider comparative study of language obsolescence in former German enclaves in Central and Eastern Europe.