Thursday, February 21, 2008

German Words – American Voices

The Max Kade Institute is pleased to announce the production of German Words – American Voices / Deutsche Wörter – Amerikanische Stimmen, a compact disc and bilingual companion booklet featuring German dialects historically spoken in the United States. This project was funded by a grant from the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Chicago. GWAV contains twelve sound clips accompanied by commentaries and translations into English and German. There is also a bilingual introductory essay. Quoting from the introduction ...

“Deutsch zu sein, bedeutet für mich, Deutsch zu sprechen ...” (What being German means to me is being able to speak German ...). Such is a typical response to the question “Was ist deutsch?” (What is German?) posed by the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit in a recent online survey. To be sure, the ability to speak German is centrally important if one wants to feel a part of German society. But what does it mean to speak German outside of Europe?

In German Words – American Voices we listen to speakers of German from across the United States, Americans quite distant from their European roots in both time and space. Each is a fluent speaker of some variety of German, but as Americans at least two generations removed from immigration, all are also fluent English-speakers. Indeed, to speak a language other than English that has been passed down from one’s ancestors does not mean that one is somehow frozen in the past. Speakers of heritage languages are no less American than their English-monolingual fellow citizens; rather, they have a somewhat deeper awareness of where they come from.

The sound clips featured in German Words – American Voices hail from the three regions of the United States where varieties of German have survived the longest after immigration: Wisconsin, Texas, and Pennsylvania. Wisconsin has the distinction of being the veritable buckle of the “German Belt” across the American Midwest: over forty-percent of the state’s inhabitants claim German ancestry. Deep in the heart of Texas, German-speakers in communities such as Fredericksburg and New Braunfels have also left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape. And Pennsylvania is where Pennsylvania Dutch developed, which is both the oldest German-derived language in North America and one of the very few American heritage languages overall whose speaker population is growing. ...

Interested? The GWAV CD and booklet may be obtained from the Max Kade Institute for only shipping and handling costs. Ordering information is available here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

H-GAGCS: A Forum for German-American and German-Canadian Studies

Of the (way too many) e-lists I have subscribed to, one in particular has an interesting posting each and every time: H-GAGCS, the German-American and German-Canadian Studies discussion group on H-Net (Humanities and Social Sciences online). H-Nets numerous e-mail lists function as electronic networks, linking professors, teachers and students in an exchange of ideas and materials.

The H-GAGCS list in particular provides – in its own words – “a moderated multi-disciplinary forum for discussion of topics relevant to German-speaking immigrants in North America from the 17th century to the present. Disciplines involved include history, geography, ethnic and immigration studies, linguistics, literary and cultural studies. Topics may include the invention/ transformation of ethnicity and national identities among German Americans and German Canadians, patterns of settlement, patterns of maintenance and change in language and culture, civic participation, methods of conceptualizing German identity in North America etc. The list addresses an audience of primarily academics and graduate students. We stress the value of comparative and cross-border ethnic studies (a diaspora approach) and the idea of cultural regions, including on German communities in other parts of the world (South America, Australia) for comparative purposes.”

On the Web site you will find reviews of publications in German-American and German-Canadian Studies, announcements of events, and a Discussion Log of everything that has been talked about by subscribers. It is easy to subscribe. Join and write your own posts in English or German.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Carl Schurz in the news

By sheer accident, I happened to catch just a minute of a speech on television yesterday by Mike Huckabee. He was repeating the political chestnut "My country, right or wrong". The quote comes, as he noted clearly, from the German immigrant and one-time Watertown, Wisconsin resident Carl Schurz. Huckabee gave this usual quote (the fuller context can be found here):

Our country right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right.

It's interesting to see this German-American immigrant being quoted so prominently in current political debate. People in Wisconsin celebrate Schurz for his long list of remarkable accomplishments — Civil War general, US Senator, Secretary of the Interior. Less noted today is how truly radical the thrust of Schurz's political activity was — see, for one simple example, his words on "true Americanism" in the first link above.

Image from the Department of the Interior website, here.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Language and immigration in Germany

In Germany, language purists typically react very negatively to English and other loanwords coming into the language. But other currents are running right now; consider these two examples:

First, some positive attention is being given to loanwords by prominent groups in Germany with this initiative (graphic from there):
"Wörter mit Migrationshintergrund"
Wir suchen das beste eingewanderte Wort.
It's being supported by the Goethe Institut, Deutscher Sprachrat, Duden, and others. If you read the materials, it's aimed at celebrating immigration, and lexical borrowing.

Second, the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache publishes a journal called Der Sprachdienst. (They do Germany's Wort des Jahres and publish articles on various aspects of usage and other language topics.) In the last 2007 issue, they ran a piece by Dennis Scheller-Boltz called:
McDonald's – McAnwalt – McFit – McFlight.
The piece gives a lot of interesting data on how productive the Mc- prefix is in German right now, especially in creating new company names. Surprisingly, at least from my perspective, is that it means not only that a product is cheap and fast, but also that it's of good quality.

[Cross-posted with modifications from Mr. Verb.]