Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Germans take notice of German in the U.S. Part I - Texas German

Over the last couple of years, interest in things German-American has grown in Germany. People are curious about of what became of those German emigrants and their descendants. They are intrigued that German customs can still be found all over America and are fascinated by the fact that German dialects are still spoken in some parts of the U.S. Yesterday, for example, the German magazine Der Spiegel ran a two-part article on Texas German in its online edition: “Kuriose Sprachinsel – Man spricht Texas-Deutsch.” (A curious linguistic enclave – Texas German spoken here). The article describes the work of the Texas German Dialect Project (TGDP), an umbrella organization for carrying out research in representative Texas German speech communities in central Texas. Housed at the University of Texas-Austin, and currently led by Associate Professor of Germanic Linguistics Hans Boas, the project strives to preserve the Texas German dialect, to gather basic research information about the language variety, and to use the material collected in research projects for the improvement of educational programs about language and culture. Since Texas German—like so many other heritage languages—has not been passed on to younger generations for the last decades, the number of native Texas German speakers is shrinking drastically, and it is estimated that the dialect will become extinct by 2040.
Here are some Texas German examples as presented by Der Spiegel to its German audience, showing the strong English influence on the dialect.
Montag habe ich abgenommen - Monday I took off
mitaus - without
Wir sind nach den war nach Comfort gemoved - We moved to Comfort after the war
Die Eichkatz sitzt auf meine tools - The squirrel sits on my tools
Ich war kalt auf der porch - I was cold on the porch
The bread is all - The bread is all gone

In late February already, Germans were entertained with “Polka in Texas,” a one-hour show on WDR Weltweit, a broadcast by the Westdeutscher Rundfunk TV.

Image1: Prof. Boas speaking with Texas Germans (from http://www.spiegel.de/); Image2: Texas-German polka player (from http://www.wdr.de/)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Forty-Eighter Monument Dedicated in Davenport

On March 30, 2008 a 24,000-pound monument honoring a group of German immigrants known as the "Forty-Eighters" was erected near the banks of the Mississippi. The story behind this massive monument begins almost 160 years ago in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.

In 1848, the Northern-German duchy of Schleswig was a fiefdom of Denmark, while its neighbor, the duchy of Holstein was part of the German Confederation. When in March 1848, the king of Denmark tried to bind the two duchies closer to his Kingdom, German patriots from both provinces started an uprising against the Danish crown. Unsuccessful in their struggle, many of those Schleswig-Holsteiners immigrated to the United States, a great many of them settling in Scott County, Iowa.

In 1872, these former freedom fighters organized a veterans' society known as Der Davenporter Verein der Kampfgenossen der Schleswig-Holsteinischen Freiheitskriege von 1848, 1849 und 1850 (The Davenport Society of Veterans of the Schleswig-Holstein Wars of Independence of 1848, 1849 and 1850). Their members were the pillars of the Davenport community, and in March 1898, a stone monument commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Forty-Eighters' fight for freedom in their homeland was dedicated in Davenport’s Washington Square Park. Twelve hundred people attended the dedication ceremony. In his speech, Emil Geisler commemorated the struggle of the Forty-Eighters in their native homeland and their accomplishments in their adopted home of Iowa. He closed with the words:

"May Germania and Columbia like a pair of sisters, distinguished among the civilized nations of the world, always be united in their efforts for the welfare of their children and the distribution of the blessings of the civilization among all nations. And may the United States of America, now our blessed home, ever enjoy the blessings of peace and prosperity; and may it forever be the land of the free and the home of the brave, and its glorious banner forever wave!"

Less than two decades later, however, when anti-German sentiments during World War I were running high, the commemorative stone disappeared from Washington Square. Another ninety years later there is a renewed awareness of the accomplishments of the German Forty-Eighters and their contributions to American society, leading to the placement on March 30, 2008 of a new commemorative stone in Davenport on almost the very spot where the old one sat. More information, including historical photos and pictures from the ceremony, can be found on the Web Site of Dr. Joachim Reppmann.