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.

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