Transcript S2E3: Texas German
Here is the transcript of S2E3: Texas German. You can read more about this episode on the episode web page.
The transcript has been edited for readability.
LG = Luke Green
HB = Hans Boas
TGS = Texas German speaker (various speakers, anonymised)
- The transcriptions of the interviews with the Texas German speakers have been partially taken from those given in the Texas German Dialect Archive. The interview codes given in this transcript correspond to the codes in the archive, in case you would like to find the original unedited recordings. The recordings used in the episode have been edited slightly for brevity. This transcript shows the edited version. The recordings of the Texas German speakers included in this episode are used with the kind permission from the Texas German Dialect Project, and do not belong to Yellow of the Egg.
- In this transcript, there are some IPA symbols that are used:
- [i:] – the first vowel in Biene
- [ɪ] – the first vowel in trinken
- [y:] – the first vowel in Mühe
- [ʏ] – the first vowel in Küche
- [e:] – the vowel in Reh
- [ø:] – the first vowel in Löwe
- [ɐ] – the second vowel in Bruder
- [t] – the first consonant in Tisch
- [l] – the first consonant in Leben
- [r] – the ‘rolled’ r, produced with the tip of your tongue
- [ʀ] – the ‘uvular’ r, produced with the back of your tongue
- [ɹ] – the ‘English’ r, such as in red
LG: The last four centuries have seen tens of millions of German and German-speaking people migrate from Europe to different regions in North America. When these people came, they brought with them their culture, their customs, and of course their language. Of all the German dialects in the German-speaking communities in the US today, Texas German stands out as being particularly unique, for a number of reasons. But there’s not much time left to study this variety of German, since Texas German is an endangered dialect. In this episode we’re going to hear about what Texas German is, how it came to be, and what efforts there are to preserve and record this variety so it doesn’t get forgotten. So let’s dive in. Let’s crack on with the show.
This is Yellow of the Egg. The podcast where we sit down with the German language and reminisce about the good old days. I’m Luke Green, and this is series 2 episode 3, Texas German.
TGS: Ich bin in Winchester, Texas, geboren. Und ich bin in unseres Haus geboren. De Doctor ist nach Hause gekommen. Und de Hospital, de erste Hospital, war so bei dreißig Meilen von hier. Und deswegen bin i zu Hause geboren. Ich habe zweiundzwanzig Jahre in Winchester gewohnt. [Interview code: 7-316-1-1-a]
LG: You may have noticed some features of this person’s speech that are different from the standard varieties of German in Europe that most of us are familiar with. You can hear a different accent and intonation in the speech, as well as some different grammatical features and vocabulary. This is a speaker of Texas German.
HB: So Texas German is a New World dialect of German that is spoken in central Texas by the descendants of the German-speaking immigrants coming to Texas starting in the 1830s.
LG: This is Hans C. Boas, professor for Germanic Linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin, and the director of the Texas German Dialect Project, a research organisation which aims to understand and preserve the Texas German dialect. This is not only important for educational purposes, but also because this is a variety of German that’s facing extinction.
HB: So Texas German right now is in a state of endangerment because the number of speakers has been shrinking drastically since the 1960s. It's not passed on to younger generations. Speakers are 70 years and older. They don't have that many opportunities anymore to speak the dialect, just because there's fewer and fewer speakers. Because of that, they don't use it that often anymore, and they start forgetting words and phrases and sentences, and they start having a hard time remembering it. And so right now we're looking at the very likely extinction of Texas German in the next 15 to maybe 20 years.
LG: This means that there’s a very limited window of time to document as much as possible of this endangered dialect. It’s especially important to get audio recordings while there are still speakers of Texas German who are alive.
HB: Right now, we do it over Zoom or over the phone because of the pandemic, but until February of 2020 we would actually drive to locations and would meet with speakers, either at their homes or at local libraries or archives or museums. And we would sit down, and we would interview them. We would record those interviews.
LG: These interviews are then transcribed, translated into English, archived, and made freely available to the public, to people such as teachers, researchers, or anyone who is interested. You can go to the archive yourself and listen to the interviews, and you can hear many features that are quite unique to Texas German. What you might also notice when listening to the different speakers, though, is that Texas German is not actually one single variety.
HB: It’s a so-called mixed dialect. So the German-speaking immigrants, they came from multiple different regions of German-speaking central Europe, meaning they spoke drastically different dialects. So think of someone coming from the upper Rhine Valley, someone from Thuringia, someone from Saxony, someone from Hessen, someone from Hamburg, and someone from Mecklenburg. And they all brought in their local dialects starting in the 1830s, and as they started settling large parts of Central Texas in the 19th century, they started speaking to each other in their German dialects.
LG: This continued up until around the end of the first World War, by which time they were on their third generation of speakers, all having brought their own dialects from Europe.
HB: And so, over multiple generations, you had the emergence of what linguists call a New World dialect. You find similar things with English in New Zealand, with French in Québec, for example. Very similar setup. You get settlers from Europe settling in the New World, and they come from different regions and they mix their dialects. In Texas it's interesting because the multiple dialects spoken were very drastically different So I would imagine, and of course I don't have a time machine to go back, but I would imagine that back in the 1830s and 1840s, a certain number of settlers would have had certain issues comprehending dialect speakers from far away regions in German-speaking central Europe who would speak a very different dialect.
LG: This makes Texas German quite unique among other New World dialects. While these other dialects have tended to become somewhat more homogeneous over time, this is not the case for Texas German.
HB: Texas German is not homogeneous because its development process got more or less interrupted in the first quarter of the 20th century. All the way up until the end of World War One in large parts of Central Texas, Texas German was spoken in the families, among neighbours, among friends, in the shops, in the churches, German was printed in newspapers, it was used in schools.
LG: It was used everywhere. You could say Texas German was flourishing. But this stopped fairly suddenly after the war.
HB: More or less overnight after the US joined the war effort against Germany, all the teaching had to be done in only English and no more German. The newspapers couldn't freely publish in German. They had to be censored first, most of them switched to English. Many of the church services already switched to English back then to appear more patriotic. And so, there was a real rift in 1917, 1918, where all of a sudden Texas German, the use of Texas German, was drastically reduced, meaning the speakers who had spoken it all their lives, grandparents, parents, their children, they would still use it at home, with their friends, with the family, out on the street, on the playground, but they would not use it in school anymore. They would not use it in church, typically, and so on. And so, this drastic stop to the use of Texas German in certain domains led to this interruption of this development that would have taken another generation, maybe two, for Texas German to emerge as a real, what linguists call a focused New World dialect.
LG: When people stopped using German in many contexts where people would be exposed to each other’s dialects, this essentially stunted its development. People’s dialects were unable to converge with each other, at least not to the same extent as they would have if German wasn’t censored in favour of English.
HB: And so, the Texas German that we hear today is very similar, there's a number of significant differences, but it's very similar to the Texas German that was spoken in the first quarter of the 20th century. So Texas German today is not a real homogeneous dialect. You can possibly define Texas German based on a dozen or so linguistic features that the speech of all the speakers share, but then there is massive linguistic variation. They’re still able to understand each other, but it's not a coherent homogeneous dialect.
LG: This makes studying Texas German a little more difficult since you’re not studying one dialect, rather you’re essentially studying a group of dialects. But it’s important to be able to consider these dialects as belonging to the overarching category of ‘Texas German’ though, if only for the purposes of distinction from the other German dialects in the US. After all, Texas isn’t the only place in the US where German is spoken.
HB: There are many German American dialects, some of them are still spoken today. So you will find German dialect speakers throughout most of the Midwest. So think of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Idaho, North and South Dakota, again Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois. There are many communities where you still find dialects of German spoken up to this day.
LG: There are a number of ways Texas German can be distinguished from these other varieties, from a historical perspective.
HB: One, it's comparatively young. So the earliest settlers coming to Texas from German-speaking central Europe came in the 1830s. The real first large wave of immigration, and we're talking thousands of immigrants, started in the 1840s all the way up until to the 1890s. So that's comparably speaking later than, let’s say, in Pennsylvania or in other states in the US. Another reason why it's different is because, in the case of Texas German, the German settlers were the first European settlers on the frontier. In other places such as Pennsylvania or Ohio or Wisconsin, German settlers coming in, they were settling the land, but there already were typically Anglo speakers there. There were other European settlement groups. In the case of Texas, with the large immigration waves starting in the early 1840s, when they arrived in South Central Texas, they were literally the first European immigrant group to settle the frontier.
LG: Since the German settlers came before other European settlers in this region, such as the Anglo speakers, they developed a certain mentality towards English speakers. This can be observed even up to this day.
HB: When you talk to elderly speakers of Texas German about their communities and their lives and their neighbourhood, they will refer to themselves as “us Texas Germans”, and the neighbours over there, they’re “die Amerikaner”. They’re ‘the Americans’. So up to this day, among a certain number of Texas German speakers, there is still this, I don't want call it a divide, but there's a consciousness that their ancestors were really the first ones settling the land as Europeans, and then the Anglos, the Americans, they showed up later.
LG: In addition to when German speakers emigrated to Texas, the question as to why they moved also differs from the other immigrants elsewhere in the US.
HB: German speakers coming to Texas immigrated primarily for economic reasons. They also immigrated for political reasons. So unlike earlier phases of German immigration, think especially the Pennsylvania Germans, they immigrated largely for religious reasons. And in the case of the settlers coming to Texas, they came because they did not have enough land to live off of. There was high taxation. There were multiple wars going on. At the same time, there was political oppression. People didn't have any freedom of speech, no democracy, and people were itching to get out of Germany, and somewhere else, such as Texas, such as the United States, such as Latin America, also Australia, and other places around the world.
LG: And not only were there factors pushing people out of Germany and central Europe, there were also plenty of factors pulling people specifically towards Texas. In fact, Texas was actively looking for people from central Europe at the time.
HB: So historically speaking, the immigration of German speakers to Texas is interesting because the state of Texas, or the Republic of Texas from 1836 to 1845, was massively recruiting settlers in Europe to come to Texas, which by then was its own country, to settle the line to build up an infrastructure. And they specifically recruited in central Europe for settlers to come over. These were primarily German speakers, but also Czech speakers, there were people from Scandinavia as well. So there’s Swedes immigrated, and Danes, and Norwegians. The Texas Germans formed one of the larger immigrant groups.
LG: And when they came, they brought with them a lot more than just their language. They built German-style houses, they built a church that was held in German, they established German-speaking schools, German singing societies, dancing clubs, and so on. And the names they gave to buildings and places in the area are evidence of this mass immigration that can still be seen today.
HB: You know, you see street signs, you see business names, you see names of lakes or forests or any type of location that might be named after a particular German family last name.
LG: Just to give a couple of examples: in New Braunfels you can find Pahmeyer Road, Klein Road, Kraft Lane and Schmidt Avenue. But, as we heard earlier, there was a time when German was being pushed out of use in the US, and this had an effect on German names that were used in Central Texas. Including family names.
HB: This is again back to the end of World War One when the English-only laws were passed, a certain number, I have a hard time quantifying it, but I have anecdotal evidence of families switching their last names from a German last name to an English last name. So think of Fuchs going to Fox, think of Müller going to Miller, and so on. So this is a development that you see all over the US, because similar process happened in the early 20th century. But for the most part I would argue – and this is really hard to quantify – I would say that very roughly three quarters, if not more, of the Texas Germans kept their last names up to this day.
LG: You’re therefore likely to find some descendants of German immigrants with their original German-language names, and some with an anglicised version or an English equivalent. English has had quite the impact on the German found and spoken in Central Texas, in terms of names, as we’ve heard, but also in terms of the vocabulary.
HB: One of the things that sets Texas German apart is obviously the many English words and phrases that have been borrowed from Texas English into Texas German. So we're talking about verbs like ‘to move’, moven, or ‘to crank’ cranken. “Wir sind nach Friedrichsburg raufgemoved”. There’s nouns like die Shotgun, die Fence, die Creek. There is these discourse markers like well and so or anyhow.
LG: Listen to this interview with a speaker of Texas German. See how many English words, phrases and discourse markers you can recognise.
HB: Haben Sie früher auch Sauerkraut gemacht?
TGS: Meine Mutter hat.
TGS: Aber ich tu nicht. Ich weiß nicht. I don’t know. Das ist für mich zu viel Trubel. Course, ich hab immer Gurken gecanned, Jelly gekocht, und Tomatoes gecanned. Und alle das habe ich getan.
HB: Und- und wie macht man die Gurken?
TGS: Well, du tust in a Bottle stecken. Und denn tust in Brine machen mit Salz und Zucker, und, um, Dill, ne Masse Dill. Das schmeckt sehr gut. Und so habe ich meine letzten gemacht. Und die Jungs machen e sehr gut. Denn tust du das Wasser real, ganz heiß kochen, machen, kochen. Und du stuffst die Gurken in die Bottle, gießt den heiße Brine da drauf mit Dill drinnen. Kannst du auch, uh, Garlic reintun. Und, uh, denn schraubst du sie zu. Und denn tust du sie in großen Pot und kochst du bis auf Farbe changen.
[Interview code: 1-175-1-15-a]
LG: Just this one minute of interview is packed with words and phrases from English. Maybe you could hear some of them. We had words like Jelly, Tomatoes, Bottle, Brine, Garlic, and Pot. There was real, I don’t know, of course, and well. Then we had verbs that are clearly from English, but have been integrated into the German grammar, like gecanned, stuffst, and changen. Texas German has a lot of examples of words and phrases that appear to be part-English, part-German.
HB: My favourite one is wasever.
LG: Meaning ‘whatever’.
HB: Where you take an English template and you really put in the German words, and you combine them in a way that it looks like English but it's uniquely Texas German.
LG: And the fun doesn’t stop there.
HB: There is another interesting Texas German creation that's called mitaus, which is literally ‘without’, which is in standard German ohne.
LG: That’s one of my favourite ones. With and without is mit und mitaus. That’s just fantastic.
HB: I know, I know, right? But, again, this is the fascinating thing, right? It’s like, when you know German and you know English and you listen to Texas German, if you just listen to it, it doesn't really strike you as anything- you know, it sounds like, it sounds like a different German dialect. But, you know, it doesn't really hit you unless you record it, you go back, and you start dissecting it. And all of a sudden you realise, because you are able to understand mitaus, but it's just like, it doesn't really register at the moment. Unless you go back and you’re like, “wait a second, mitaus? Where does that come from?” Right? But again, it's also, on the part of the Texas German speakers, it's completely natural, you know? It's not that they hesitate, it's not that they have to think about the word, but they just keep on going, talking, talking, and then there is these words that stick out. And some of them have a little bit of an English intonation, some of them just sound like completely a German word, like mitaus.
LG: I think I actually prefer mitaus to ohne, simply from a grammatical perspective. It’s always bothered me when I want to say the phrase with or without in German, mit oder ohne. I always doubt myself as to what case should come afterwards, since mit takes the dative and ohne takes the accusative, typically. So with or without you would be mit oder ohne dir oder dich? Mit dir, but ohne dich. I’ve heard different people say different things. If we simply have mitaus, that would take the dative too in standard German, so problem solved. Or maybe I’m just overthinking things. There is also Texas German vocabulary that didn’t necessarily come about as a result of English borrowings or hybrids, but there is naturally also vocabulary that came about as German-language creations.
HB: The most obvious one is die Stinkkatze, which is the Texas German word for ‘skunk’.
LG: Which translates literally as ‘stink cat’.
HB: So the British settlers, when they came to North America, they saw this furry animal that stank, and they borrowed the Native American word skunk. When the Texas Germans arrived in Central Texas and they saw this thing walking around that stunk and that looked like a cat, they didn't borrow the word skunk from Native American language. They made up their own term, die Stinkkatze.
LG: This would be Stinktier in modern standard European German, so ‘stink animal’. The Texas Germans must have thought many animals looked like cats, since their word for squirrel is Eichkatze, which in most standard varieties of German is Eichhörnchen. Texas Germans aren’t the only ones to make this connection with cats, though. Some European dialects of German refer to squirrels as Eichkater, with Kater being a male cat, or Eichkätzchen, Kätzchen being a little cat or a kitten. Just while we’re on the subject of squirrels, contrary to what many people might think, the Eich- part of Eichhörnchen or Eichkatze isn’t thought to come from Eiche, meaning ‘oak’. It’s rather thought to come from an Indoeuropean root meaning ‘to move around fiercely or frantically’, which would make the meaning of Eichkatze something along the lines of ‘frantically-moving cat’. Say what you see, I guess. There are many more words that could be considered characteristic of Texas German, such as the word for ‘airplane’, Luftschiff, literally meaning ‘airship’. Luftschiff does exist in standard European German, but it carries the meaning ‘airship’ rather than ‘airplane’. Of course, since Texas German is so diverse and consists of many different subdialects, not every Texas German speaker will use these words and phrases. But they do give us an interesting insight into the lexicon of the speakers there. With all of these examples of Texas German words and phrases, we can find evidence of them being used, but it’s quite difficult to pin down exactly when they first started being used, particularly in spoken language.
HB: Obviously, we don't have any recordings of radio shows or TV broadcasts from the nineteenth century. So, you know, we do have printed newspapers at the beginning of the 20th century. There were more than 100 German-speaking newspapers in Central Texas. So there is vast amounts of printed data, newspapers in German from all over Central Texas that you could go into and study and see whether anywhere in those texts you find the word Stinkkatze or Stinktier to say, “oh, here we have, you know, the earliest attestation of this word”. The other option is, what we've been doing for the last five, six, seven years, whenever we do interviews, we ask our speakers whether they have old family documents. So think of letters, think of diaries, think of anything written down in German in the 19th century. And then we scan them, and then at some point we hopefully are going to be able to analyse them and figure out what Texas German, or what the variety of German that people wrote back then, because again what you write is very different from what you speak, but it's somewhat reflective. Especially if you are talking about a non-standard variety of German. So our hope would be that by studying these historical written materials, especially the handwritten materials, that we could find some answers to those questions like, “where and when did Stinkkatze first show up?” But again, it's like the needle in the haystack. You would have to spend hundreds, if not thousands of hours going through massive amounts of documents to find evidence for the first use. And this would only be the written evidence. So it would tell you “oh, here's 1872, the first written attestation of die Stinkkatze in a letter by a Texas German writing from New Braunfels to his cousin in Houston”, but it still wouldn't tell you when it was first coined, when it was first used in spoken Texas German.
LG: Another thing that most written sources won’t be able to tell you is how these words and phrases are pronounced. For this, we have to rely almost exclusively on audio recordings. Thanks to the efforts of the Texas German Dialect Project, we have access to more and more audio data as more and more interviews are being conducted. This has made it possible to document differences in pronunciation between Texas German and other varieties, such as the German you would hear in modern Central Europe. You may have noticed some things already from the interviews you’ve heard here. One of the more striking and recognisable features is the intonation.
HB: This is something that we’re also looking into, because we don’t have a good way of analysing it as of yet, is when you listen to a Texas German speaker, some Texas German speakers, when they speak Texas German, they have an intonation that sounds like Texas English. So, the sentence intonation where you raise your tone and your voice and so on, in a significant number of Texas German speakers, they sound like Texas English speakers, but only with respect to the intonation. The sounds themselves are still German, but the word in the sentence intonation sounds like it's like Texas English.
LG: Listen to this Texas German speaker and notice the similar intonation to that of a speaker of Texas English.
TGS: Well, den seine Geschwistern, die Brüder und die Schwestern was, uh, well, die hamm alle jemand geheirat wo kein Deutsch spreche konnt. Der ist der einzigste wo wir beide konnen Deutsch. Die anderen konnen alle keine Deutsch. Well, Dana ihre Kinder, die hören keine Deutsch. Weil mein Mann kann kein Deutsch sprechen, dann spreche ich auch kein Deutsch. [Interview code: 1-74-1-14-a]
LG: Maybe you could hear some similarities between this person’s intonation and a typical Texas English intonation.
HB: But we don't have a good way of categorising and analysing that yet. So that's yet another thing that we're trying to look into.
LG: As for the individual speech sounds themselves, most of them appear to be of German origin. You may hear the /r/ sound being pronounced in a more English way as opposed to a more German way, and some other minor differences, but most sounds seem to be German. What does seem to have happened, though, is that some of the speech sounds seem to have been re-organised or levelled-out to some extent.
HB: So, just to give you one example, and again this is a development to some of the German dialects you find in Europe, is there's a process that's called unrounding of vowels. So the [y:] and the [ø:], like in Tür, like die Tür, and das Öl, instead of rounding your lips when you say them, you would unround your lips. So out of die Tür [ty:ɐ], you get die Tür [ti:ɐ], and out of das Öl [ø:l], you would get das Öl [e:l].
LG: So that you can feel for yourself what this rounding of lips means, say the word Ne. This means ‘no’ in some German-speaking regions. When you say it, you’ll notice your lips are fairly wide, fairly spread. Now say the same word again, Ne, but round your lips like you’re drinking through a straw. It should sound like Nö, which incidentally is also a word for ‘no’. So to get from Ne to Nö, it’s just a matter of changing the position of your lips, in this case from spread to rounded. It’s the same with these examples, but in reverse. With Tür, your lips are rounded. Say it again with your lips wider and more spread, and you get [ti:ɐ]. Same with Öl – unround your lips and you get [e:l].
HB: But if you look at the Texas German data, we have data from the 1930s onwards, where some of the Texas German speakers would still round their vowels. So they would still say die Tür [ty:ɐ] or das Öl [ø:l]. But then you look at data from the 1970s and from the 2000s, and all of a sudden that rounding is not there anymore, or it's significantly less. So you can trace that development, and you can say “oh, here's some changes in the sound system of Texas German”, but the trick is trying to explain it.
LG: There are a number of hypotheses that try to explain this change, such as there being no [y:] or [ø:] sounds in English, or that the speakers never learned these sounds when they were growing up. One hypothesis that’s considered perhaps more likely, is that some of the dialects that were brought over to Texas had these rounded front vowels [y:] and [ø:], and some did not.
HB: And so over a process of two, three, four, five generations of these different speakers, of these different dialects, mixing their dialects, there was a process that linguists call levelling, where certain linguistic features get ‘levelled out’ in favour of some other feature. So, in this case, a possible likely explanation of this process would be that the unrounding of the front rounded vowels in Texas German is probably due to the levelling in this dialect mixing where over years the rounding kind of gave way to the unrounded version. But again, this is the type of problem that we're dealing with, and when we start addressing these different options, it's almost impossible to come up with a very clear concrete answer.
LG: Let’s hear some of this vowel unrounding in action. Listen to how this speaker pronounces the German word for ‘younger’, jünger.
TGS: Aber die ist vier Jahr jünger. Und wennste Kinder bist, vier Jahr jünger ist doch groß und ganz anderst. [Interview code: 1-28-1-26-a]
LG: Notice how jünger [ʏ] became jünger [ɪ]. Here’s another example. Listen to how this speaker pronounces the German word for ‘brothers’, Brüder.
TGS: Well, uh, wenn jemand Geburtstag gehab, uh, die ganze Brüdern und Schwestern sind zusammen gekommen. Die ganze, alle die Schwestern und, uh, meine Vater seine, uh, um, uh, ganze Brüdern und und eine Schwester sind zusammen gekommen bei die Großmutti ihrn Haus. [Interview code: 1-121-1-4-a]
LG: With the /r/ being pronounced as the English [ɹ] and the rounded [y:] being pronounced as the unrounded [i:], Brüder becomes more like ‘breeder’, which of course is already a word in English. It’s maybe not that much of an issue if a German word starts to sound a bit like a different English word. But this unrounding can create new homophones within Texas German itself. Let’s go back to the example of die Tür [ty:ɐ] sometimes being pronounced as die Tür [ti:ɐ].
HB: Well, there's another German word that is das Tier.
LG: Meaning ‘animal’.
HB: So another interesting thing that you find in Texas German is that a significant number of speakers will have variable gender assignment for nouns. So for them it doesn't matter whether it's der, die or das Fence, or whether it's das Haus or de Haus or die Haus. And so there is certain contexts in which you get overlap between these newly emerging forms that could lead to miscommunication. Again, this is a very rare, super rare instance that I'm talking about, but it does happen. So imagine you have a Texas German speaker who unrounds die Tür [ty:ɐ] to die Tür [ti:ɐ], and then messes up the gender – or not ‘messes up’, but uses a non-standard gender. So instead of saying die Tür [ti:ɐ], das Tür [ti:ɐ]. Yeah? “Ich habe das [ti:ɐ] gesehen” could mean the animal [Tier], it could also mean the door [Tür]. Right, again, this is a very rare instance, but this is a case where a change in the sound in Texas German, namely the unrounding of front rounded vowels, die Tür [ty:ɐ] to die Tür [ti:ɐ], combined with the unclear gender assignment die or das Tür [ti:ɐ], can then lead to these overlaps in meaning in certain contexts.
LG: Strictly speaking, the lack of clear gender assignment of nouns isn’t completely unique to Texas German. There are also other dialects where is this the case. And there are also certain individual words where there is not one specific grammatical gender that’s considered correct, but rather there are multiple possibilities that are acceptable. So it’s not a feature specific to Texas German per se. This being said…
HB: I would say the type of gender assignment that you find in Texas German is definitely more flexible than in the European German dialects. I mean, even in central-speaking German Europe [sic: German-speaking Central Europe], you know, you have some people who say, well, I guess the prime example is Nutella, where people have different opinions whether it's der, die or das Nutella. But, you know, you have das Radio and der Radio. You have der Tunnel and das Tunnel. And so, there is already some gender variation in the dialects of central Europe, but in Texas German it's significantly more. I can't really quantify it exactly, but it's noticeable, let's put it that way.
LG: With some speakers, you might not even be able to determine the grammatical gender of a noun at all, since the articles are sometimes all simply pronounced as de as opposed to der, die or das, and the inflections of adjectives don’t always follow the patterns of more standard varieties of German. There are many elements of grammar that have become more flexible, or which deviate from what we know to be standard European German.
HB: For example, if you think about some of the grammatical features of standard German, which has four cases – nominative, and dative, and accusative, and genitive – in Texas German you see an erosion of the four-case case system that you find in standard German. Which is reminiscent of some of the local dialects in German-speaking central Europe.
LG: For instance, the genitive case is being used less and less in favour of the dative case. In some dialects, if you want to say, “Jacob’s brother”, you wouldn’t say, “Jakobs Bruder”, you’d probably hear “Der Bruder von Jakob” or even “ihm Jakob sein Bruder”.
HB: So you find some of those similar developments in some of the dialects spoken in Germany or in Austria today. It's just that in Texas German the development is somewhat accelerated. So there is no more genitive in Texas German. The dative case is almost gone. And what you end up with is a two-case system. So you have a nominative case, which is clearly marked as nominative, which helps you identify who the subject is or what the subject is. And then there is a second case that covers everything else that in standard German is covered by genitive, by dative, by accusive case. And we even have some speakers where there is almost no visible or audible case distinction left. So there is no clear case markers at the end, right? So, think of der, des, dem, den – it all comes out as de. Which, by the way, sounds just like English, the, right? So, you go back in history the English about 1000 years, and Old English was pretty much like Old High German, and then Old English underwent this development into Middle English and into Early Modern English, where it gave up its case system. That process took anywhere between two to five hundred years, depending on how you count it. And in Texas German we’re seeing this happening within a period of about 100 years or less. So that's another, just fascinating things.
LG: Thanks to the efforts of the Texas German Dialect Project, we have an ever-growing resource pool of language material which we can study in order to find phenomena like these. But this project isn’t over. In fact, since there are not many speakers of Texas German who are still alive, the work they’re doing now to record and document as much language material as possible is very important. So where does the project go from here?
HB: What is left to do is, so as long as there are speakers left, and I would like to believe that we have another 15 years, if we’re lucky 20 years. But even now it's very difficult to find speakers, because they are 70 years and older. So we'd like to interview at least another two to three hundred speakers in the next 10 to 15 years, deposit those recordings with the transcriptions and the translations in the archive. And then once there is no more speakers of Texas German left, then we'd like to focus on systematically finding written documents of Texas German. But some of them are in archives, let's say, church archives in the middle of Central Texas. They've been sitting there for more than 100 years, and the paper is just slowly falling apart. So we're trying to figure out a strategy of- and this is a huge effort that we can't do by ourselves. We have to connect with local heritage organisations, we’ll have to connect with local preservation societies or churches and to go and find those historical records and start digitising them. So there's also a permanent digital record of what written Texas German used to look like. So basically, in terms of creating resources, once we're done with recording spoken Texas German, we want to build resources that basically people can use to study also written Texas German. So that's kind of like the resource-building, the archival part. But in parallel to that, we keep on analysing different aspects of Texas German. So we're already using the data to answer very specific questions. But, you know, the list of questions that we have about Texas German is very, very, very long.
LG: So there are still lots of question marks when it comes to Texas German. At the same time, there’s a lot we’ve been able to learn already from the data that’s been gathered. Let’s listen to one more speaker of Texas German and see if we can hear some of the language features we’ve heard about – the intonation, the English [ɹ], the Anglicisms, the unrounding of [y:] or [ø:], the grammar. Have a listen and see what you can now notice. Maybe you might even notice something new.
HB: Hatten Sie noch Brüder oder Schwestern?
TGS: Oh, ja. Ich bin die älste von acht Stück.
TGS: Ja. Ich hab vier Brüder und wir waren drei Mädchens.
HB: Das war ja nicht einfach. Die älteste?
HB: Mussten Sie mal viel helfen?
TGS: Oh ja.
TGS: Ja. War die älste.
HB: Womit mussten- womit- womit mussten Sie helfen?
TGS: Kochen und- und wo wir na her sind wir in n nach hier rausgemoved. Auf- auf ne Farm. Da muss- mussen wir Sonnenblumen (???). No.
TGS: [laughs] Umgraben. Also die Corn und Maize. Da habe ich auch mitgeholfen.
TGS: Und wir hamm auch eine Dairy gehabt. Ich hab mit dem Dairy geholfen. Meistens Kühe milchen. [Interview code: 1-74-1-2-a]
LG: Thank you so much to Hans C. Boas for joining me for this episode, and thank you also to the Texas German Dialect Project for giving me permission to use some of their interview recordings from the Texas German Dialect Archive for this episode. Some of these recordings were edited slightly for brevity. You can find out more about the Texas German Dialect Project by going to tgdp.org, where you can also access the archive of recordings yourself for free. You can listen to the interviews and read the transcripts too. You can also donate to the Texas German Dialect Project via their website if you wish to support the project.
Hans Boas also has a book called The Life and Death of Texas German, which presents the first major study on 21st-century Texas German. I’ll put all the information, as well as links to the Texas German Dialect Project, in the shownotes and on the podcast website, yellowoftheegg.com.
Don’t forget I’m on Instagram and Facebook, @YOTEpodcast, that’s Y-O-T-E-podcast, Facebook @yellowoftheegg, or you can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would really appreciate you recommending the podcast to a friend, and leaving a five-star rating and review.
So with all that being said, thank you so much for listening. Playing us out this series are Euphoniques, this time with Coming Back. Check them out on Spotify, links in the shownotes. Enjoy the song and I’ll see you in the next one. Machts es gut, servus aus Wien.
[Music: “Coming Back” by Euphoniques]