May 13, 2019 11:35 am
Three years ago UNESCO released its interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, indexing 2473 vulnerable, endangered or extinct languages.
However, there is one which was left off the map: Texas German, language dying out as its tradition has not been passed onto the new generations of descendants.
As many other Europeans, Germans fled their country in the first half of the 19th century in search for land and a better lifestyle. One of the first Germans to settle in Texas is believed to be Friedrich Ernst. After writing and sending out “America Letters” to his fatherland, advertising Texas as a land of dreams, many Germans mass-migrated to the Lone Star state.
Germans established themselves primarily in the regions west to southwest of Houston and in a band stretching south from Mason County down to east and west of San Antonio, forming a diverse colony with contrasted dialects.
The community grew over the 19th century and preserved its culture by building schools, churches and shops. More than 150 different German-language newspapers were distributed in the state and in many settlements, the German language was used almost exclusively. By 1850, 5% of the population of Texas were German.
This community is still the largest European group in Texas. The 1990 United States census show that 2,951,726 people claimed partial or full German ancestry, ranking it the third largest national origin group in the state.
However, the First and Second World War weakened the community as anti-German sentiments grew in the United States, resulting in a considerable decrease in the use of the language. Specialists suggest that Texas German will be completely extinct by 2040.
In order to alleviate the depletion of the Teutonic dialect, Hans Boas, associate professor of Germanic Studies at the University of Texas, founded the Texas German Project compiling archives of recordings, transcripts and translation.
Boas defines the language as an “odd mixture of English and 19th century German” that has not experienced the evolution of its European counterparts in the past 150 years.
Since the founding of the project, 800 hours of interviews have been recorded with over 400 German descendants in Texas in order to, according to the website, document “this rapidly eroding dialect as it is spoken at the beginning of the 3rd millennium”. They gathered all the information in the online digital database of the Texas German Dialect Archive.
“Hardly any of the Texas Germans speak alike. There’s a lot of variation in the dialect. Texas German borrows about 5 to 6 percent of its vocabulary from English, creating words like ‘der Hamburger’ or ‘der Cowboy’”, explains Boas to the University of Texas.
As a bid to preserve the language, many efforts, research and communication are brought together. The BBC recently broadcasted television coverage on the subject, raising awareness of a dialect which many people around the world would have not heard of.
Written by Floriane Loup, trainee at TermCoord in 2016
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