Anita Auer is giving a plenary talk on “Preserving Swiss Dialects in the Diaspora: The Social Life of a Wisconsin Language Island” on 7 April 2017 from 6:45 – 8:00 at New York University. The talk, which is free and open to the public, will be given as part of the HiSoN 2017 Conference.
Abstract of the talk:
When many people from different nations left Europe for North America during the so-called “Age of Mass Migration” (1850-1920s), a great number of Swiss also left their homeland in search of betterment in North America. A Swiss settlement of particular interest is New Glarus, Wisconsin as (a) it started as a colony (which is atypical for Switzerland), and (b) the town has retained its Swiss identity – being known as America’s Little Switzerland – until today. Usually, historical sociolinguists can only rely on surviving letters and diaries by migrants in order to get a partial insight into their language use, the maintenance of the homeland variety, and the possible shift to the new language. In the case of New Glarus, however, recordings from the 1960s of heritage speakers born as early as the late 1900s (now held in the Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies) allow us to better trace the development of a Swiss heritage dialect, as well as processes such as dialect leveling, attrition, and gradual language shift in the diaspora. In this paper, I will thus shed light on the development of a Swiss German dialect in the diaspora through a linguistic study of early and more recent recordings, historical documents, and the cultural memory of “Neuglarner” today.