17.9.15

DRÜCKEN SIE ZWEI FÜR DEUTSCH.

It's Oktoberfest season, with pre-gaming for the candidates' debate last night.


Bratwurst, Kartoffelsalat, Stiefel charged with a particularly strong stout.

That's all perfectly mainstream, particularly in Greater Wisconsin, but there was once a time when the German in North America was the Other.  Consider when the official language of the Texas Republic was Spanish, with a substantial population of German speakers, dealing, back in the day of Santa Ana and Davy Crockett, with the challenges of interacting with Germans from other parts of Germany in Texas.
Everyday Germans spoke in distinct dialects: if a folk troupe in Munich had traveled to northern Germany, the audience would have been clueless.

However inconvenient it may have been for Texas Germans to work out dialect differences, the adjustment was still more practical than learning a whole new language, and for some time a Texas German speaker could get by without knowing English. When Ernst arrived, just before the Texas Revolution, the official language was Spanish, but there were no non-German speakers living close enough to care what he and his compatriots spoke. Within a few years, the Germans proved themselves to be such a resourceful and productive group that, in 1843, the Republic of Texas required that all laws be published in German along with English. Later, following the annexation of Texas into the United States, the official language became English, but even after that, schools in these communities continued to hire German-speaking teachers.
Unlike Canadian French, which is preserved-as-if-in-amber compared to French French, all the works of the grammar gendarmes notwithstanding, the Texas German dialect evolved, presumably without the intrusion of a vanguard looking to get beyond Er, Sie, Es. (Think gendered pronouns are a puzzle in English? At least tables and books and motors and shoes are all "it." But I digress.)
In Texas German, technological advances that postdated the immigrants’ arrival, for example, were referred to by their English names. They had no idea what the proper German term would be for, say, a helicopter. Lacking Hubschrauber, they called it der Helicopter. [Thus a chopper is a "he" -- ed.] This was a common tendency. A car was called die Car [a "she" -- contrast Das Auto] instead of der Wagen. Die Exhaustpipe, der Flyball, das Popcorn, and das Sodapop entered the lexicon. (Similarly, English words have made their way into border Spanish, speakers of which frequently refer to eating lonche or parking their troca.)

Beyond terminology, probably the greatest differences between standard German and Texas German—the ones a German will parody, if he’s so inclined—are the vernacular’s sound and structure. Some of the words are pronounced differently from standard German, with atypical vowel sounds and r’s that erupt from the bottom of the throat. Some of the grammatical rules are different too, such as use of the familiar “you” pronouns instead of the polite forms, an inclination that might offend a standard German speaker who felt he deserved a more formal address. And Texas Germans often use intensifying adverbs, so that a phrase such as “That is stupid” becomes “That is indeed stupid” and “I know that” becomes “I know that all right.” Texas German tends to double down.
"Indeed stupid" rather than "wicked stupid."  Gotta love it.

But this isn't just a feel-good story.  The Mexicans weren't crazy about  Fremdsprache in their midst, neither were the Anglos who came later.  Suppression at work, plus assimilation.
In 1909 the Legislature passed harsh English-only laws; students who didn’t speak English could face corporal punishment, shaming, suspension, or expulsion. Several years later, America entered World War I, accelerating the decline of Texas German. Some parents stopped speaking it altogether, and even if they didn’t, the message to children was clear: any American child with a German accent risked teasing, maybe even a pummeling, from the non-German kids. Some counties went so far as to forbid German in public. (In one case, a Lutheran pastor was whipped when he didn’t adhere to the ban.) Naturally, there were some communities that were slower to convert and continued to use German for newspapers and record-keeping, but in time even this tradition faded. In 1957 the 105-year-old Neu-Braunfelser Zeitung became one of the last Texas papers to switch from German to English.

Because [Schulenburg rancher Mildred] Schulze married another Texas German, she never lost her fluency. When she had children, she wanted them to learn both English and German. She got her wish in part. Her son took standard German classes in high school, and he retains fluency to this day. But her daughter grew increasingly self-conscious about speaking the language, and if a class might have boosted her confidence, she was out of luck: by the time she entered high school, the German classes had been replaced by Spanish.
Lyndon Johnson had a working knowledge of Texas German, because that's what his boyhood neighbors spoke.  But there's now a Texas German Dialect Project to conserve that which is being assimilated away, or dying off.

With immigration becoming a flash point in politics both North American and European, might I recommend that the best response is to be neighborly.  Do not deliberately give offense, but be firm in adhering to your customs, whether that involves observing the Sabbath in the Puritan fashion, or going to the beer garden after church in the Bavarian fashion.  The grandchildren of the migrants will buy into the common culture, given the proper inducements.

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