Germans, German language in Texas

bapopik at AOL.COM bapopik at AOL.COM
Mon May 14 22:58:09 UTC 2007

Greetings from the Dominican Republic, where I'm praying for five solid minutes of electricity.
The following should be interesting to the thread about Germans and the German language in Texas. I return to Texas tomorrow.
HCR 6 Author:Kolkhorst
Last Action: 05/10/2007 E Signed by the Governor
Caption:Designating Industry, Texas, as the Oldest German Settlement in the Lone Star State.

UT researchers document unique, and dying, Hill Country dialect
By ELIZABETH WHITE/Associated Press Writer
May 14, 2007
NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas (AP) - When Hans Boas was moving from California to the University of Texas in 2001 to teach German, he stopped in the quaint Hill Country town of Fredericksburg, which embraces its German roots with a robust Oktoberfest and German-themed restaurants and shops.
While eating a "der Hamburger" at lunch, Boas overheard an "interesting sounding German" _ one that sounded a bit odd to the native speaker. It was sprinkled with English words and phrases pronounced with a German accent. Other phrases sounded German, but weren't quite right.
Boas discovered the people were speaking "Texas German," a unique dialect that developed as German settlers came to central Texas in the 1840s. But the people who speak it are dying, and with them, the language. So Boas is working to document it before it's too late.
"Once it's gone it's gone," he said. "If you're an archaeologist it's still possible to dig up some dead bones that were there ... but when a speaker is dead the language is dead."
The dialect was a hybrid, mostly German but altered by English, particularly the words and phrases to describe new technology or uniquely American things.
So, airplane becomes "das Luftschiff" (or airboat) in Texas, while in Germany it's "das Flugzeug." Skunk is "die Stinkkatze" (or stinking cat) in Texas, while Alpine denizens call it a "das Stinktier."
Other English words are simply said with a German accent. Creek becomes "die Creek," pronounced like "crik" in Texas German. A cowboy, which didn't exist in Germany, became "der Cowboy" _ the English word preceded by a German article.
No substantial research had been done on the dialect for nearly four decades when Boas set out to document it. Boas founded the Texas German Dialect Project in September 2001 and it has since interviewed more than 200 speakers.
"Basically they're now in the last generation of speakers and it's not going to be around much longer," Boas said. "The youngest person that we've had so far is 47, but he's the absolute exception. ... The majority of them are 65 and older."
Warren Hahn, of the Hill Country town of Doss, is 72. Hahn learned Texas German from his parents but didn't pass it along to his own offspring. He rarely speaks Texas German at all anymore, and doesn't much lament the dialect's disappearance.
"It is sad in a way but we're Americans first. We're just of German heritage," said Hahn, whose great grandfather immigrated to the U.S. in 1850. "I'm glad in a way that we were allowed to learn English because if we hadn't we'd still be talking German and we'd be misfits. We wouldn't fit in."
Boas knew he was up against the clock to document the dialect and the lives of those who spoke it. When speaking German fell out of favor after World War I, the dialect was passed on to fewer people. At its height, as many as 110,000 spoke it, Boas said.
Spoken, Texas German sounds a lot like modern German. Boas said a German speaker could understand 95 percent of what's said by a person speaking Texas German, and vice versa.
Texas German evolved as other dialects do, by passing through the generations, Boas said. But Texas German was stunted as it reached about the third generation of speakers in Texas because of World War I.
Bill and Diane Moltz grew up in New Braunfels, another Hill Country town that works to keep vestiges of its German past alive through annual events like Wassailfest and Wurstfest, known as "the 10-day Salute to Sausage." They said they spoke Texas German at home, and English in school, where they were prohibited from speaking German of any sort during and after World War II.
"It was still spoken privately in the homes," said Bill Moltz. "But English was pushed more. I suspect our generation as a generation of Texans is probably the last generation that's going to be speaking German. It's just not taught in homes anymore."
Boas said he understands the conflicted relationship his subjects sometimes have with the dialect.
"The majority of people seem to be happy that they're Texas German. They identify themselves as primarily Texas German. ... They learned Texas German at home, they spoke it. But then they don't see it as a practical asset to pass it on to the younger generations," Boas said. "There's still that stigma that a lot of people feel still due to the wars that German is simply not cool."
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