[lg policy] dissertation: The Dynamics of Language Obsolescence in a Divided Speech Community. The Case of the German Wischau/Vy=?utf-8?Q?=C5=A1kov_?=Enclave (Czech

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Mar 2 15:48:44 UTC 2011

The Dynamics of Language Obsolescence in a Divided Speech Community.
The Case of the German Wischau/Vyškov Enclave (Czech Republic)

Please note: German spelling of Wischau is Vyškos

Institution: University of Manchester
Program: Department of German
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2011

Author: Filippo Nereo

Dissertation Title: The Dynamics of Language Obsolescence in a Divided
Speech Community. The Case of the German Wischau/Vyškov Enclave (Czech

Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics

Dissertation Director:
Martin Durrell
Eva Schultze-Berndt
Patrick Stevenson

Dissertation Abstract:

This investigation explores the linguistic consequences of the
expulsion of Germans in 1945/46 from the Wischau/Vyškov speech enclave
in the Czech Republic, part of the wave of population transfers of
ethnic Germans at the end of World War II, which remain to this day a
highly sensitive topic in Czech-German relations. In the context of
language obsolescence, this study examines the causal connections
between this historical trigger, processes of identification, the
wider sociolinguistic context, and the
system-linguistic structure of the language variety, adopting and
expanding the theoretical framework developed by Sasse (1992). This
study is largely comparative in approach, looking at the parallel
communities which emerged after the expulsions, i.e. both the few
'stayers' in the enclave, who until 1989/90 lived under Communism, and
the majority of 'expellees', who began new lives in the Capitalist
Federal Republic of Germany. It is the first (and probably last)
detailed linguistic study of this small, rural and
invisible vestigial group of speakers, whose language variety will
invariably become obsolete over the next few years with the death of
its last speakers.

This study is based on data elicited chiefly between 2007 and 2009
during fieldwork in the Czech Republic and Germany with the last few
remaining witnesses of the expulsion from Wischau/Vyškov, and the last
remaining speakers of its language variety, i.e. the oldest living
generation. Data from fieldwork undertaken for the Atlas der
historischen deutschen Mundarten in der Tschechischen Republik (ADT)
were also analysed. The data were elicited through a mixture of
participant observation, unstructured interviews, an authorised
recording of native-speaker consultants without the researcher
present, and, in the case of the ADT project, traditional dialect
atlas elicitation techniques.

Data from the Wischau/Vyškov enclave show that during this stage of atrophy:
* identity nonetheless crystallises around language for both stayers
and expellees, and language is framed within the context of expulsion,
which is the primary marker of identity;
* the relationship of stayers with the language variety is largely
motivated by nostalgia, whereas the relationship of expellees with the
language variety is largely emblematic and motivated by a conviction
that, despite the irreversibility of language obsolescence, the
language variety has a unique quality and must therefore be preserved
for posterity;
* stayers and expellees alike have assumed multiple identities given
the parallel assimilatory measures at force in the Czech Republic and
Federal Republic;
* stigmatisation, severe functional limitations and a lack of intergenerational
language transmission were crucial contributing factors in language contraction;
* there is no evidence of linguistic decay. On the contrary, the
variety remains structurally intact to a large extent, probably owing
to the rapidity of loss and absence of 'semi-speakers';
* possible contact features in the speech of stayers are characterised
by occasionality and inconsistency most likely as a result of the
destabilisation of micro- and macro-level norms.
Finally, this study suggests two avenues to consider for the future,
namely a quantitative study of language and identity, and a wider
comparative study of language obsolescence in former German enclaves
in Central and Eastern Europe.


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