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Thread: Preserving Endangered Islands of the German Language

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    Preserving Endangered Islands of the German Language

    Finding German dialects in eastern Europe is getting increasingly difficult as they no longer serve as a means of communication. That's why they've become a sought-after research objects for linguists such as Hermann Scheuriger and Alfred Wildfeuer.

    The two men said that traveling to Ukraine feels like traveling back in time. About 3,000 to 5,000 people in the western part of the country, in Transcarpatia, still speak old German dialects today. Franconian and Bohemian German can be found here as well as a dialect from Austria's Salzkammergut region.

    Not that Germans in Transcarpatia would be aware of these differences.

    "They didn't know that they were speaking a Bavarian or a Frankonian dialect," Scheuriger said. "They call their language 'Swobisch,' even though it has nothing to do with Swabian."

    Vanishing "language islands"

    Linguists today conserve surviving German dialects in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Russia on tape. There's not much time left, though.

    German "language islands," meaning that the language was spoken in several nearby villages, "are no longer there," said Nina Berend, a linguists who grew up in Siberia and now lives in Germany. Berend added that most people left after the fall of communism.

    "They have emigrated to Germany," she said.

    As a result, German dialects are rapidly disappearing. Linguist Alfred Wildfeuer said that some dialects won't be spoken in Ukraine any more in the near future.

    More at the source

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    Senior Member rainman's Avatar
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    Maybe it is interesting to preserve some for study. Unless one particular dialect appears more desirable or to have some unique characteristics that are useful then I see little use in having many dialects. It is better that Germans have a more united language that also reflects their heritage.

    In England it used to be similar. People in one village had a hard time understanding the people in the next village over. But most of that is gone now. I don't see much use for seemingly unlimited variations of dialects. It hinders communication.

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    Rainman: I disagree. The preservation and maintenance of regional dialects serves to provide a "living" connection to one's unique cultural heritage and traditions. This, for those of us with our common interest, can never be a negative thing.

    I do agree that it is important for all to have a proficiency in the standardized form of their national tongue - at a minimum! In this modern age, the ability to comprehend any number of the world's major language can only enhance one's efforts to understand, promote and defend their own, unique, circumstances and interests.
    "Nur der ist seiner Ahnen wert, der ihre Sitten treu verehrt"

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    The dialects are part of the local identity of the Germans. The German people aren't a simply uniformous mass, they are diverse. Some come from the tribes of Bajuvarii, Chatti, Suebi and so forth. Of course everyone should learn standard German too, but dialects should be encouraged unilaterally. Giving up this part of culture only pushed globalisation further, and pretty soon everyone could just speak commercial/Internet English.

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    Senior Member Teuton's Avatar
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    I feel dialects are very important to the sub-cultural groups of a nation, and must be preserved, basically similar to each country having a different language, but people from different countries would speak English to communicate to each other, just like people who speak dialects would/should do the same.

    I don't quite speak a German dialect, but I do speak a reasonably large amount of a dialect between German and Dutch, which is spoken in Simpelveld and the surrounding area(Simpelveld is a Dutch town on the German-Dutch border near Aachen, I learnt it from my grandparents.)

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    I would rather sacrifice standard German than its varieties. A national language can always be recreated in order to suit political needs. For example, a nation of Germany-Netherlands-Flanders would need a language closer to low German than our current standardization, which already is an artificial attempt to connect three historic strands of Germanic languages.

    The regional dialects on the other hand can not be constructed. They are organic products of a regional, communal spirit. For the people participating in it, they are incalculable treasures, closely linked to descent and regional culture.

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    I must also say that the Germans in Eastern Europe don't have so much contact if at all with Germany, especially the rural ones who don't watch TV and live in "traditional" ways, so they aren't up to date with the German language spoken in Germany. It happens here with the Transylvanian Saxons that they use a word of different gender than in German. I exemplified it in the other dialects thread a bit. It's not incorrect this way, it's just the localised variant. And I must say that the first step towards losing the German heritage is losing the language. If the dialect isn't passed on to next generations, then it's likely the culture isn't either, because culture without language is very difficult to preserve. So it's not interesting to preserve for study only, it's crucial to preserve for the Germans who want to maintain the enclaves or islands in Eastern Europe.

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    Yes, but dialects are continually created. You may talk to your husband or wife differently or have your own little words you use among your friends. Should it be that your family can't understand the family living next store? At some point it is taken to too much of an extreme. German only starting splitting apart about 2,000 years ago (into English, Dutch, German etc.). Since they are continually created I don't see a need to preserve every variant. If you "make up" a new word you use with your friends and a couple families start using it should we suddenly standardize and "preserve" this new dialect? It starts to become a little absurd at some point. I don't think they should be encouraged or discouraged. Some may be interesting enough to preserve for future study but the variations are significant enough to have any real value. It even serves to disrupt German unity.

    I guess it all depends on scale. But language is like a folks community: if it isn't standardized it will "drift" into countless frayed ends. People won't understand each other- if you read the history of language. Having dictionaries, standard grammar etc. was a great leap in human progress.

    The past of Europe was like this. In some points of time one village had trouble understanding the next. Similar with certain isolated peoples. Within 100,000 people you might have about 10,000 completely seperate languages. It's just entirely unpractical.

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    We can have a standardized, official language, but there is nothing wrong with a dialect continuum that has always existed across the continental West Germanic realm as well as across Scandinavia. Even proto-Germanic was not a monolithic block. There was never a situation where one village had trouble understanding the next, because it was a continuum of mutual intelligibility and yes, standardized languages worked as auxiliary languages when centralized states began to rise. Those dialects can not be compared with kanaksprak, ebonics or other American varieties of English, they reflect centuries of regional and tribal history and if I should ever return to the banks of the Neman, I would not want to arrive with anything less than Low Prussian.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rainman View Post
    If you "make up" a new word you use with your friends and a couple families start using it should we suddenly standardize and "preserve" this new dialect? It starts to become a little absurd at some point.
    While i appreciate your defense of standardized language, and recognize its importance to the nation/community as a whole, I still feel the preservation of dialectal variants to be a MOST valuable tool in the area of heritage/cultural preservation.

    I suspect some of our disagreement on this issue may stem from the fact that you are confusing true dialects (which in many cases - Low German, by example – are considered, by some linguists, to be distinct languages.) with slang and colloquialisms...
    "Nur der ist seiner Ahnen wert, der ihre Sitten treu verehrt"

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