Language maintenance and change among the Swiss Mennonites of the Waterloo Region, Ontario
Frank, Michael G.
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The purpose of the research presented in this dissertation is to gain insight into processes of language maintenance and shift and language change by studying the current situation of the Pennsylvania German-speaking Swiss Mennonites from the Waterloo Region in Ontario, Canada. A detailed description of the language use found among members of three different groups (conservative, moderate, and progressive) provides the basis for the sociolinguistic analysis of the factors involved in language maintenance/shift. Data collected during participant observation and interviews shows that group members’ language behavior is crucially influenced by sociopsychological factors. By using ethnographic methods the study is able to discuss the ‘how and why’ of the stable bilingualism-plus-diglossia situation found among conservatives, and the situation of unstable bilingualism (without diglossia), which leads to language shift among moderates and progressives. Continuity and change emerge as prominent themes not only in the discussion of the sociolinguistic situation of the various Swiss Mennonite groups, but also in the investigation of linguistic phenomena in the language contact situation. The study considers two developments in the linguistic system of the variety of Pennsylvania German spoken by the Waterloo Mennonites: assignment of gender to English loanwords and particular instances of case syncretism. The study examines the developments in these two aspects of the nominal system across fluent speakers as well as semi-speakers in relation to social factors such as age, gender, church affiliation, and proficiency. Finally, I explore processes of contact-induced language change by looking at the linguistic developments in light of the sociolinguistic context.
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