Language Contact in Northern Indiana

Ross Burkholder

Immigration of German speaking peoples to America has been a prominent feature of the country since before its independence. Linguistically however, assimilation has been the fate for the overwhelming majority of these immigrant communities. One of the very few exceptions are the Anabaptist communities spread across the country. In these communities a variety of German is still actively spoken and learned as the first language of the children.

This project investigates the linguistic practice and attitudes of one such Old Order Amish community in Elkhart county, Indiana. Such communities offer a unique perspective on the effects of stable bilingualism and intensive contact over many generations.  This community, though it has successfully maintained its language, is far from static. With the scarcity of available farmland in the area, community members have been forced to turn to alternative sources for economic opportunities, including handicrafts and factory work. These changes in economic patterns have significantly increased the amount of contact between German and English speakers. As expected this increase in contact seems to be effecting the rate of language attrition for speakers of Pennsylvania German.

Linguistically, I am interested in researching particular features which seem likely to have been effected by contact, in this case do-support and ellipsis, and comparing this variety of Pennsylvania German to the variety spoken by anabaptist communities in other locations (Pennsylvania). In addition I intend to use historical records to compare the data I collect to the particular variety of German which would have been spoken by the ancestors of the Amish in America today (Palatine German). In this way I hope to see the ways in which the varieties of German spoken in America today have been changing either divergently or in parallel fashion in the face of intensive English language contact.