Elsässerditsch. On the brink of extinction!?

Term Paper, 2013

13 Pages, Grade: 2,0

Anonym (Author)


1 Table of Contents

1 Table of Contents

2 Introduction

3 The linguistic situation in Alsace with a historical perspective

4 Theory
4.1 Language Contact
4.2 Codeswitching

5 Codeswitching in Alsace

6 Conclusion

7 References

2 Introduction

There is a contemporary caricature, that describes the problem of an own language between Germany and France fairly good. On a roof, there are the French Cockerel, the Alsatian Stork in the middle and the German Eagle. Both the French and the German bird are attempting to make the stork speak their language. After the stork struggles to speak these languages, the neighbours become impatient and louder. The Alsatian bird finally cries: ‘Mir langst jetz mit ejch zwei, nundediawle! Ich redd wie mir de Schnawel gewachse isch!’ (cf. Gardner-Chloros 1991: 10)

Situated at the French border to Germany, the Alsace is a region where also the linguistic border in between German and French can be found. As it used to belong to both Germany and France at certain points in its history, an interesting situation of language use and contact has evolved over the last centuries. In France its 1.8 million inhabitants are often referred to as Germans, even though it is part of France and in spite of the fact, that the official language is French since Alsace-Lorraine has been handed back to France after World War 2. Nevertheless an Upper German dialect called Alsatian (Elsässerditsch) is still spoken there.

The intention of this term paper is to find out if there is a future for the Alsatian dialect by deducing its perspective from the Language contact phenomenon Code-switching in everyday situations.

At first there is going to be a discourse on the historical and political development of Alsace as well as its today’s sociolinguistic situation. Further the theory of Language contact and Code-switching is explained in short. Subsequently two dialogues are going to be analysed and interpreted in order to be able to make a statement on the future of this dialect.

3 The linguistic situation in Alsace with a historical perspective

The prevalent linguistic situation in Alsace is to the greatest extent a consequence of the historical development of the last centuries. Etymologically the Germanic language of Alsace can be referred to as a dialect of German. (cf. Gardner-Chloros 1991: 9) The present-day Alsace with its once predominantly German speaking population was annexed to France between the ‘Peace of Westphalia’ (Westfälischer Friede) of 1648 and and 1697. (cf. Harnisch 1996: 418) According to Harnisch this happened early enough so that Alsace could always be understood as a part of France long before the French Revolution and the emergence of national states that differ from each other by their language. (cf. Harnisch 1990: 220) In 1871 Alsace and Lorrain became part of the ‘German Reich’ as it was founded. After the Germans lost World War I it was handed back to France in the Treaty of Versailles 1919. After German forces occupied Alsace in 1940, there were attempts of German assimilation under the Nazi Regime until 1945. Since then Alsace is part of France again and many French immigrated there until today so that Alsace has become largely francophone. (cf. Harnisch 1996: 439) The further francophonisation has also lead to a decline of use of German and its Alsatian dialects.

Gardner-Chloros states that social and economic factors such as the influence of mass-media, social mobility, urbanization and employment processes are the reason for the fact that almost all European countries prefer only one official language. (cf. Gardner-Chloros 1991: 15) This resulted in an erosion of numerous minority languages and dialects, just like in Alsace. Here this process has been supported by the school as French is the only language in which lessons are conducted. Proper French thus is considered to be an indicator of education and cultural consciousness. (cf. Grosjean 2001: pp.27-29) Grosjean mentions that a monolingual nation is preferred here so as to avoid separatism. (cf. Grosjean 2001: 26) Gardner-Chloros adds that France is known as a very central state, meaning that officials (l’homme/la femme au guichet) like teachers cannot choose where they want to work. Thus many teachers in Alsace do not even speak nor understand Alsatian at all. (cf. Gardner-Chloros 1991: 13)

The use of German dialects on the other hand is only prevalent in rural areas. (cf. Gardner-Chloros 1991: 21) Schmidt-Rohr notes that the most important domain, for which Alsatian is used, is in family and rural neighborhood. (Schmidt-Rohr (1932) in Weinreich 1979: 117)

In summary, it can be said that the low linguistic self-confidence of Alsatian speakers, the desire to speak proper French and to separate from Germany and the necessity to use French in everyday situations have weakened the Alsatian dialects. Under these circumstances Code-switching and other phenomena are very likely to appear.

4 Theory

4.1 Language Contact

Generally one can speak of Language contact if the interacting languages or dialects are spoken by one and the same individuals. (cf. Weinreich 1979: 9) The contact does not only take place in one person, but also in between groups that speak different languages. This becomes most prominent, especially in border areas, where entire ethnic groups are bilingual. While the idea, that this is an exception, is widespread, Weinreich emphasises that communities are rarely ever linguistically homogenous and independent. (cf. Weinreich 1979: 9) In fact it is accepted today that both historically and currently all languages and their varieties stand in contact with others. Another fact that points to this is that bi- or multilingualism is fairly prevalent across the globe. Languages that stand in contact influence one another in various ways. This process is governed by the character of the languages themselves as well as extralinguistic factors like the prestige of a language and the society’s loyalty towards it.

4.2 Code-switching

One very important phenomenon of Language contact in multilingual groups is the so called “Code-switching”. It describes the switching back and forth between two or more languages within conversations or even single utterances. Gardner-Chloros calls it a linguistic construct that is irrelevant for the speakers as they cannot distinguish it from other phenomena like loan translations and thus happens subconsciously quite often. (Gardner-Chloros 1995: 86) Code-switching is similar to the switching between several varieties in a monolingual context or in speech accommodation but with Code-switching all participants of a conversation have to be bilingual to a certain degree. Thus Code-switching is prevented if a third language is used as lingua franca. (cf. Anderson 1983: 351) Only if these circumstances are given Code-switching is but one of many sociolinguistic phenomena in language contact situations. (Gardner-Chloros 1991: 1)


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Elsässerditsch. On the brink of extinction!?
LMU Munich
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Deutsch, Elsass, Frankreich, Sprachwissenschaft, Elsässerdeutsch, Alsatian, Alsace-Lorraine, German, French, Language
Quote paper
Anonym (Author), 2013, Elsässerditsch. On the brink of extinction!?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/267373


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