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International Conference on Historical Linguistics

On the Descriptive Adequacy of Linguistic Terminology: Possibilities for Labeling Linguistic Minorities – Especially Concerning Texas German



Alfred Wildfeuer


The presentation will focus on terms like Sprachinsel, linguistic island, language island and related expressions. These have been in use for a long time in traditional German dialectology and in recent sociolinguistic research. However, in many cases these expressions focus too much on an insularity of the speech community in question. This concept of insularity is in many cases (e.g. when it comes to Texas German) not adequate as it may block a more nuanced view of the actual linguistic situation.

With regard to German speech minorities, it is obvious that terms connected with a concept of insularity only fit in rare situations, for example when the focus is on German settlements in Northern Italy. In many other situations – for instance regarding Texas German - terms like colony, foreign language unit or linguistic minority provide a more appropriate description of the sociolinguistic reality.

If the focus is on different German language groups in North America, the classic concept of a Sprachinsel / linguistic island becomes blurred. The talk will argue for a more specific use of this term and related ones. This will be done using linguistic data from several German speech minorities. Also, the historic dimension of the term linguistic island and new formations of speech communities will be analyzed.

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