Aveneu Park, Starling, Australia

Eikel generation as well as twelve informants of the

Eikel (1949: 279), a pioneer in the study of Texas German, is the first
to provide a linguistic description of case syncretism in the German dialect of
New Braunfels. He notices that “the uses of the nominative and the accusative
of Standard German are in general practice in New Braunfels” and that “the
dative … has been lost and replaced by the accusative”. Eikel (1954: 48-50)
later on analyzes his findings with regard to a generational aspect,
demonstrating that case syncretism is a progressive phenomenon among speakers
of Texas German. The use of the genitive, for instance, is substantially
decreased in the speech of his 24 informants and continually substituted by
periphrastic constructions including the dative. Subsequently, Eikel (1954: 53)
discusses the usage of the dative among the speakers of the different age
groups and infers that “the accusative is used in many instances for the
dative” and that “the use of the dative decreases from generation to generation.
Eikel’s (1954: 56) findings suggest that the growing loss of the dative and
genitive has resulted in a two-case system with the accusative assuming their
roles. Eikel’s data as well as his analysis, however, need to be treated with
some reservation as the author does not cite concrete situations in which the
accusative has taken over the function of the dative. As he combines various
contexts and roles of the dative into one general category, it becomes
difficult to determine the actual extent of case syncretism throughout
different categories. Another issue that arises is the low statistical
significance of Eikel’s results due to a small sample size, thus impeding the
drawing of a conclusion about case syncretism. As the linguist only surveyed
six speakers each of the youngest and oldest generation as well as twelve
informants of the middle age group, morphosyntactic variation is likely to have
occurred. Eikel (1954: 48, 53, 55) himself cites several examples in which
informants of the same age group exhibit a variable usage of cases. Due to an
insufficient and unrepresentative sample size as well as to a lack of
information about the use of cases in specific contexts, Eikel’s report on
generational case syncretism needs to be treated with caution.

            Besides
Eikel, other linguists have investigated case syncretism in various German
language islands in Texas, too. Pulte (1970), for instance, studied the case
systems of Texas German dialects spoken in four small towns near the border of
Oklahoma. By claiming that the discrepancies between generations as detected by
Eikel probably stem from the prevalence of two-case systems found in several of
the Low German donor dialects of Texas German, Pulte refutes Eikel’s argument
that English was the key factor in case loss.

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 Comparable with Eikel’s (1949;
1954) results, Gilbert (1965: 288-89) arrives at a similar conclusion based on
his investigation of the use of cases in the counties of Gillespie and Kendall.
According to Gilbert, the omission of the dative eventually leads to a “two
case system: nominative and non-nominative” and thus to syntactic changes. Gilbert
(1980) later explains case syncretism in Texas German by referring to a decline
in literacy in German after the First World War which was brought about by
anti-German sentiments and laws restricting German as a language of
instruction. In his opinion, case syncretism thus occurred between 1875 and
1925 and influenced different areas of the Texas German dialect to various
extents. In light of age, Gilbert hence concludes that the dative case is
primarily used by the older generation, in contrast to Texas Germans born after
1940 who prefer the accusative over the dative.

            The
findings of Salmon’s (1994: 61) study of the Texas German dialect spoken in
Gillespie county align with Eikel’s and Gilbert’s results in that only every
fourth of the youngest age group, born after 1912, uses the dative case, while
two thirds of the oldest generation and 55% of the middle age group, born
between 1900 and 1911, make use of the dative. In contrast to Eikel, however,
Salmon (1994: 65) maintains that it was not English that contributed
significantly to case syncretism, but rather the prohibition of standard German
as a medium of instruction in Texas schools. He furthermore states that the
proceeding loss of the dative case can be traced to laws passed in 1884, 1909
and 1918, which is why children born around 1878 were the first to be
influenced by the act from 1884 fostering English as a language of education.
As a consequence, Texas Germans born around 1878 and later vary their use of
cases, while the older generation exhibits a stable distinction between dative
and accusative. Texas Germans born around the beginning of the 20th
century therefore belong to a transitory generation shifting “away from dative
vs. accusative distinction, as they started school between the passage of the
two laws essentially eradicating German instruction” (Salmon 1994: 62).
Similarly, the following generation born during the second and third decade of
the 20th century shows a rather infrequent differentiation between
the two cases, while speakers born around the Second World War demonstrate “complete
loss of dative/accusative distinction and of all use of Standard German dative
markers” (Salmon 1994: 62).

            Despite
an in-depth and persuasive description of the way educational politics
promoting the English language in schools accelerated case syncretism in Texas
German, the German linguist Boas (2009: 193) maintains that Salmon’s
propositions need to be questioned and challenged for two reasons. Firstly, it
is uncertain whether standard German was the sole influence for the stable
distinction between accusative and dative found among Texas Germans born at the
end of the 19th century as the donor dialects of the Texas German
dialect might serve as an alternative explanation. Boas furthermore supports
this claim by illustrating that the impact of standard German in educational
institutions at the end of the 19th century was quite low as the
exposure to it was rather limited. Secondly, he argues that most dialects
brought along to Texas by immigrants from the Province of Hesse-Nassau in the
1840s were considered to be among the more preservative ones retaining three
cases (Boas 2009: 194).

            Boas (2009: 195) furthermore
tries to refute Salmon’s arguments by putting forward a different explanation
for the steady loss of the dative and genitive case. In contrast to Salmons,
who maintains that educational policies promoting the English language have
accelerated case syncretism in Texas German, Boas illustrates that this
phenomenon is due to various processes of new-dialect formation. He
demonstrates that first-generation speakers born before 1880 use case system
patterns quite similar to those found in donor dialects brought to Texas by
German immigrants. These speakers would therefore belong to the first group
Trudgill’s (2004) model of new-dialect formation. The second generation would
then be composed of Texas Germans born after 1880 until the beginning of the 20th
century. This group of speakers would thus be part of the second stage of
Trudgill’s model, marked by variation and intensified leveling, both features
that Salmons discovered in his studies on the use of cases among Texas Germans.
Lastly, the generation of speakers born in the second decade of the 20th
century and later would belong to Trudgill’s third phase, during which a
leveling of most residual dative distinctions occurs (Boas 2009: 195). By
citing Trudgill’s model of new-dialect formation, Boas provides a more suitable
and relevant explanation for case syncretism among Texas Germans in contrast to
Salmons (1994), who attaches too much importance to the influence of the ban on
the use of standard German as a language of education on the loss of dative
morphology.

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