Over 150 years ago, in Texas it would have been normal to encounter a German-speaking community, with thriving schools, churches and businesses around the hill country between Austin and San Antonio. The number of speakers of the Texas German language has slowly begun to dwindle over the years though as a result of generations not keeping up the tradition of teaching their children this dialect. The world war of course played a big part in the decline of the language as tensions between the US and Germany were evident and this combined with less emphasis on younger generations learning the language of their ancestors means that Texas German could well be in danger of dying out completely.
Endangered languages are not unusual. In fact recent press has suggested that around half of the world’s 7,000 languages are endangered. There are different levels of endangerment, however the statistics for Texas German do not inspire much confidence. According to the Houston Chronicle “only about 8,000 people speak Texas German now, down from perhaps 150,000 in the 1940s – census data is unclear – and they are almost all older than 60. Virtually no young people speak the language, and it will be dead in 30 years.” Speakers of these endangered languages are coming up with ways by which to revive the interest in them, with the aim of preventing their extinction, but that is often easier said than done. Campaigns in local schools and publicity to promote the language in the community are two of the main methods of trying to keep the dialects and languages alive. Another option is trying to record people speaking the language so as to build up a resource and prevent these precious parts of culture being erased in the future.
The trouble with Texas German it seems though, is that no two speakers recorded so far appear to speak in exactly the same way. This can apparently be dependent on the exposure each speaker has had to the language and to other languages – namely English – because this can influence how they speak Texas German and adapt the language to fit their personal situations.
Such a fascinating dialect surely calls for wider research and recording so as to avoid the loss of it for future generations. In an ever changing world with each country and community becoming more and more affected by globalisation it would be good to think that dialects like this one will not fall under the radar and that people will be pushing to keep them alive!