"We call it Springbok-German!": language contact in the German communities in South Africa.
Other literature type
Uncategorized | religion and language | 2009 | 1959.1/68398 | thesis(doctorate) | language contact | ethno-religious communities | language change | open access | monash:8322 | german language variety | ethesis-20090409-082435
Varieties of German are spoken all over the world, some of which have been maintained
for prolonged periods of time. As a result, these transplanted varieties often
show traces of the ongoing language contact as specific to their particular context.
This thesis explores one such transplanted German language variety – Springbok-
German – as spoken by a small subset of German Lutherans in South Africa. Specifically,
this study takes as its focus eight rural German communities across two South
African provinces, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, which were founded in the second
half of the 19th century.
The study employs a broadly ethnographic approach and integrates participant
observation with interviews and (limited) questionnaire data. On the one hand,
it addresses issues of language maintenance and shift, and on the other, presents findings
from an analysis of grammatical features, that is morphosyntactic and syntactic
features, of this particular German language variety.
The thesis explores the domains where speakers continue to make use of
German, by discussing practices at home, within the church and community, and at
school. It also briefly considers German media consumption. The findings reveal that
the home and the church/community constitute the strongholds of German language
maintenance, although intermarriage is having an increasing impact on these patterns.
Changes in the demographics of the communities, e.g. out-migration of younger
speakers and barely any in-migration, are also shown to be detrimental to the continued
survival of German in this region. Conceptualising these communities as ethnoreligious
ones where (Luther) German functions as a ‘sacred variety’ (cf. Fishman,
2006a) helps to account for the prolonged maintenance patterns as exhibited by the
communities. The study explores how the communities are shaped by their German
Lutheranism and a 19th century understanding of Volkstum, and how this resulted in
an insistence on preserving the German language and culture at all costs. This is still
This study also seeks to provide new insights into the structure of Springbok-
German, and, for this purpose, explores a number of (morpho)syntactic features, including
case marking, possessive constructions, word order, and infinitive complements.
Although the overall findings indicate that Springbok-German is (still)
relatively conservative, there are clear indications of emerging structural changes.
While reduction in the case system, for example, is not as advanced as in other transplanted
German varieties, the accusative/dative distinction is becoming increasingly
blurred. Changes are also apparent in possessive constructions and word order. In this
context, the study considers the fundamental question of the role language contact
plays in such situations, i.e. whether the respective changes can plausibly be attributed
to contact with Afrikaans and/or English, or whether they are best seen as the
result of language-internal tendencies. The conclusion follows that it is difficult to
ascertain the precise role of external influence vs. internal developments. The developments
in Springbok-German are best seen as resulting from a combination of both,
shaped furthermore by the social conditions as prevalent in this particular language