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Shifting Publics and Shifting Alignments in a Sprachinsel in Southern Brazil.

Publication Date
  • Brazil
  • Hunsrückish
  • German Speakers
  • Publics
  • Alignments
  • Communication
  • Linguistics
  • Political Science


At the beginning of the 21st century, new generations of Hunsrückish German speakers in South Brazil still learn their local variety of German and use it in settings both private and public. The 700,000 or so speakers descend from 19th-century immigrants from Hunsrück and other parts of German-speaking Europe. There is a public lament that Hunsrückish is disappearing as a language; a paradoxical discourse of pride and shame stems in part from historical and contemporary lack of support and outright antagonism from the government and popular media, as well as from situations common to language shift: a transition from isolated farming communities to more diverse, urbanizing ones. Although most studies of minority speech enclaves have focused on language change among indigenous groups encompassed by major world languages, the Hunsrückish Germans in Brazil speak one major world language encompassed by another. What effect does this have on language maintenance and shift? My analysis attempts to illuminate how minority language speakers position themselves in everyday interaction, in relation to each other as well as to larger networks such as “publics.” I identify four publics—some of which are more “German,” some more “Brazilian”—with which Hunsrückish speakers align themselves personally, temporally, and spatially. These are social spheres determined both in the moment of conversation as well as in larger circulating discourse. The duality—of both micro and macro expression—means that alignments are observed through codeswitching and deictics, as well as “contextual cues” (Auer 1995). Deictics are especially useful resources for creating indeterminacy, which helps in moving beyond communicative misfires and, on a larger scale, keeping vague the positioning of the entire group of descendants of German-speaking immigrants. Cultivation of indeterminate language necessarily involves language and semiotic ideologies that emerge in the alignment process. By analyzing these ideological alignments, the dissertation endeavors to illuminate resources of Hunsrückish that apply to its speakers, and more generally, to all multilingual speakers.

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