Immigrant languages in the British colonies and the USA (1683-1924): Who got to keep theirs, why and for how long? – University of Copenhagen

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Danish voices > WILA8 2017 > Workshop programme > Aneta Pavlenko (plenary)

Immigrant languages in the British colonies and the USA (1683-1924): Who got to keep theirs, why and for how long?

Plenary lecture by Dr. Aneta Pavlenko, Center for Multilingualism, University of Oslo (Saturday 14:30-15:30)

In 1751, Benjamin Franklin infamously asked: "Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of aliens, who will soon be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our anglifying them." This statement often props up the argument that, for most of the country's history, American authorities were either actively hostile or condescendingly indifferent towards alien tongues brought to their shores.

Yet we shouldn't forget that Franklin was not only a politician but also an entrepreneur: fully aware that German was a commodity, he printed the first German-language Bible in the colonies and numerous German hymnals, catechisms and textbooks. In 1732, he even edited, albeit unsuccessfully, a German-language newspaper Philadelphische Zeitung. These publications had gone a long way to support the maintenance of the language whose dominance he was so concerned about.

The ambiguity of Franklin's attitudes exposes a problem with the broad brush picture that paints different periods, distinct languages and diverse communities in similar shades of grey. The purpose of this talk is to consider these contradictions and to unpack the unified notion of 'immigrant languages', highlighting demographic, political, and commercial forces that favored some languages over others.