Anita Auer & Alexandra Derungs – University of Copenhagen

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Anita Auer & Alexandra Derungs

Preserving Swiss Dialect Features in the Diaspora: The Case of New Glarus

Anita Auer & Alexandra Derungs, University of Lausanne (Friday 15:30-16:00)

When many people from different nations left Europe for North America during the so-called “Age of Mass Migration” (1850-1920s), a great number of Swiss also left their homeland in search of betterment in North America. A Swiss settlement of particular interest is New Glarus, Wisconsin as (a) it started as a colony in 1845, and (b) the town has retained its Swiss identity – being known as America’s Little Switzerland – until today. While German dialects in the diaspora have already received a fair amount of attention (cf. for example Salmons ed. 1993; Boas 2009), in comparison, Swiss German dialects have hitherto been marginalized, i.e. the only existing studies we are aware of are those by Lewis in relation to New Glarus (cf. Lewis 1968, 1970, 1973). Usually, historical sociolinguists can only rely on surviving letters and diaries by migrants in order to get a partial insight into their language use, the maintenance of the homeland variety, and the possible shift to the new language. In the case of New Glarus, however, recordings made in the 1960s of heritage speakers born as early as the late 1900s (now held in the Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies), notably made by the previously mentioned Brian Lewis, allow us to better trace the development of a Swiss heritage dialect, as well as processes such as dialect leveling, attrition, and gradual language shift in the diaspora.

This paper will thus be concerned with what happened to a couple of Glarner dialect features, notably phonological and lexical variables, in the diaspora, i.e. in the New Glarus dialect. To this purpose, the New Glarus recordings by Brian Lewis will be compared to Glarus baseline data that is held in the Zurich Phonogrammarchiv. In addition, we will base ourselves on Catharina Streiff’s 1915 study of the Glarner sound system. The comparison of New Glarus heritage data to Glarus homeland data - combined with socio-historical information on New Glarus – will allow us to shed light on what happened to specific Glarus dialect markers in the diaspora.


  • Lewis, Brian. 1968. The Phonology of the Glarus Dialect in Green County. University of Wisconsin, Madison. Unpublished PhD thesis.
  • Lewis, Brian. 1970. Über die Glarner Mundart in New Glarus, einer schweizerdeutschen Sprachinsel im ameri-kanischen Mittelwesten. Jahrbuch des Historischen Vereins des Kantons Glarus 63: 79-104.
  • Lewis, Brian. 1973. Swiss German in Wisconsin: The Impact of English. American Speech 48.3: 211- 228.
  • Salmons, Joe (ed.). 1993. The German Language in America, 1683-1991. Madison: Max Kade Institute.
  • Streiff, Catharina. 1915. Die Laute der Glarner Mundarten. Frauenfeld: Huber & Co.