Arnstein Hjelde – University of Copenhagen

Real time change in a Minnesota-Norwegian dialect; 1980s – 2010s

Arnstein Hjelde, Østfold University College (Friday 14:30-15:00)

In the late 1980s fieldwork was done in Minnesota, North and South Dakota with the purpose to document the Norwegian Trønder dialect as spoken there by heritage speakers. During the last few years, two of these communities, Wanamingo/Zumbrota in Goodhue County, MN and Madison/Appleton in Lac Qui Parle County, MN have been visited again and more material has been collected as a part of the CANS project. Both these communities had a substantial group of immigrants from Stjørdal and Hegra in Trøndelag, and this is also two rather old communities, the Trønders settled down in Goodhue County around 1850, while they came to Lac Qui Parle in the 1860s.

In the 1980s the language was still in daily use among some of the speakers, who typically were 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants, born during the first two decades of the 20th century. The structure of the language was surprisingly intact when compared to the Norwegian baseline. The syntax and morphology appeared extremely robust, with only a few single instances of deviations, even the dative case was still in use among most speakers. Phonology, on the other hand, showed more signs of change. For several speakers, the rounded and high fronted vowel /y/ showed strong tendencies towards delabialization, while the apical vibrant /r/ and the retroflex flap /ɽ/ often could have a realization similar to an ‘American r’. However, the most striking difference between the America Trønder and the Europe Trønder dialect was the vocabulary, many words of English origin had become a part of the America-Trønder vernicular, and the way these words were incorporated and used was in general in line with what Haugen (1953) found in his study.

In the 1980s it was hard to find speakers of this particular dialect in the Midwest – and if we judge the situation today based on census data, one should hardly expect any Norwegian speaker left at all. However, even today there are still a few to be found; in this presentation I will focus on the language of what can be seen as the traditional heritage speakers, i.e. those who learned Norwegian at home, and who have not received any formal training in this language. In this two Norwegian communities, and especially in Goodhue County, we find quite a few re-learners and others who have taken classes at the neighboring St. Olaf College, but these will be ignored here.

The scope of this presentation will be to focus on how this heritage language has changed during the last 30 years, and the main focus will be on changes in syntax, morphology and phonology. Based on observations from other Norwegian-American communities, as well as tendencies seen in dialects in Norway, we can expect a number of changes to take place, such as:

  • Reduced tendency to topicalize adverbials and an increasing instability of V2 as found in the speech of other America-Norwegians (Eide & Hjelde 2015)
  • Strong tendency towards elimination of the dative case, which would be in line with a process taking place in many dialects in Norway (Sandøy 2011)
  • Merge of /i/ and /y/ into one vowel phoneme; in the 1980s /y/ could be found with a rounded allophone, as well as an unrounded one, and these two where in free distribution (Hjelde 1992). One could anticipate that this was a part of a process where /i/ and /y/ merges, something we also find in several traditional dialects in Norway.
  • Merge of /r/ and /ɽ/ into one consonant phoneme realized as [ɹ] (Hjelde 1992).
  • Loss of circumflex tone: Many dialects in Trøndelag, unlike other Norwegian dialects, have tone distinction associated to one syllable words; in America-Trønder in the 1980s circumflex tone was seldom assigned to loanwords, and since the realization of circumflex is not very prominent in this part of Trøndelag, one could expect it to be lost.


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