Gender roles and language loss : a new perspective from Texas German on language attitudes

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2022-05-26

Authors

Jones, Ellen, M.A.

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Abstract

While biological gender does not determine a speaker’s ability to learn a language cognitively, there has been plenty of evidence for differences between men and women’s speech socially (Pavlenko, 2010; Winter & Pauwels, 2005). In the case of a dying dialect like Texas German (Gilbert 1972, Boas 2009), how might gender roles in TxG society be affecting how the dialect is maintained and by whom? This paper provides new insights based on data from the Texas German Dialect Project (TGDP) (Boas et al. 2010) (https://tgdp.org), which records and archives interviews with some of the remaining speakers of Texas German, a moribund dialect spoken since the 1840s. More specifically, I analyze the biographical questionnaires of the speakers interviewed by the TGDP in order to determine the speakers’ language attitudes and identity.
For the purpose of this paper, gender is defined as biological gender, not gender identity, due to the fact that the question of a speaker’s gender (biological or otherwise) is not currently a part of the biographical questionnaire utilized by the TGDP. This paper analyzes parts of these biographical questionnaires from 60 speakers (30 female and 30 male) to do a quantitative and qualitative comparison of language attitudes and identity. Boas & Fingerhuth (2017) address similar questions about language maintenance and attitudes using both biographical questionnaires and open-ended interviews, however that study does not look at the role of gender within the community. This paper’s analysis seeks to determine if gender roles could be affecting the process of individual language loss among TxG speakers, as well as offer a short comparison between the language maintenance in Texas German and Low German in Northern Germany and finally to discuss areas for further research.

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