Worrying about the standard while speaking dialect and switching codes – dealing with linguistic insecurity in a German speech island in Russia

Thematic Section: Biases in research: Who counts as ‘authentic’ bilingual speaker – and how can we tell?

monolingual bias, research practice, bi-/multilingualism research, language ideology, self-reflexivity

Edgar Baumgärtner, European University Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder)

In recent years, German speech islands all over the world have received growing attention in linguistic research. The so called Sprachinsel used to be of high interest for dialectologists looking for preserved archaisms (Rosenberg 2003: 276). The situation changed as of 1990 when most of the residents of German descent migrated to Germany and adapted to regional dialects and/or standard German (cf. Berend & Frick 2016). Those who decided to stay in Russia have turned to Russian as the dominant language, mostly for economic and social reasons. Standard German lost its former role in religion, education, and some time ago administration (cf. Berend & Riehl 2008). But the German language did not vanish since dialects still are spoken within families and friends.
The above applies to the German National Rajon in West Siberia (Russia). I visited the villages twice from 2017 to 2019 and conducted interviews with speakers of the German minority. All 56 respondents were capable of either Lutherisch or Katholisch (Upper and Central German Dialects), standard German and/or Russian (to different degrees). Initially, the study was designed to elicit linguistic features within the dialects. To do so I asked speakers to tell a picture story (Mayer 1969) in their local vernacular and not to worry about using different varieties. When performing the task, they apologized for either blending in parts of standard German or Russian. Though I am of Russian German descent myself and perfectly capable of understanding the dialects as well as Russian, the unequal relationship between researcher and the researched became evident in the data. In this contribution I would like to share examples from my corpus that show how – mostly inevitably – mono-/bilingual ideology practice is perpetuated in (field) research (cf. Busch 2019). Berend, Nina & Elena Frick. 2016. Dialektwandel und Veränderung der individuellen Varietätenrepertoires: Ergebnisse und Materialien einer empirischen Untersuchung zur Standard/Dialekt-Variation bei russlanddeutschen Aussiedlern in Deutschland. (Arbeiten und Materialien zur deutschen Sprache Band 49). Mannheim: Institut für Deutsche Sprache. Berend, Nina & Claudia Maria Riehl. 2008. Russland. In Ludwig M. Eichinger, Albrecht Plewina & Claudia Maria Riehl (eds.), Handbuch der deutschen Sprachminderheiten in Mittel- und Osteuropa, 17–58. Tübingen: Gunter Narr.
Busch, Brigitta. 2019. 5. Sprachreflexion und Diskurs: Theorien und Methoden der Sprachideologieforschung. In Gerd Antos, Thomas Niehr & Jürgen Spitzmüller (eds.), Handbuch Sprache im Urteil der Öffentlichkeit, 107–139. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter. doi:10.1515/9783110296150-006. Rosenberg, Peter. 2003. Vergleichende Sprachinselforschung: Sprachwandel in deutschen Sprachinseln in Russland und Brasilien. Linguistik Online 13 (1). (Particulae collectae). 273–324. doi:https://doi.org/10.13092/lo.13.881.