Karen Roesch
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Research Interests

German-American studies; Language pedagogy; Sociolinguistics; Language contact and change; Language documentation

My research focuses on language contact, language death, and documentary linguistics, especially as they pertain to American dialects of German. 

Texas Alsatian

My first book, Language maintenance and language death: The decline of Texas Alsatian, was published last year by John Benjamins and analyzes the history and structure of the Alsatian dialect brought to Texas by German-speaking immigrants from the French Alsace in the 1840s.  The study is based on extensive fieldwork conducted since January 2007 in the Alsatian-speaking community of Castroville, Texas. All interviews are accessible through the digital archives of the Texas German Dialect Project (http://www.tgdp.org).  My book first provides a socio-historical description of the Texas-Alsatian community and its development, then it moves to an examination of its lexicon and the distinguishing phonological and morphosyntactic features of Texas Alsatian. Using these features as a basis, I compare data from European Alsatian and historical Texas German data collected by Gilbert (1972) with my field data to analyze how and why Texas Alsatian has changed over the past 150 years. I show that there have been comparatively few changes over the past century, which I attribute mainly to language attitudes associated with a strong ethnic identity. These attitudes are examined using data from the open-ended oral history interviews and a written biographical questionnaire. In conclusion, I identify and discuss factors that are promoting the rapid decline of the dialect.


Current research focuses on three areas:

1. Collection and analysis of the features of rounded vowels, the apical trill, plural formation, and case marking in Texas German dialects. A co-authored article on rounded vowels in New Braunfels German is in press in Germanic heritage languages in North America: Acquisition, attrition and change. I am currently revising an article on case maintenance in Texas Alsatian for resubmission to American Speech. Texas Alsatian has exhibited maintenance of the case system of its main donor dialect, Upper Rhenish, in contrast to neighboring Texas German dialects.  I attribute its maintenance to three factors: markedness, language attitudes, and renewed contact with European Alsatian. I am also working on an article analyzing the Texas Alsatian apical trill, whose distribution sets it apart from other varieties of Texas German.

2. A comparative investigation of language attitudes towards different German dialects in Texas. My next book (tentative title: Language attitudes and preservation in German-American dialects: A matter of life and death) will focus on Texas Alsatian (Medina County), and Texas German in three distinct locations (Comal County, Gillespie County, and Colorado County). My study is essential to the ongoing discussion of language maintenance and imminent decline of German dialects in America. I expect this book to break new ground by highlighting the important role of individual speaker biographies in endangered German-American communities.


3. Expand my current data base to include Alemannic speech communities for comparative purposes, such as Old Order Amish and Amish Mennonite communities in Indiana, Ohio, Iowa and Pennsylvania.


Texas German Dialect Project

I continue to work with the Texas German Dialect Project (TGDP), for which I have been an active participant during the past six years. This consists of conducting linguistic field interviews for transcription and addition to the online Texas German Dialect Archive (http://www.tgdp.org).  Data collection is essential to the documentation and preservation of German-American dialects for future research and historical archives which support local, state, and national heritage databases, as well as sustaining heritage awareness in the local community. For more details on the TGDP database, please consult the article, “The Texas German Dialect Archive: a multimedia resource for research, teaching, and outreach,” in the Journal of Germanic Linguistics (2010: 276-97), which I co-authored with Dr. Boas, Dr. Pierce, and two other research assistants of the TGDP.

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