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"Walking the line": bilingual sorbs, emotions, and endangerment in eastern Germany

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Title: "Walking the line": bilingual sorbs, emotions, and endangerment in eastern Germany
Author(s): Spreng, Elizabeth A.
Director of Research: Keller, Janet D.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Keller, Janet D.
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Bunzl, Matti; Dominguez, Virginia R.; Gille, Zsuzsa; Koven, Michele
Department / Program: Anthropology
Discipline: Anthropology
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): code-switching language endangerment emotions
Abstract: As an anthropological study of language and emotions, this dissertation explores the local practices of the bilingual Sorbs, an endangered language community in eastern Germany near the Czech border. In the broadest terms, “Walking the Line”: Bilingual Sorbs, Emotions and Endangerment in Eastern Germany, is a story of survival and innovation through a focus on language variation in a situation of asymmetric bilingualism. By focusing on the dynamics of linguistic vitality, my arguments offer an alternative to classic discussions of code-switching. The significant contribution of this work is a detailed analysis of what Sorbs call “mish-mash.” Sorbs create mish mash through a range of practices not only alternating between German and Sorbian resources but also drawing on other notions of language use including modern and old referents, authoritative and expert skill-related markers, written and spoken markers, and linguistic items that index urban and rural scenes. In developing an account of the ways Sorbs alternate between linguistic resources, I emphasize heterogeneity and the interrelationships between emotions, identities, and linguistic choices through an emphasis on register variation. Three main themes guide my analysis of data related to an electronic dictionary project (Sorb, German, and English) and ethnography cum translation, a methodological intervention that centers on gathering translations. In addressing identity, I demonstrate the Sorbs experience their notions of selfhood as both bilingual and monolingual while describing themselves as Sorbs and Germans. Thus, I investigate questions related to Sorbian selfhoods. Temporality centers on Sorbian notions of linguistic competency as they relate to their language acquisition and education. Sorbian ideas of competence also entail local notions of purity and “correctness” while coinciding with enactments of linguistic authority and expertise. Finally, I investigate standard language ideology, a key site to consider multiple allegiances to more than one linguistic standard, by analyzing borrowings. With multiple linguistic loyalties, I ask why Sorbs make certain linguistic choices and experience tensions among standards. These three theoretical inquiries allow me to advance a new lens to consider bilingual practices as semi-standardized. Using a mixed methods analysis of Sorbian translations of Munro Leaf’s "The Story of Ferdinand," I expose how Sorbs mix registers as they create written mirror of mish-mash. As an ethnographic tale of affect, this dissertation provides evidence of the ways Sorbs walk their line by maintaining emotional and linguistic balance. Building on a nuanced understanding of multiple emotional discourses, I argue that stances like anger, shame, ambiguity, and satisfaction entail a variety of linguistic and cultural practices. By avoiding a simple explanation of ways that emotions affect Sorbian individuals, I bridge a local study of an endangered language community with broader concerns: how people experience political change; what do they do with bilingual resources; and why individuals maintain multiple notions of selfhood. Thus, my dissertation findings expose a narrative of survival in the face of endangerment that transcends a Slavic community in Saxony. By scrutinizing with greater precision language variation and the minute details of language and emotion as social action, my work interconnects these three questions through rigorous theorization about globalization and endangerment. This dissertation offers direction for those who would take such questions in these arenas further.
Issue Date: 2012-02-06
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/29607
Rights Information: Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Anne Spreng
Date Available in IDEALS: 2012-02-06
Date Deposited: 2011-12
 

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