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Grammatical arealisms across the Danish-German border from a constructional perspective

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Abstract

German and Danish share a long, complex, and multifaceted history of language contact (Fredsted 2009, Winge 2009, Höder forthc.). Besides other contact scenarios, societal as well as widespread individual multilingualism (in parts also including North Frisian) has characterized the linguistic situation in the territory of the former Duchy of Schleswig (comprising the northern part of the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany as well as the southernmost part of Jutland in Denmark) from the early Middle Ages until the present day. Among other things, this has led to a series of language shifts within what is now the Danish-German border region. In South Schleswig (south of today’s border), speakers usually shifted from dialectal Danish to dialectal Low German varieties until the mid-20th century, a process often accompanied or followed by an additional acquisition of regional High German varieties or even a complete shift to High German. Subsequently, members of the Danish national minority added an emerging regional variety of Danish to their repertoire, labelled South Schleswig Danish (Pedersen 2003, Kühl 2015). In North Schleswig (north of today’s border), Danish dialects coexist with Standard Danish and a variety of regional High German. In structural terms, this contact scenario has resulted in a range of innovative constructions that are shared by a number of the varieties spoken in the border region, while diverging markedly from other varieties of Danish and German, respectively (Höder 2016). Examples include a. a de-obligative future construction (‘shall future’): Ich soll morgen nach Hamburg fahren (regional High German) 1sg shall tomorrow to Hamburg drive ‘I’m going to drive to Hamburg tomorrow’ b. a de-additive infinitive construction (‘and infinitive’): Dat is nich licht un verstahn allens (Low German dialect) 3sg.n is not easy and understand everything ‘It isn’t easy to understand everything’ c. possessive linking pronouns: dæn ˈɡɑməɫ ˈmɑn̡ sid ˈhu.s (Danish dialect) def.sg.u old man his-sg.n house ‘the old man’s house’ d. an animacy-gender-sex distinction in the personal pronoun paradigm: Mann → he Fru → se Hund → en (Low German dialect) man(u) 3sg.anim.m woman(u) 3sg.anim.f dog(u) 3sg.inanim.u The talk presents a constructional analysis of these arealisms within the paradigm of Diasystematic Construction Grammar (DCxG; Höder 2018). DCxG is a usage-based construction grammar approach to language contact situations that offers a fresh, socio-cognitively realistic view of contact-related phenomena in multilingual communication and language change. The key idea of DCxG is, in line with current assumptions in contact linguistics (e.g. Matras 2009), that languages as such do not have an any priori status. Rather, constructions – representing both individual speakers’ linguistic knowledge and the conventionalized grammar shared by a multilingual community – can carry the type of pragmatic meaning that would restrict them to particular communicative settings, as multilingual communities tend to associate different languages with different contexts. However, many constructions (‘diaconstructions’) are not restricted to a particular set of communicative contexts, but occur in a multitude of settings in a given community. DCxG predicts that, all other things being equal, the amount of diaconstructions in the constructicon of a multilingual community will increase (‘pro-diasystematic change’): constructions that are restricted to a particular communicative context undergo a process of pragmatic bleaching resulting in their productive use in several or all of the community’s languages. The talk argues that the emergence of arealisms in the Danish-German border region can be explained as pro-diasystematic change.

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In this paper, I analyze the role of multilingual slang within mixed-mode groups through the example of the German-Namibian diaspora. Unlike digital single-mode groups, which only exist in computer-mediated communication (CMC), mixed-mode groups are involved in both CMC and face-to-face communication (FTF). This article focuses on the latter type of groups and addresses the question as to how contact-induced vernacular items are resemiotized from FTF to public and from spoken to written mode within these groups. It is hypothesized that the usage of multilingual slang in FTF mode and its corresponding group cohesion contribute to the frequency of slang within CMC. Furthermore, this study compares a mixed-mode group with a digital single-mode group to investigate the effects that the missing social contact within the latter group has on the tendency of its members to use multilingual slang in CMC. The German-Namibian diaspora and their language practices are particularly well suited to address this topic as they draw on multiple linguistic resources in their FTF and CMC networks with Afrikaans, German, and English being the main sources. The resulting, multilingual practices are highly ingroup specific. The study includes a mixed-method approach combining traditional FTF participant observation and modern correlation analysis of CMC data. The aim of this study is not only to shed light on the role of multilingual speech within mixed-mode groups, but also to contribute to the understanding of the complex dynamics that occur within diasporic settings. While recognizing the need for multiparadigmaticity in sociological and linguistic theory, this study stresses the importance of holistic approaches to analyze and understand language in social contexts.
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