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Northern German in Southern Africa? On the phonology of Namdeutsch

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The chapter is available for download free of charge: https://langsci-press.org/catalog/book/305 *************************** Abstract: This chapter presents a study on the phonology of Namdeutsch, a variety of German spoken in Namibia. Previous literature has called its pronunciation either Standard German or Northern German and the aim of this paper is to determine whether Namdeutsch does share phonological characteristics with Northern German, based on the analysis of two vowel variables and four consonant variables that occur in Northern German. The data for this study stems from the Deutsch in Namibia corpus. The analysis reveals that, while not all Northern German variants are common in Namdeutsch, both vowel features and a consonant feature are frequent or very frequent in the data.

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The paper investigates sociolinguistic coherence and differentiation for the example of Namibian German (‘Namdeutsch’), based on corpus data and a copy-editing task. The Namdeutsch speech community draws on a local Namibian identity as well as an ethnic German identity. At the linguistic level, this leads to a tension between a tendency for Namdeutsch to develop distinctive local features on the one hand, and to remain close to standard German in Germany on the other hand, and this can interact with register distinctions. Data from the DNam corpus of German in Namibia shows that noncanonical local variants are primarily associated with informal registers, but that some are also used in formal language. We hypothesised that particularly variants with weaker overt reflexes, which we assumed to be of lower social salience, can enter formal registers. This was confirmed in a copy-editing task where Namdeutsch speakers were asked to correct a newspaper article. Taken together, our findings point to a broader Namdeutsch dialect that encompasses informal and formal settings in an orderly heterogeneity that is modulated by social meaning linked to local and ethnic identities and a hierarchy of sociolinguistic salience reflecting the overt manifestation of linguistic variables.
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