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Urban language practices online? Multilingualism among German-Namibians in computer-mediated communication



This article strives to extend the focus on urban multilingual practices by applying them to rural multilingualism through an analysis of data from computer-mediated communication (CMC). The article argues that urban and rural areas are not necessarily isolated phenomena. In many cases, they are interconnected through Networks of Exchange (NoE). How does the notion of urbanhood unfold in these networks? Do individuals of urban background deploy different forms of multilingual practices than individuals of rural background? To what extent does the place of origin affect the individual’s linguistic choices in CMC? The article addresses these questions through the example of the German-Namibian diaspora and their multilingual practices. Therefore, it draws on speech act theory to unveil the role and function of multilingual patterns in both urban and rural CMC. In doing so, it captures the unique linguistic repertoire of German Namibians which includes (Namibian) German, Afrikaans, English and to a lesser extent indigenous Namibian languages. A preview of this article is available here:
DOI: 10.4324/9780429348037-4
3 Urban language practices online?
Multilingualism among German-
Namibians in computer- mediated
H. Radke
3.1 Introduction
Urban areas are an interesting starting point for research on multilingualism
since they constitute ‘sociolinguistic systems in their own right’ ( Smakman
and Heinrich 2017 , 1) . Smakman and Heinrich conclude that ‘[t] he city is
more diverse than mainstream sociolinguistic theories have portrayed it to be
(ibid., 2015, 186). Recent research re ects the potential of contemporary urban
settings for the understanding of multilingual practices. To give an example,
studies on the urban variety of Kiezdeutsch have shown the sociolinguistic inter-
play between migrant languages and older German varieties in cities such as
Berlin ( Freywald et al. 2011 ; Wiese 2012 ; Wiese et al. 2014 ). They allow for a
comparison with other recent and historic vernaculars in urban (youth) cul-
ture such as Straattaal in the Netherlands. Observations on such multilingual
practices in urban settings are re ected in the notion of metrolingualism which
‘posits the contemporary city as a key site of creative and “ uid” language
practices’ ( Androutsopoulos 2015 : 186). However, multilingual practices are
not exclusively limited to urban settings and can be found in rural areas, as
well. Two examples from Europe: the majority of individuals who live in the
rural Dutch province of Friesland are bilingual speakers of Frisian and Dutch
( Breuker 2001 ; Bosma et al. 2017 : 3). Some rural areas within the German
federal states of Brandenburg and Saxony are bilingual and provide spaces for
individuals to use both the Sorbian and the German language in their daily
life. In fact, rural multilingualism is a global phenomenon and should there-
fore also be approached by novel perspectives on linguistic in- group speech. In
many postcolonial African countries, rural multilingualism is a rule rather than
an exception. However, Di Carlo, Good and Ojong Diba (2017 : 1) note that
‘sociolinguistic research on this topic has concentrated mostly on urbanised
areas, even though […] rural multilingualism is clearly of much older proven-
ance than its urban counterpart’.
This chapter strives to extend the focus on urban multilingual practices by
applying them to rural multilingualism. It argues that urban and rural areas are
not necessarily isolated phenomena. In many cases, they are interconnected
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Urban language practices online? 31
through what I call Networks of Exchange (NoE). This term is usually used in the
context of trade history and focusses on the ‘the rich networks of people, goods,
and ideas that were exchanged’ across continents and oceans throughout history
( Galavan 2019 : 90). In some cases, these exchanges led to the evolution of new,
multilingual societies, especially during the colonial era. The German- speaking
minority in Namibia is just one of many examples of such a community. Within
this context, the term NoE receives a special connotation: it emphasises the
interactional processes between dyads and triads in social contexts and, therefore,
focusses on in- group interaction . The size and focus of a NoE is highly indi-
vidual. It often includes family, friends, colleagues and others. Sometimes, NoE
are locally limited. In other cases, they extend across rural areas, towns and cities.
They can unfold various forms of face- to- face communication, as well as forms
of computer- mediated communication (CMC). This chapter focusses on NoE,
in which multilingual individuals of both urban and rural backgrounds meet. It
addresses the following questions:
What are the similarities and the di erences between rural and urban lan-
guage practices in multilingual societies when they meet virtually in CMC?
Is there a sharp dichotomy between the city and the countryside in CMC-
based NoE?
How do multilingual individuals of both urban and rural backgrounds
negotiate their linguistic practices in CMC environments?
These questions serve as the core focus of the current chapter. It therefore
draws on Speech Act Theory by Austin (1975) and Searle (1976 , 1979 ) to unveil
the role and function of multilingual patterns in both urban and rural CMC.
Today, speech acts are increasingly performed in CMC due to the rise in use
of social media.
German- speaking Namibians are a particularly interesting case, enabling
us to study di erent forms of multilingualism, since their NoE connect both
(smaller) urban and rural areas between and within Namibia
1 and Germany,
as many (younger) German- Namibians go to study or work abroad. Zimmer
notes that German- Namibians deploy ‘more or less stable sociolinguistic vari-
ation’ ( in press : 14) among all age categories, including’a cross- generational use
of Namibia- speci c loan words’(in press, 22). Due to the relatively small size
of about 20,000 individuals, their NoE are particularly well developed ( Wiese
et al. 2014 : 20; see P ü tz 1991 ). According to Zappen- Thomson, they extend
across rural areas, towns and cities. It is likely that only a small percentage
of (mainly elderly) German- speaking individuals have (almost) no contact to
other German- speaking Namibians in either urban or rural areas.
2 With such
regional, transnational and trans- urban NoE all intertwined, CMC becomes
an important means of communication as it is, by de nition, not located in a
geographical place.
For these reasons, this study uses CMC as an empirical source to ana-
lyse German- Namibian speech acts (see Section 3.4.2 ). Qadir and Rilo
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32 H. Radke
(2011 : 749) note that there is ‘relatively little work on applying Speech Act
Theory to written text genres, and most of the previous work has focused
on email classi cation.This study contributes to bridging this gap. It uses the
broad term multilingual language practices to indicate a wide range of contact phe-
nomena, including inter- and intrasentential code- switching, borrowing and
the Namibia- speci c variety of Namdeutsch, which is ‘eine durch Sprachkontakt
entstandene Nonstandardvariet ä t der deutschen Sprache in Namibia, die durch
zahlreiche Entlehnungen von sprachlichen Einheiten und Strukturen aus dem
Englischen und Afrikaans gekennzeichnet ist’ (a non- standard contact variety
of the German language in Namibia shaped by various borrowings of lin-
guistic units and structures from Afrikaans and English) ( Kellermeier- Rehbein
2016 : 228). In other words, Namdeutsch re ects the ongoing contact situation
in which urban and rural individuals of German background  nd themselves.
3.2 Individuals from urban and rural areas in Namibia
Bhattacharya (2010 : 45) notes that there are ‘no universal criteria applicable for
determining urbanhood’, which makes it rather challenging for scientists to
compare urban settings in di erent world regions or even among neighbouring
3 Hence, it is necessary to de ne the two notions of urbanhood and
rurality within the Namibian context for the purpose of this research.
The Republic of Namibia is essentially rural in nature. With about 2.3 million
inhabitants populating an area of 823,988 km
2 , it has ‘the second- lowest popu-
lation density in the world after Mongolia’ ( Gray 2016 : 147). The capital of
Windhoek is the administrative, political and cultural centre of Namibia. The
latest sociodemographic data for Windhoek date back to 2011, when the city
(incl. its peri- urban environment) had a population of about 340,000 inhabitants
and an annual growth rate of 5% ( Pendleton, Crush and Nickanor 2014 : 193). If
growth remained the same, Windhoek is projected to reach 500,000 inhabitants
by 2020 (ibid., 2014, 193). On a global scale, it may therefore be considered
a city of a smaller size. In the Namibian context, it is by far the largest urban
hub of the entire region. The nearest cities, which outnumber the popula-
tion size of Windhoek, are the city of Menongue in Angola (880 km to the
north of Windhoek
4 ) and the city of Cape Town in South Africa (1,271 km
to the south
5 ). Windhoek can therefore be considered the largest urban area
on a north– south axis of about 2,000 km. The nearest bigger city to the east is
Bulawayo in Zimbabwe with a distance of about 1,220 km.
Windhoek itself is home to many languages.
7 Notwithstanding English
being the sole o cial language of the country, Afrikaans has maintained a
strong position as a lingua franca in Windhoek and Southern Namibia. In 1971,
about 18% of Windhoek’s population spoke German at home.
8 However, this
number has dropped signi cantly and is currently about 3%.
9 Furthermore,
the coastal town of Swakopmund is also home to a considerable number of
German speakers. With its 44,000 inhabitants ( Pendleton, Crush and Nickanor
2014 : 193), Swakopmund is the second largest urban area in Namibia with
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Urban language practices online? 33
a signi cant German- speaking minority. It is situated 30 km to the north of
Walvis Bay. Together, they form a common high- growth agglomeration ( OECD
and AfDB 2007 : 417) of more than 100,000 inhabitants ( Pendleton, Crush and
Nickanor 2014 : 193). In the following , it is therefore listed as a separate cat-
egory alongside Windhoek and the category of smaller urban and rural areas
(see Tables 3.1 , 3.3 and 3.4 ).
In this study, four individuals are part of a micro- analysis of urban and rural
language practices (see Section 3.4 ). All individuals have a biographical link to
Germany, as they have migrated there for study or work. Hence, they are no
longer in day- to- day contact with the multilingual settings of Namibia but are
rather exposed to regional linguistic settings within Germany. With limited
exposure to English and the absence of Afrikaans in daily life, (multi- )linguistic
settings in Germany di er considerably from Namibian settings. All individuals
in this study use CMC, which serve as the empirical basis of this study.
3.3 Dataset
The data analysed in this study were collected from social media, and automat-
ically extracted and exported to a spread sheet using the add- on programme
Web Scraper.
10 The resulting corpus contains both the original linguistic output
as well as sociodemographic data, such as place of origin and place of living.
Subsequently, they were ranked, categorised and counted. Correlation ana-
lyses between metadata and linguistic output served to reveal socio- linguistic
patterns from both a quantitative and qualitative perspective to analyse multi-
lingual utterances and their pragmatic functions within CMC discourse. The
structure of the analysis is twofold: a qualitative description of four selected
participants and their linguistic behaviour leads to a quantitative analysis of the
linguistic behaviour of the group as a whole. The four participants were chosen
because they have an active history of participation in German- Namibian
CMC and come from areas with di erent degrees of urbanisation. All data
were published in Facebook groups within a period of seven years ranging
from 2011 to 2018. These Facebook groups centre around the Namibian dias-
pora in Germany. The overwhelming majority of active members are indeed
German- speaking Namibians living in Germany. A minority of members is of a
similar background: Namibians who once lived in Germany and have returned
to Namibia, Namibians who have always lived in Namibia, and Germans with
a link to Namibia. This study focusses on individuals of Namibian background
who live in Germany.
3.3.1 Discourse on Facebook
Comments are perhaps the most important units to structure discourse on
Facebook. They are highlighted as separate  elds with written information
posted by a user in reaction to a piece of content. They indicate the name of
the author as well as the time and date of publication. This makes them an
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34 H. Radke
important unit to measure and quantify interaction on Facebook. Depending
on its content and structure, a comment can contain one or several speech
acts at the same time. For this reason, Section 3.4.2 also focusses on the rela-
tionship between comments and speech acts in CMC. The corpus used in the
context of this study consists of 2,178 comments of which 1,451 comments
(67%) where exclusively published in Standard German (SG). 727 comments
(33%) include Namibia- speci c language practices on the orthographic, lex-
ical or morphosyntactic level. Comments posted by German speakers from
Europe were not included in the corpus. Table 3.1 shows the distribution of
comments and users with respect to their place of origin. As Windhoek and
Swakopmund are the largest urbanised areas in Namibia, being home to a sig-
ni cant German- speaking minority, they are listed as separate categories in the
context of this study.
Users from Windhoek are the majority and the most active group within
the corpus: they published 65% of the comments, although they only account
for 58% of all users. With an average of 9 comments per user, they clearly sur-
pass the overall average of 8.0 comments. The second largest group comes from
Swakopmund and represents 23% of all users. With an average of 8.2 comments
per user, the group deploys an activity rate that almost meets the overall average
of 8.0. Users from other (smaller urban and rural) areas represent 19% of the
participants and account for 11% of the linguistic output in the corpus. Their
activity rate is below average. Hence, the German- Namibian CMC used in the
context of this study can be described as primarily urban. At the same time, it
includes linguistic output from rural users.
3.4 Results of the analysis
3.4.1 Intra- individual language choices displayed in CMC
This section focusses on four Namibian users who express intra- individual
language variation to di erent degrees. Their sociodemographic background
is a cross- section of the entire group: one male individual from the city of
Windhoek, one female individual from the town of Otjiwarongo and two
individuals (one male and one female) from rural environments. Table 3.2
provides an overview of the sociodemographic data and mono- and multilin-
gual practices within CMC. It shows that two participants use comments in
Table 3.1 Distribution of place of origin among users and their comments
Place Users Comments Comment per user on average
Swakopmund 63 23% 514 24% 8.2
Windhoek 158 58% 1,423 65% 9.0
Other areas 52 19% 241 11% 4.6
Total 273 100% 2,178 100% 8.0
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Urban language practices online? 35
Standard German (SG- only comments) to a similar degree (65.1% and 67.6%)
whereas the practice of the other two participants deviates on both ends of the
spectrum (88.8% and 45.5%). Comments were countered as German- only when
the entire comment did not contain any Namibia- speci c language practice on
any linguistic level. The remaining comments did include at least one Namibia-
speci c language practice.
Alex lives in the German state of Saxony and grew up in the capital
Windhoek, by far the largest urban environment in Namibia. The degree to
which Alex uses Namibian language practices in CMC di ers greatly, as can be
seen in (1) – (4). Namibia- speci c language practices are underlined.
Alex from Windhoek:
( 1) Hab Fahrrad fahren auch nicht verlernt
I haven’t forgotten how to ride a bike.
( 2) Komm net Donnerstag dann Sitz ich nicht alleine
Come around on Thursday then I won’t be sitting around alone.
( 3) Daarsy boys
There you are, boys!
( 4) Bra da war dicker fock op … bin ja Straight von Namsa nach Bulgarien
ge ogen da hab ich dann alle Bilder auf mein bru sei laptop gecooied das
ich plek hab um da fotos zu machen… toe mein bru mir n Brief schickt
mit usb drin kommt der Brief aufgeschnitten und leer an
Dude, it was a big mess… I  ew straight from Namsa to Bulgaria. There,
I downloaded all photos on my brother’s laptop. Then I had space to take pictures.
When my brother sent me a letter with the  ash drive, the letter arrived opened
and empty. Utterance acts: Lexical and syntactic implications
(1)– (4) show that the degree to which Alex uses Namibia- speci c language
practices di ers remarkably: it ranges from comments in Standard German only
Table 3.2 The four participants
Sociodemographic data Comments
11 Gender Grew up in Lives in total German- only
Alex M Windhoek Germany 149 97 65.1%
Laura F Otjiwarongo Germany 107 95 88.8%
Mark M Farm Germany 108 73 67.6%
Marie F Farm Germany 11 5 45.5%
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36 H. Radke
(SG- only) in (1) to comments with well- established Namibian loanwords like
net (only) in (2) and comments displaying a variety of Namibia- speci c lan-
guage practices. Some of them a ect the syntactic structure of a phrase, as
can be seen in the syntagmatic construction mein bru sei laptop (4).
13 Here, the
possessor ( mein bru ) precedes the head noun ( laptop ), which is in the reverse
order of the corresponding SG phrase.
( 5) Original mein bru sei laptop
German (Genitive case) der Laptop meines Bruders
German (Dative case) der Laptop von meinem Bruder
Both examples,
14 the genitivus possesivus and its dative substitute consisting
of a von - PP (Eng.: of - PP) require the head noun to be followed by its possessor
in SG ( head  rst ).
15 Hence, they show the reverse order of the head second con-
struction in the original phrase. However, head second is also subject to non-
standard language use in German, as well as to standard possessive constructions
in Afrikaans, as can been seen (6).
( 6) Original mein bru sei laptop
Non- Standard German mein Bruder sein Laptop
Standard Afrikaans my broer se laptop Users of urban and rural backgrounds
(1)– (6) show the variability of intra- individual language choices ranging from
SG- only to a high degree of Namibia- speci c language practices. With 149
published comments, Alex is the most active user among the group. Laura and
Mark come second with 107 and 108 comments, respectively. Although Marie
is remarkably less active with only 11 published comments, the majority of her
comments contain Namibian- typical speech deploying both ad- hoc and well-
established borrowings. All four users know each other in person and some-
times directly interact with one another within the CMC group. (7) shows
a comment from Mark on an advertisement for clothing. Alex reacts to it. In
addition, they both indicate a positive attitude towards one another’s comments
by marking them with the like button. Namibia- typical language practices are
( 7) Mark Bar
16 bring welche nach Namsa will eine kaufen!
Bro, bring some of them to Namsa. Want to buy one!
Alex Same
(7) shows how NoE are being maintained in CMC. It is a good example of
how individuals from both urban and rural areas interact in a transnational space:
Mark grew up on a Namibian farm and Alex was born and raised in Windhoek.
They both live in Germany now. They plan to meet at Namsa, an annual event
for Namibians held in Germany. How do such individual interactions shape the
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Urban language practices online? 37
general linguistic practices within German- Namibian CMC? The following
section addresses this question. Multilingual speech in comparison
Table 3.3 is based on 2,178 comments posted by 273 German Namibian users
in CMC. It shows the frequency of SG- only comments and its distribution
among Windhoek, Swakopmund and less urbanised areas.
There is a consistent tendency throughout all categories: users from rural
areas tend to use SG- only comments less frequently than their counterparts
from the urban areas of Windhoek and Swakopmund. This result is in line
with the general impression among German- speaking Namibians, who often
state that Namibia- speci c language practices are more frequent in rural areas.
Furthermore, it shows that multilingualism among German- speaking Namibians
stretches from (sub)urban settings well into rural areas and vice versa. As a result,
in- group speech between individuals of both backgrounds unfolds Namibia-
typical patterns of multilingualism in CMC. A micro- analysis on the individual
level seems to con rm this impression: the multilingual speech patterns of Mark
(coming from a Namibian farm) and Laura (originally from Otjiwarongo) are
as diverse as those of Alex from Windhoek. The patterns range from SG- only
comments to comments with Namibia- typical phenomena on the lexical and
syntactic level. However, it is important to note that individual language choices
can di er from these macro- level tendencies. Laura, for example, has published
a high number of English- only comments as a reaction to a prior comment
that is almost entirely written in English. Otherwise, she rather sticks to SG and
uses Namibia- typical language practices less frequently. To capture the di erent
degrees of multilingual practices, this chapter includes a micro- perspective on
individual language choices. The analysis entails a speech act classi cation of
all four participants to unveil the pragmatic functions of Namibia- speci c lan-
guage practices. We will therefore turn back to (1).
3.4.2 Roles and functions of Namibia- speci c language practices
( 1) Hab Fahrrad fahren auch nicht verlernt
I didn’t forget how to write a bike.
(1) is a good example of a comment that entails a single speech act. In this
case, it can be classi ed as a Representative , which ‘commit[s] a speaker to the
truth of an expressed proposition’ such as in ‘asserting, stating, concluding (…)’
Table 3.3 Standard German in German Namibian CMC (n = 2,178)
Total Windhoek Swakopmund Other
67% 69% 65% 56%
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38 H. Radke
( Hidayah 2019 , 3). This category was  rst described by Searle (1976) , who built
on Austin’s Speech Act Theory ( 1975 ). Searle (1976 ) developed  ve main cat-
egories of speech acts. In addition to Representatives , he introduced Commissives,
which ‘commit a speaker to some future action’, such as in ‘promising, pledging,
threatening’ ( Hidayah 2019 : 3). The third category is Directives, which a speaker
uses in an attempt to get the addressee ‘to carry out an action’. This can be done
by ‘advising, commanding, challenging’ (Hidayah 2019 : 3). The fourth category
is Declarations, which a ect an immediate change of a airs, such as in ‘declaring,
resigning, arresting’ (Hidayah 2019 : 3). The  fth category is Expressives, which
express a psychological state, such as in greeting, thanking or congratulating
( Searle 1976 : 355– 7; Hidayah 2019 : 3). By applying Speech Act Theory to the
data gathered, the roles and functions of Namibia- speci c language practices
in CMC become obvious. I will therefore turn back to the examples (1)– (4).
Subsequently, I will clarify whether users of both urban and rural backgrounds
use Namibia- speci c language practices with similar pragmatic e ects when
communicating in CMC. German- Namibian speech acts in CMC: Users of urban backgrounds
The representative speech act in (1) exclusively entails language practices that
are identical to European German, whereas the directive speech act in (2) and
the expressive speech act in (3) also contain Namibia- speci c language practices.
In (2), the borrowed item net emphasises the inviting character of the speech act
as a whole to strengthen its perlocutionary e ect, that is to convince Alex’s chat
partner to join him. This invitation gains additional strength by the use of the
Afrikaans- based loanword net and turns it into a friendly yet demanding request.
In (3), the Afrikaans- based borrowing daarsy (originally from Afrikaans daar is
hy = there he is)
17 stresses Alex’s agreement with a previous comment and serves
to positively reassure social bonds with his chat partner. Since it is published
in a CMC group, it also invites other users to leave comments with a similar
high degree of consensus. (4) is not only longer than the previous examples; it
also bears a narrative character, making it di erent to the short comments in
(1)– (3). It contains a single Representative and proves that Namibia- speci c
language choices also occur in this sort of speech acts ( da hab ich dann alle Bilder
auf mein bru sei laptop gecooied) . Therefore, (1)– (4) show that Alex uses a wide
range of speech acts. He deploys pragmatic variation and  exibility in SG- only
speech acts as well as in multilingual speech acts. His linguistic behaviour is in
line with the general trend of the group coming from Windhoek: in this group,
Representatives, Commissives, Directives and Expressives can be found for all of
the three languages and a combination thereof. An exception to this  nding are
declarative speech acts, which do not occur in the corpus at all. This observation
is in line with the  ndings of Qadir and Rilo (2011 : 780), who subsequently
omitted Declarations from their study on digital message board posts ‘because
we virtually never saw declarative speech acts in our data set.’. The absence of
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Urban language practices online? 39
this category may be due to the nature of many CMC groups, in which users
rarely communicate to ‘a ect an immediate change of a airs’ ( Hidayah 2019 : 3).
Paradigm cases that prompt Declarations include resigning, ring or hiring, for
which CMC groups are usually not a suitable medium. Therefore, Declarations
will not be further discussed in this chapter. German- Namibian speech acts in CMC: Users of smaller urban and rural
Even though Laura uses Namibia- speci c speech less frequently than Alex does,
her multilingual choices still cover various speech acts covering Representatives,
Commissives and Expressives, as can be seen in (8)– (10). Contrary to Alex,
Laura frequently uses Namibia- speci c speech to express politeness.
( 8) Representative M ü nchen ist leider bietjie weit weg
Munich is a bit far, unfortunately.
(9) Expressive Plesier !:) Da hab ich meine Wohnung auch
You’re welcome. That’s where I’ve found my apartment, too.
(10) Commissive Awesome !!: D wir checken de nitiv!
Awesome! We will de nitely check it out.
In (8), Laura states that the city of Munich is too far to go visit. She also uses
the Afrikaans downtoner bietjie (a bit) to soften her statement. By using a rep-
resentative speech act, she thus rejects the o er of her chat partner and chooses
Namibia- speci c language to make her rejection sound friendlier. Another
politeness marker is the Afrikaans- based borrowing plesier (lit. pleasure for
you’re welcome ), which is followed by an exclamation mark in (9). As a typically
Namibian (and South African) response to acknowledgements, plesier stresses
the common identity and local background among the chat partners, especially
when used within a SG- only conversation. It can be classi ed as an Expressive,
indicating sympathy, and is followed by a Representative to convey further
information. Both speech acts are part of the same comment. They indicate
how users can convey multiple pragmatic purposes within a single CMC- based
comment. The same strategy applies to (10), which also consists of two speech
acts within a single comment. Here, the Commissive entails the Namibia- typ-
ical, intransitive use of the verb checken (‘wir checken de nitiv’), which can
only be used as a transitive verb in SG (e.g.: wir checken das de nitiv). This
Commissive is preceded by an Expressive for which Laura uses the English
borrowing awesome to value and positively reinforce the prior comment of her
chat partner. Laura’s Namibia- typical language practices thus include strategies
of politeness to establish bonds with other users. Coming from the small town
of Otjiwarongo, she contributes to the cohesion of the CMC- based NoE by
using Namibia- speci c speech acts.
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40 H. Radke
Unlike Laura, Mark and Marie come from a rural environment. However,
they are part of the same NoE and deploy a wide range of multilingual
practices, too:
( 11) Mark Was ist net los mit den namboys
Just what is going on with the namboys?
(12) Mark du musst recht kommen check in deinem kopferraum [sic]
You’ll have to manage. Check your boot.
(13) Marie Kak ou …du hast die [den] ganzen abend getragen
Shit, man. You’ve been carrying it for the whole night.
(14) Marie Denke dein bru hat die von dir und dann war se gone
[I] guess your brother got it from you and then it was gone.
In (11), Mark uses Namibia- speci c language to emphasise the expressive nature
of his speech act. Here, the Afrikaans- based borrowing net serves as an intensi er
(German: nur; English: only). In combination with the neologism namboys , both
loanwords are used as a vocative to address the ingroup (for more information on
the interplay between vocatives and in groups see Radke (2021b; in press)). (12)
shows how Mark utilises Namibia- speci c language as a Directive in an attempt
to get the addressee ‘to carry out an action’ ( Hidayah 2019 : 3). Therefore, he
advises the addressee to  nally manage the situation, which he expresses through
the loan translation recht kommen (Afrikaans: regkom; SG: hinbekommen, sich
zurecht nden). Marie shows a similar range of pragmatic variation in (13) and
(14). Both comments are extracted from a discourse in which she is looking for
her Namibian  ag that has disappeared. Her initial question about the where-
abouts of the  ag remains unanswered since the addressee cannot help her. She
then reacts by using the Afrikaans- based swear word kak (13) to emphasise the
expressive nature of her speech act. Subsequently, she turns her comments into a
more directive speech to prompt the addressee to provide her with more infor-
mation (du hast die [den] ganzen abend getragen). In (14), she revises this strategy
and uses a Representative by referring to the addressee’s brother as bru . She then
uses the ad- hoc borrowing gone (SG: weg, verwunden) to indicate her disap-
pointment with the disappearance of her  ag. The informality of the speech act is
further emphasised by the personal pronoun se , an informal variant of sie (English:
she), which also exists in European German varieties.
An analysis of all users coming from smaller urban and rural areas in Namibia
unveils the pragmatic variation of rural multilingual practices among this group.
Like urban users, they make wide use of the four speech act classes. The only di e-
rence to the urban subgroup are Commissives in Afrikaans- only utterances, which
do not occur in the corpus. A possible explanation for the missing evidence is
probably the size of the data set, which may simply be too small. Since Afrikaans
is an important source language amongst the smaller urban and rural subgroup, it
seems plausible that a larger corpus would capture Commissives in Afrikaans- only
utterances. In the current data set, users of rural backgrounds draw on Afrikaans
quite extensively in their multilingual comments, as can be seen in (15).
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Urban language practices online? 41
( 15) Eish. kla gevat / Tah wie ein Jakkals / Malles ding
Outch, it’s done / Well, like a jackal / crazy you
Therefore, it does not seem unlikely that a larger corpus of German-
Namibian CMC would also cover Afrikaans- only Commissives. But even with
this type of speech act missing in Afrikaans- only comments, it indicates the
high degree of pragmatic variation in Namibia- speci c language practices
amongst the smaller urban and rural subgroup. Hence, their multilingual speech
acts cover a broad pragmatic paradigm and are thus similar to the utterances of
individuals coming from urban environments.
3.5 Urban, rural or CMC practices?
The analysis raises the question as to how these multilingual practices can be
classi ed. Are there separate urban and rural practices that are digitally trans-
mitted? The frequency analysis in Table 3.3 suggests that there is at least a quanti-
tative di erence in Namibia- speci c language practices between users of urban
backgrounds with a more frequent use of SG- only comments and users of
rural backgrounds with a less frequent use of SG- only comments, even though
the pragmatic range of their multilingual behaviour is similar. This observation
raised the question as to whether there is a correlation between the popula-
tion size of a given area and the frequency by which German speakers from
that area use Namibian- speci c language practices. To answer this question,
I performed a logistic regression.
18 The null hypothesis predicts that the two
variables (population size and frequency of SG or Namibia- speci c comments)
are independent and not associated. The alternative hypothesis claims that the
linguistic behaviour of their German- speaking inhabitants is the dependent
variable, which is technically predicted by the population size of Namibian
areas the speakers live in. In that case, the null hypothesis is to be rejected.
Table 3.4 contains the data that were used to perform the logistic regression:
The results are shown in appendix I. The p- value equals 0.0001 and shows
that the result is statistically signi cant; there is a statistically signi cant cor-
relation between the population size of an area German- Namibian speakers
originate from and the frequency rates of Namibia- speci c language practices
among these speakers in CMC: individuals originating from larger urban areas
Table 3.4 Population size and frequency of Namibia- speci c comments
population size
19 Namibia- speci c comments SG- only comments
Windhoek 5,70 442 981
Swakopmund 4,78 178 336
Other areas 3,00 107 134
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42 H. Radke
tend to use Namibia- speci c language practices less frequently than individuals
from smaller urban or rural areas. In other words, there is an inverse association
between the size of population and the frequency by which German- speakers
use Namibia- speci c language practices in CMC. The chance that non- city
dwellers will use Namibia- speci c utterances is 1.75 times bigger (Odds Ratio)
than for inhabitants of Windhoek. This result is in line with the general per-
ception of many German- Namibians which is re ected in the frequently used
advice: ‘If you want to hear more Namdeutsch , you should pay a visit to the
Although the size of population proves to be a statistically signi cant
independent variable, one has to ask which causal relation there may exist,
which  nds its expression in this correlation. Population size re ects social
and economic structures, which in turn a ect the use of non- standard lan-
guage practices among minority groups. Areas with a higher population size
usually provide tighter networks of institutions such as schools, churches or
associations for minorities. These institutions often provide spaces in which the
use of standard- near registers is encouraged while counteracting non- standard
language practices. For that reason, the size of population may just re ect the
degree of institutional e ects on linguistic choices.
The association between population size and linguistic behaviour is further
supported by the fact that all data are taken from the same type of source: CMC.
Therefore, a bias based on di erent language modes can be excluded, as all
data consistently represent digital language practices. From that perspective,
CMC is not only a medium but also a stable strati cation that a ects linguistic
practices. These e ects are well- discussed in literature, pointing out the emer-
gence of written speech, a hybrid form of oral and written language styles
( Weininger 2001 : 89). Hence, CMC is likely to be a de ning factor, for which
Androutsopoulos (2015) introduced the notion of networked multilingualism.
This term ‘encompasses everything language users do with the entire range
of linguistic resources within three sets of constraints: mediation of written
language by digital technologies, access to network resources, and orientation
to networked audiences’ (Androutsopoulos 2015 : 185). Furthermore, CMC
can trigger Namibia- speci c language use, when a given social media group
is labelled as such. Are the language practices investigated in this chapter pre-
dominantly CMC- in uenced? This assumption was supported by the reactions
of the German- Namibian audience during a 2018 public evening lecture in
21 When presented with selected material from CMC, the German-
Namibian audience stated that not all but at least some of the multilingual
language practices seemed somewhat ‘exaggerated’ due to a high frequency
of borrowed expressions: ‘Die Wortwahl und das viele Namdeutsch scheinen
etwas ü bertrieben zu sein’ (The choice of words and the highly frequent use
of Namdeutsch seem to be a bit exaggerated). Since the investigated CMC
groups have as many as 1,200 members each, it seems likely that this potential
reach a ects the user’s linguistic behaviour and occasionally prompts a stylised
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Urban language practices online? 43
language use amongst participants. Therefore, the CMC setup is an in uential
and de ning factor for triggering Namibia- speci c language practices.
This stance still leaves out an important fact: social media brings together
individuals from both urban and rural areas and creates a geographically inde-
pendent space for communication. In this perspective, isolated urban language
practices do not exist, as the city itself is not only interconnected with its
surrounding countryside but is also digitally linked to any group of individuals
through digital media. Hence, CMC creates an environment for a hybrid form
of German- Namibian language practices melting together in uences from
their personal linguistic settings in urban or rural areas as well as in uences
from digital media, which result in the emergence of German- Namibian
written speech. This perspective emphasises both the in uence of CMC as a
genre and the sociodemographic background of the individual user (e.g. their
place of origin). In case of the German- Namibian community with multi-
lingual practices being part of their daily life in both urban and rural areas,
CMC serves to further connect the multilingual networks between the city and
the countryside. Even when Namibians from rural areas migrate to Windhoek,
Munich or any other city, they are likely to stay connected with their friends
through social media. Hence, a comprehensive view on postmodern individ-
uals in urban settings should go beyond the administrative borders of the city.
It should therefore take into account the individual NoE, which are likely to
combine rural and urban linguistic practices.
3.6 Summary and outlook
This chapter shows how closely intertwined urban and rural multilingual
practices can be. Especially in CMC, in which geographical distances and bound-
aries vanish. CMC is an online- performing type of NoE with an increasing
importance for the German- Namibian community (cf. Radke 2021a ). It can be
divided into di erent subtypes, such as peer and family networks, networks of
common interests or a hybrid form thereof. However, some of those networks
do not exclusively communicate online but also meet face- to- face. They have
the potential to serve as a link between urban and rural environments. In doing
so, they a ect exchange and multilingual communication in real life. In an
online interview, Prof. Marianne Zappen- Thomson
22 describes the case of a
German- speaking female, who lives in a rural area south of Windhoek. In her
day- to- day life, she almost exclusively uses Afrikaans. However, whenever she
visits her family in the city of Windhoek, she is not only exposed to German
but also engages in conversations using Namdeutsch . This example shows how
NoE not only connect urban and rural settings but also stimulate the use of
di erent varieties within their networks.
Furthermore, I have analysed CMC- based NoE in correlation to the
individual’s place of origin. This chapter has shown that multilingualism
among German- Namibians is a trans- urban phenomenon ful lling a wide
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44 H. Radke
range of pragmatic purposes: Representatives, Commissives, Directives and
Expressives can be found in speech originating from individuals of both urban
and rural origin. There are two exceptions: Afrikaans- only Commissives
could be found among urban users but were absent among rural users. This
lack may be due to the size of the corpus. Since Afrikaans is an important
source language for Namibia- speci c language practices among German-
speaking Namibians, it seems likely that Afrikaans- only Commissives are
also used by rural individuals. The second exception, the complete lack of
Declaratives throughout all categories, is likely due to the inherent feature
of social media providing a rather non- declarative mode for communication.
It became clear that urban and rural multilingualism in German- Namibian
CMC seem similar from a pragmatic point of view. However, further research
is necessary to zoom in on the full range of pragmatic purposes, e.g. by a
ne- grained analysis of politeness strategies. Moreover, the current data only
account for CMC- based speech. There are clear signs that the speech used in
CMC is (partially) stylised, since CMC serves as a publication tool to reach a
greater audience. It remains to be clari ed whether pragmatic speech patterns
in private CMC and in face- to- face communication show similar patterns in
(trans- )urban and rural areas.
3.7 Acknowledgements
This chapter is a result of my PhD research on multilingualism and mixed-
mode communication among the German- Namibian diaspora. I want to thank
my supervisors Arjen Versloot and Horst Simon for providing me with valu-
able feedback as well as Gergely Szabó and So ya Mitsova for their input. I also
owe many thanks to the editors of this volume, Dick Smakman, Kapitolina
Fedorova and Ji ří Nekvapil, for their careful reading of the manuscript and
thoughtful comments.
1 According to the 2011 census by the Namibia Statistics Agency, Namibia
had a population of 2,113,077 (p. 8). 43% lived in urban areas (ibid.) and 1,6%
of the urban population had German as their  rst language (p. 172). Hence, the
following calculation applies: 2,113,077*0.43*0.016 = 14,538 German- speakers in
urban areas. 57% of Namibia’s population lived in rural areas (p. 8). 0.3% of the
rural population is German- speaking (p. 172). Hence, the following calculation
applies: 2,113,077*0.57*0.003 = 3,613 German- speakers in rural areas.
2 Extracted from an online interview with Prof. Marianne Zappen- Thomson, German
Section at the University of Namibia, 27– 29 August 2019.
3 Bhattacharya calls the lack of universal criteria ‘rather annoying’ (p. 45) which is cer-
tainly an unambiguous way to describe the situation.
4 Windhoek/ Menongue,Cuando- Cubango,AGO [27 August 2019].
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Urban language practices online? 45
5 See Windhoek/ Cape- Town,Western- Cape,ZAF [27 August 2019].
6 See Windhoek/ Bulawayo,ZWE [27 August 2019].
7 Languages of European descent include Afrikaans and English. Indigenous languages
include Oshiwambo, Khoekhoegowab and Otjiherero, amongst others (cf. Stell
2016 : 331).
8 Based on the numbers published by the Reading Eagle on 18 July 1971, p. 61: ‘[…]
in Windhoek there are 26,000 whites to 24,000 blacks. The 9,000 Germans among
the whites give Windhoek a thoroughly Teutonic atmosphere. https:// gle.
com/ new spap ers?nid= 1955&dat= 19710 718&id= 9gorA AAAI BAJ&sjid= YJoFA
AAAI BAJ&pg= 2800,3519 162 [31 August 2019].
9 German is the  rst language of about 20,000 Namibians in Namibia or 0.9% of the
total population with the Khomas region having the second highest proportion of
German speakers (2.6%, Namibia Statistics Agency 2011 , 172). Since Windhoek is
part of Khomas and accounts for 95% of its inhabitants ( Namibia Statistics Agency
2011 , 14), an estimated 3% of Windhoek’s population have German as their  rst
10 https:// chr webst ore/ det ail/ web- scra per- free- web- scra/ jnhgn
onkn ehpe jjne hehl lkli plmb mhn [6 February 2021].
11 All names were changed.
12 A small number of comments was written in English or Afrikaans only. They were
part of multilingual discourses. As code- switching between languages is a typ-
ical feature of Namibian multilingualism, such comments were also counted as
Namibia- speci c language practices.
13 For more examples of this sort, see Shah (2007 : 28) and Wiese et al. (2017 : 4).
14 Both are frequent constructions in SG with the dative case generally considered to
be slightly more informal than the genitive case.
15 The alternative meines Bruders Laptop is considered to be archaic in European SG
varieties. While it can be found in (contemporary) poetry, it would be highly
marked as part of a CMC comment.
16 Most likely meant to be bra.
17 See https:// afrika jour 4027.html#/ 4027.html [4 November
18 For the analysis I used https:// statpa logis tic.html [1 September 2020].
I owe many thanks to my supervisor Prof. Arjen Versloot for his advice.
19 To harmonize the di erent population sizes from Zip an to linear, I applied a loga-
rithmic transformation of population size with base 10. The following calculations
apply: Windhoek: log 10 (500,000) = 5.7; Swakopmund: log
10 (60,000) = 4.78; smaller
urban and rural areas: log
10 (1,000) = 3.0. The population size of 1,000 is an estimated
number to indicate that the local networks of German speakers in smaller urban
and rural areas are smaller than in Windhoek and Swakopmund.
20 Often heard during  eldwork in Namibia, April– May 2018.
21 The evening lecture entitled Die deutsche Sprache in Namibia und das Internet took
place at Namibia Scienti c Society on 17 April 2018. I owe many thanks to Prof.
Julia Augart from the University of Namibia for organizing this event.
22 Extracted from an online interview with Prof. Marianne Zappen- Thomson,
German Section at the University of Namibia, 27– 29 August 2019.
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46 H. Radke
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Appendix 3.I
Results of the logistic regression described in Section 3.5
Inhabitants Nam- speci c SG SG
5,70 1,00 442 981 1423 69%
4,78 0,66 178 336 514 65%
3,00 0,00 107 134 241 56%
727 1451 2178
727 cases have Y= 0; 1451 cases have Y= 1.
Variable Avg SD
1 51.841 0.8604
Overall Model Fit
Chi Square 163.408 OR from 3.00 to 5.7
df 1 1,754964
p 0.0001
Coe cients, Standard Errors, Odds Ratios, and 95% Con dence Limits
Variable Coe . StdErr p O.R. Low– High
1 0.2083 0.0511 0.0000 12.316 11.141 13.614
Intercept - 0.3840 0.2669 0.1502
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Full-text available
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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Among (post-)colonial varieties of German, Namibian German is a particularly interesting case. It has a unique status compared to the other extra-territorial varieties as well as to those in the German-speaking area in Europe. First, it is based on a speech community with German ancestry who still live in Namibia today, which distinguishes it from such colonial varieties as Unserdeutsch in the South Pacific and makes it more similar to such German “language island” varieties as, e.g., Texas German in the United States or the German varieties still spoken in Brazil. Second, though, unlike language island varieties as well as other postcolonial varieties and more similar to those in Germany, Namibian German is linguistically vital. It is passed on to younger generations and is also used in public domains, supporting, e.g., register differentiation. Third, unlike most varieties in Germany, however, it is integrated in a setting of societal multilingualism, with speakers who routinely use two or more languages in addition to German in their daily lives, and with a broader context of high linguistic diversity, offering a wealth of language contact opportunities. In this paper, we describe this special status of Namibian German and present first results from a project that capitalises on this to investigate the (socio-)linguistic dynamics that this setting supports, affording us a spotlight on tendencies of language attitudes and language variation in contact situations of German.
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Various studies have shown that bilingual children need a certain degree of proficiency in both languages before their bilingual experiences enhance their executive functioning (EF). In the current study, we investigated if degree of bilingualism in Frisian-Dutch children influenced EF and if this effect was sustained over a 3-year period. To this end, longitudinal data were analyzed from 120 Frisian-Dutch bilingual children who were 5- or 6-years-old at the first time of testing. EF was measured with two attention and two working memory tasks. Degree of bilingualism was defined as language balance based on receptive vocabulary and expressive morphology scores in both languages. In a context with a minority and a majority language, such as the Frisian-Dutch context, chances for becoming proficient in both languages are best for children who speak the minority language at home. Therefore, in a subsequent analysis, we examined whether minority language exposure predicted language balance and whether there was a relationship between minority language exposure and EF, mediated by language balance. The results showed that intensity of exposure to Frisian at home, mediated by language balance, had an impact on one of the attention tasks only. It predicted performance on this task at time 1, but not at time 2 and 3. This partially confirms previous evidence that the cognitive effects of bilingualism are moderated by degree of bilingualism and furthermore reveals that substantial minority language exposure at home indirectly affects bilingual children’s cognitive development, namely through mediation with degree of bilingualism. However, the findings also demonstrate that the effect of bilingualism on EF is limited and unstable.
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Integrating research on multilingualism and computer-mediated communication, this paper proposes the term ‘networked multilingualism’ and presents findings from a case study to explore its implications for the theorising of multilingualism. Networked multilingualism is a cover term for multilingual practices that are shaped by two interrelated processes: being networked, i.e. digitally connected to other individuals and groups, and being in the network, i.e. embedded in the global mediascape of the web. It encompasses everything language users do with the entire range of linguistic resources within three sets of constraints: mediation of written language by digital technologies, access to network resources, and orientation to networked audiences. The empirical part of the paper discusses the Facebook language practices of a small group of Greek-background secondary school students in a German city. Data collection follows an online ethnography approach, which combines systematic observation of online activities, collection and linguistic analysis of screen data, and data elicited through direct contact with users. Focusing on four weeks of discourse on profile walls, the analysis examines the participants’ linguistic repertoires, their language choices for genres of self-presentation and dialogic exchange, and the performance of multilingual talk online. The findings suggest that the students’ networked multilingual practices are individualised, genre-shaped, and based on wide and stratified repertoires.
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This paper deals with Kiezdeutsch, a way of speaking that emerged among adolescents in multiethnic urban neighbourhoods of Germany. We argue for a view of Kiezdeutsch as a multiethnolect, based on: (a) A lin-guistic analysis of the lexical and grammatical characteristics that have been reported for it so far, and their interaction with information structure; and (b) A perception study that tested the acceptability and evaluation of such features by adolescents from a multiethnic and a monoethnic neighbourhood of Berlin. Our results support a view of Kiezdeutsch as a linguistic system of its own, with features that establish a distinct way of speaking that is associated with multiethnic neighbourhoods, where it cuts across ethnicities, including speakers of non-migrant background.
This article provides a qualitative description of current patterns of linguistic diversity in Namibia’s capital city, Windhoek, using as its main source of data perceptions elicited from an ethnically representative sample of Windhoek residents on language-related themes. The data suggest that the pre-independence diglossic pattern which involved Afrikaans as high-status language and ethnic indigenous languages as low-status languages is giving way to a triglossic pattern dominated by English – the country’s only official language since 1990. Indigenous ethnic languages are still hardly used for inter-ethnic communication, which seems to be a correlate of ‘hard’ inter-ethnic boundaries inherited from apartheid. Instead, the dominant linguistic patterns of informal inter-ethnic communication in Windhoek rely either mostly on English, or on mixed linguistic repertoires combining ‘Coloured Afrikaans’ and English. Which of the two linguistic options dominates depends on the interactants’ race, ethnicity, length of stay in Windhoek, and social networks.
Based on corpus data and the results of a linguistic survey, we will examine grammatical and lexical developments in two relatively new varieties of Modern German: Kiezdeutsch and Nam- deutsch. Both varieties are spoken in multilingual speech communities in Germany and Namibia respectively. In spite of considerable differences in the contact languages involved, the social backgrounds of the speakers and other differences, our comparison shows that the inovations have a series of conspicuous similarities. For example, gibs has developed into an element similar to a particle indicating existance and so functions as a focus marker. New particles are also being borrowed. Furthermore, in the course of a semantic-pragmatic development, the article in (ein) bisschen or bietje/bikkie has been gradually disappearing. In comparison to the German spoken in monolingual contexts, the relatively strong changes in Kiezdeutsch and Namdeutsch bear witness to the highly innovative power of these varieties. In addition, the parallelism of the developments in the domains studied here indicates fundamental tendencies of the internal structure of German.