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Germanic Languages in Contact in Central and South America  

Karoline Kühl

West and North Germanic language varieties have been part of the Latin American language ecology since the middle of the 19th century, when European mass migration created Germanic-speaking immigrant communities in North, Central, and South America. The subsequent fate of the Germanic immigrant varieties in Latin America varied greatly in terms of how long intergenerational transfer has been maintained, if and to what degree language maintenance has been supported by linguistic codification and language teaching, and the degree of contact with the surrounding majority population. Some languages like the Mennonite Low German varieties have been quite repellent with regard to language change induced by contact with the majority languages Portuguese and/or Spanish, other (Germanic) immigrant varieties, and indigenous languages. However, contact with the majority population and other (immigrant) ethnic groups, bilingualism, and, accordingly, the influence of Spanish and/or Portuguese has been growing for most Germanic immigrant varieties at least since the 1950s. The long-standing German dialectological research tradition into extra-territorial Germanic language islands has led to detailed accounts of many German varieties in Latin America. Accounts of other Germanic varieties are much more restricted, both in numbers and in extent: Some like Argentine Danish or Patagonian Afrikaans have been described only recently; others, like Swedish in Brazil and Argentine Dutch, hardly at all. In all cases, the accounts differ greatly regarding if, and to what extent, language contact is included as a cause of language change. Based on the scholarly coverage, the extent of contact-induced change in the Germanic varieties in Latin America appears to vary greatly, but whether this impression is due to the varying degrees of attention that the accounts devote to the effects of language contact or to particular sociolinguistic circumstances preventing or promoting language contact cannot be established. Still, contact linguistic profiles of many Germanic immigrant varieties in Latin America present themselves as a promising terra incognita for future research. From a bird’s-eye perspective, we may in general terms conclude that the Germanic varieties in Latin America are characterized by lexical borrowing, at least for cultural loans and discourse-structuring elements, as well as ad hoc code-switching. Interestingly, a number of varieties show a similar pattern of integrating Spanish or Portuguese verb stems of verbs ending in -ir and -ar into a very similar inflectional Germanic paradigm (Misiones Swedish -era, Argentine Danish -is(ere), Riograndenser Hunsrückisch -ieren, Volga German -i(:)ere). In general, syntactical restructurings seem to be restricted, with the notable exception of standard deviant omission of mainly pronominal subjects and, partly, pronominal objects. Other developments are specific, applying only to individual varieties.