Language Variation in an Immigrant Community: Language and Community Maintenance

Eva Eckert, Connecticut College

The paper is a case study of Czech language maintenance in a Texas Moravian community, as displayed in a 1920 public speech presentation and corroborated by other primary sources of the community.

Milroy 1992 (Linguistic Variation and Change) stated principles of social modelling of language change and accounted for patterns of language usage in a speech community in social terms. Following the principle that language usage cannot be understood without analysis of its social context, I will demonstrate that Czech language usage in the Texas community was driven by certain communal actions and decisions. Specifically, I will explain the reasons for use of the Standard Czech variety in the 1920 speech in socio-cultural context of a typical Czech/Moravian immigrant community settled in the middle of the 19th century.

In Texas, Czechs and Moravians had established themselves as a distinct ethnic group and formed socially, culturally and linguistically self-contained communities that survived for an unusually extensive time period. They lived on isolated farms and in towns but gathered for religious worship, education and music activities. They organized in ethnically defined religious, benevolent, sport and cultural organizations and published their own newspapers. Their way of life in emigration established the foundation for prolonged language maintenance.

The speech under examination was originally composed by a seventy year old farmer in his Moravian dialect. A different scribe "corrected" it into the Standard. The purpose was threefold: its official formal presentation in the community and publication in an immigrant periodical but also the immigrants' disdain for their dialect, as documented elsewhere.

The goal of my presentation is to prove that the dialect to standard translation corroborated linguistic behavior of the community and its multifaceted involvement with the Czech language.