Mistakes Sorbs Make: Deviations from the Standard Language in the Writings of Upper Sorbian Young People

Gary H. Toops, Wichita State University

The proposed paper examines the Upper Sorbian language as it is used in the writings of Sorbs whose ages range from approximately 18 to 30. Among the West Slavic languages, Upper Sorbian has the fourth largest number of speakers (approximately 30,000–40,000) and is spoken in Upper Lusatia, a region of eastern Germany not far from the Czech and Polish borders. With its existence already endangered by the dominance of German prior to World War II, the language suffered a severe setback under the Nazi regime, which prohibited public use, dissemination and teaching of both Upper and Lower Sorbian. As a result, the language underwent imperfect transmission from pre–War to post–War generations of Sorbs, so that the language commonly used by today's Upper Sorbian youth is different—both lexically and grammatically —from that of their grandparents and, in many cases, even their parents. The norms of the written language (literary Upper Sorbian) have meanwhile remained fairly constant since the late 19th–early 20th century. Depending on the quality of their language training in school, Upper Sorbian high–school graduates periodically find themselves at pains to conform to the standards of the literary language when expressing themselves in writing.

Several years after German reunification in 1990, Upper Sorbian–speaking students (primarily at universities in Dresden and Leipzig) began forming small youth organizations and publishing magazines for Sorbian–speaking young people. One such magazine, "Pawcina", was launched, together with a Web site, in early 1996. A number of recent Upper Sorbian college graduates now produce a weekly two–hour radio broadcast for young people at the Sorbian service of MDR (Central German Broadcasting) and maintain corresponding Web pages at URL http://www.mdr.de/mdr1–radio–sachsen/serbski/jugendprogramm. Such public fora allow the linguist to see to what extent today's Upper Sorbian–speaking young people have assimilated the norms of the literary language, and to what extent they have not.

The proposed paper accordingly envisions the collection of linguistically relevant data from various print and on–line media produced by Upper Sorbian young people and youth organizations, as well as samples of personal correspondence. The data will be analyzed from the standpoint of lexicon, grammatical categories, syntactic structures, and congruence to determine precisely how the written language of younger Upper Sorbs deviates from established Upper Sorbian literary norms. A preliminary attempt at formally classifying these deviations will be made.

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