The present work examines nominal case marking in Wisconsin Heritage German, based on audio recordings of six speakers made in the late 1940s. Linguistic data provide positive evidence for a four-case nominal system characteristic of Standard German. At the same time, biographical and demographic information show that the heritage varieties acquired and spoken in the home often employed a different nominal system, one that often exhibited dative-accusative case syncretism and lacked genitive case—features that surfaced even when Standard German was spoken. These data strongly suggest that speakers were proficient in both their heritage variety of German, acquired through naturalistic means, as well as in Standard German, acquired through institutional support in educational and religious domains. Over time, these formal German-language domains shifted to externally oriented, English-language institutions. Standard German was no longer supported, while the heritage variety was retained in domestic and social domains. Subsequent case syncretism in Wisconsin Heritage German therefore reflects the retention of preimmigration, nonstandard varieties, rather than a morphological change in a unified heritage grammar. This work concludes by proposing a multistage model of domain-specific language shift, informed by both synchronic variation within the community as well as by social factors affecting language shift over time.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.