Linguistic cleanliness is next to godliness — but not for conservative Anabaptists

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Conservative Anabaptist groups (like the Old Order Mennonites and Amish) offer an interesting perspective on prescription, standardization and the maintenance of marginalized languages. Here we have a nonstan- dard, non-written language, associated with rurality, lack of sophistica- tion and with no official recognition – and yet it has been holding its own alongside English for many years now. The question of formal mainte- nance efforts never arises; there is no likelihood of these speakers ever actively propagating the language, and there is no desire for standardiza- tion. The Old Orders are interested in retaining their language, to be sure, but they have no urge to clean it up – or keep it pure.

This total absence of purist attitudes is striking. Speakers constantly remark on the variation and change they see in their language, often com- menting wie Englisch as mir sin ‘how English we are’, but these comments are not regretful, nor are they disapproving. Despite an isolationist phi- losophy, a desire to be abgesandert vun die Welt ‘separated from the world’, this intrusion of English into Pennsylvania German is never criti- cized or judged harshly. There are of course different ways people can feel good about their language. And while Pennsylvania German has all the negative connotations so often associated with the notion ‘dialect’ or ‘ver- nacular’, its ‘low’ status has a deeply symbolic value for the speakers. Like their plain dress and way of life, the dialect is seen as an appropriate symbol of humility (or demut) – for the Old Orders it has a positive, even sacred, value.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLanguage Prescription
Subtitle of host publicationValues, Ideologies and Identity
EditorsDon Chapman , Jacob D Rawlins
Place of PublicationBristol UK
PublisherMultilingual Matters
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781788928380, 9781788928397, 9781788928403
ISBN (Print)9781788928373
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NameMultilingual Matters
PublisherMultilingual Matters

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