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Canadian heritage German across three generations: A diary-based study of language shift in action

Doris Stolberg


It is well known that migration has an effect on language use and language choice. If the language of origin is maintained after migration, it tends to change in the new contact setting. Often, migrants shift to the new majority language within few generations. The current paper examines a diary corpus containing data from three generations of one German-Canadian family, ranging from 1867 to 1909, and covering the second to fourth generation after immigration. The paper analyzes changes that can be observed between the generations, with respect to the language system as well as to the individuals’ decision on language choice. The data not only offer insight into the dynamics of acquiring a written register of a heritage language, and the eventual shift to the majority language. They also allow us to identify different linguistic profiles of heritage speakers within one community. It is discussed how these profiles can be linked to the individuals’ family backgrounds and how the combination of these backgrounds may have contributed to giving up the heritage language in favor of the majority language.


I would like to thank Anita Auer, Joshua Brown, Ryan Carroll, Kristine Horner, Karoline Kühl, Grit Liebscher, Sam Schirm, Horst Simon, Rosemarie Tracy and two anonymous reviewers for their feedback and their valuable comments on this paper. Needless to say, all remaining shortcomings are my responsibility.


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Published Online: 2019-10-19

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