The Hierarchy of Dominance Configuration in Trilingualism by Anthony Vanek

This article by Anthony Vanek first appeared in the Wendish magazine Letopis A, XIV, 2, pg. 173-179 (Bautzen, 1967).

The Hierarchy of Dominance Configuration in Trilingualism

The data on which the present paper is based were gathered among the descendants of Lusatian Sorb, settlers in Cook [should be Lee] County in central Teas. It should be emphasized that the primary target of the project[1] was the compilation of linguistic data for a study of the present day state of the Lusatian language in the United States, rather than an investigation of language contact within the community. Therefore, any observations presented in this paper should be regarded merely as preliminary steps for a deeper analysis of this phenomenon of trilingualism which shall be undertaken after additional material has been gathered.

The community of Serbin, Texas, the cultural center of the Lusatian settlement, was established in 1854 by a group of about 600 immigrants whose reasons for emigrating from their native country had been both religious and nationalistic.[2] One of their prime concerns was the perpetuation of their language. Consequently, immediately upon its establishment the community attempted to achieve an efficient linguistic isolation, and for this purpose one of the first undertakings were the establishment of both Lusatian Lutheran church parish and an eight year Lusatian school. Within 10 years, however, the settlers began to enter into communication with neighboring German settlements which slowly encroached upon Serbin; one of the principal reasons for this development was the mutual adherence of both the Lusatians and the Germans to the Lutheran Church. The question of bilingualism, already traditional in their native country, reasserted itself in their new homeland.

The Lusatian school lost its impact on the community in the latter part of the nineteenth century when English instruction in the public schools became widely accepted and available. Lusatian persisted to be used in the church until the end of World War I, when the death of pastor Herman T. Kilian terminated the use of Lusatian during religious services, although its use in church instruction was terminated already in 1906. The contact of the succeeding pastor, Hermann Schmidt (Kowar), with his Lusatian parishioners outside the church was, however, carried on in Lusatian until the middle 1930’s.

The first two generations of the Lusatian settlers did not come into an extensive or intensive contact with English and did not attain any palpable proficiency in the language. The third generation, however, was exposed to all three languages – Lusatian, German and English – within different spheres of their life. It is predominantly this generation, born between 1890 and 1910, which attracts our attention in that it was exposed to the multiple language contact. The succeeding generations experienced a marked decrease in the facility of both German and Lusatian and can be considered, for all purposes, to be monolingual.

The trilingualism of the third generation of Serbin residents should be viewed as a multiple bilingualism consisting of three sets of bilingual contact: Lusatian-German, Lusatian-English, and German-English. Since the proficiency of the informants in the respective languages varies and since the scope of the usefulness and actual use of the languages varies as well, it should be possible to establish a hierarchy of dominance configuration for the entire language contact complex. According to Weinreich,[3] the determination of dominance configuration should be based on several criteria, the most prominent of which are the following: (a) the bilingual individual’s relative proficiency in the respective languages, (b) the mode of their use, (c) the order of their acquisition and the ages at which each language was introduced and its instruction terminated, (d) the usefulness of each language in communication, (e) emotional involvement of the speakers, (f) the function of the languages in social advance, and (g) the literary and cultural value of each language.

The number of the third-generation Lusatians who had been interviewed and who have proven to be still manifestly trilingual is 42.[4] All of them had been exposed to Lusatian as their first language in the home; active instruction in the language was undertaken between the age of three and the early teens, in the Church school. This instruction consisted of reading, memorization of songs, stories, and prayers, as well as of instruction in the catechism and the Bible, but included very little in the way of writing practice and no formal study of the language structure. When the religious instruction ceased to be conducted in Lusatian at the end of World War I, the language reverted again to exclusive use in the home whence it slowly began to disappear around the middle 1930s.

The informants had come into contact with the German language uniformly during preschool years in the home and within the community, at a social level. This contact has continued without interruption until today. There had never been, however, any formal instruction in German. The informants were introduced to English at the age of six in the public school. None of them attended high school and the majority did not complete the full eight years of elementary instruction; formal instruction in English was therefore terminated in their early teens.

Whereas English had been taught at a formal level and the mode of its use extended both to the written and the spoken language; both Lusatian and German were restricted to oral use. Since the small amount of reading the informants had been exposed to in German as well as in Lusatian had been rendered in the Gothic alphabet, they have been unable to make the transfer to the Latin alphabet which was introduced in Germany before World War II, and are thus apparently unable to read modern texts in either of these languages. At the same time both German and Lusatian have lost their literary and cultural value within the community since the acculturation to their new country has been fully attained.

In so far as emotional involvement is concerned the third generation has experienced considerable moderation in the feelings of belonging to a national minority. The original attempt to elevate Lusatian to a monolingual status had lost ground soon after the establishment of the settlement and the traditional bilingualism was reestablished. The status of German had, however, also shifted from the official language to one of the immigrant languages, and the principle cause for resistance to the traditional bilingualism was thus eliminated. For some fifty years the Lusatian language was established as the language of religious practice but the fact that the Lutheran religion was not limited exclusively to the members of the Lusatian community in the area failed to establish a decisive bond between the language and religion, as was the case with many other immigrant groups. By the time the third generation was growing up, the cultural heritage, folklore and customs brought by the original settlers to this country were being retained only by the grandparents; they are now being remembered only with a degree of nostalgia rather than with a sense of continuity and belonging.

At the present time the language contact situation in the vicinity of Serbin can be viewed as a basically monolingual area with a large percentage of bilingual German-English population and a small percentage of trilingual population which has a degree of command of Lusatian. Consequently, the dominance configuration can be viewed as a set of classes which exhibit a mutual relation of inclusion, English being at the apex of the hierarchy, German being a subclass of English, and Lusatian being at the base of the hierarchy, a subclass of both English and German.

It appears quite improbable that one could establish experimentally the proficiency levels for the three languages. Since the area of usage for each language differs slightly, it would be difficult to arrive at a representative set of examination tests of the type of the “Cloze” model introduced by Wilson Taylor.[5] Moreover, such tests would have to be administered orally and it is doubtful whether the attention span of the older informants would permit such testing with successful results.

One of the phenomena which manifested themselves quite strikingly in a few instances was the shift in the code switching facility during the four-week period of the investigation. The investigator relied on one member of the community, J. Miertschin, an elder of the church, in his contact with the informants. Consequently he was in constant contact with him, especially since he was staying at the Miertschin home. This member of the community did not use Lusatian in his home as a result of intermarriage, but in his official capacity was in constant contact with the Lusatian members of the congregation, and used the Lusatian language with sustained frequency. The hierarchy of dominance configuration in his particular case was, upon the arrival of the investigator, English-German-Lusatian, respectively. The constant contact with the investigator, which included extensive work on linguistic questionnaires both from English and from German into Lusatian, resulted in a gradual improvement of Miertschin’s command of Lusatian in vocabulary scope and richness of syntactic construction. As a result of this his facility in code switching from English or German into Lusatian improved markedly over the period of the investigation, and at the same lime the tendency of “insertion” of German or English sequences in Lusatian utterances became less pronounced. Finally, the code switching facility shifted to a parallel sequence, with equal status;

English<---- Lusatian

English<---- German

A similar shift in code switching facility was observed during the sequence of recording sessions with a group of informants. Whereas in the beginning they had to make an evident effort to maintain the conversation in Lusatian, in time this became easier, and the scope of the subject matter discussed increased. From these observations it would appear that the code switching facility is closely related to the dominance configuration and that both are directly related to the frequency of the use of the respective languages.

With respect to language interference it is necessary to consider the three sets of bilingualism separately, since interference occurs at the point of a linguistic overlap of two languages. Interference can be classed in accordance with the degree or manner of integration on the one hand, and with grammatical level on the other hand. Taking the latter into consideration we should stress that the parallel grammatical structure of German and English have a favorable influence on the integration of loan material into the respective languages. The highly developed inflectional system of Lusatian interferes, however, with the integration of loan material into Lusatian. Loans both from English and German are subjected to a superimposition of the morphological structure of Lusatian. The loan material is eventually integrated but is less likely to become fully homologous with the native language.

This paper will refrain from considering the phonological criteria of interference. Attention will be focused instead on the morphemic interference level. In this connection it is necessary to reaffirm the fact that Lusatian has been restricted in the scope of its vocabulary and formal expression by its confinement to a rural community, by its more or less constant domination by German, to a certain degree, and by the fact that religious instruction has played an important part in the educational picture. The Bible has been considered the highest frame of reference by all the informants. These restrictions have on the one hand limited the lexical wealth of the language and, on the other hand, introduced into it a number of biblical archaisms. Moreover, the formal instruction of Lusatian was terminated during the informants’ early teens, and thereafter the usage of the language in the home declined as well. This resulted in a considerable simplification of the formal patterning; thus, for instance, the dual has been restricted to a few cases only, and the pluperfect, aorist, and supine were abandoned in favor of the simple past tense.

Interference was therefore indicated in several well defined areas:

a) in the terminology related directly to the new environment:[6] e.g.: tón bulk (bullock), ta šlanga (snake), ty pinaty (peanuts), kurjece štejbl (stable), tón inč (inch), ta bušla (bushel), spelować (to spell);

b) in new technical terminology: e. g.: parkować karu (to park a car), tón traktor (tractor), ta tajr (tire);

c) in terminology relating to many phases of adult life in a changing and expanding society: e.g.: ta stopsajna (stop sign), ta ajsboksa (ice box), tón fén (fan).

These examples show that interference in some of the areas has been from both English and German; in the former case it is, however, difficult to establish whether the interference was already present at the time of immigration or whether it took place later, especially as the cases of German interference occur mostly in non-modern words.

The most important and numerous group of items of morphemic interference are morphemic importations or loanwords. For the most part they have under gone considerable alternation both in pronunciation and morphological status, having become subject to the Lusatian inflectional system and having acquired the grammatical form of a similar native term. In assigning such loanwords the grammatical gender, in the absence of specific generic cues, the most productive and least complicated pattern of the recipient language is usually chosen. In view of the fact that the loanwords have undergone considerable integration they should be termed loan blends. Good examples are: ta kára (car), ta stopsajna (stop sign), tón inč (inch), ta Fordka (Ford car), tón cedar (cedar tree).

Loanwords are much more numerous in the nominal system than in the verbal system. Where verbs were borrowed, German was the donor language more often than English; it is likely that the majority of these loans had occurred already in Germany and had been integrated into the language by the time emigration took place: e.g.: lézować (lesen, to read), futrować, futrać (füttern, to feed cattle), rybwać (reiben, to grate).

Morphemic substitution is less noticeable than morphemic importation (loan). On the whole, it seems that it has been more acceptable to integrate a loanword than to engage in diamorphic identification of the individual morphemes; e g.: mašina na pisanjo (typewriter), mašina na myćo (washing machine).

In conclusion we can state that since the group of informants which still engage actively in trilingualism in Serbin and the surrounding area is advanced in age, and since the younger generations have lost their facility in Lusatian it is difficult to evaluate exactly the existing situation. It would require an extended study by a group of investigators versed in psycholinguistic methodology in order to be able to note the linguistic interference and code switching facility, since any other mode of testing is beyond the capabilities of the informants. Moreover, it would be necessary that the investigators were versed in both the present day Lusatian spoken in Europe and the diachronic development of the language, particularly its status at the time the emigrants left their native country.

[1] The project was supported by a Linguistic Field Research Grant from the Center for Slavic and East European Studies, University of California, Berkeley, California, in the summer of 1961.

[2] A concise and recent study of the migration from the Chośebuz district during the nineteenth century is given in Dr. Frido Mětšk, Do cuzeje zemje, Berlin, 1957. Account of the Serbin community is given by Anne Blasig, The Wends of Texas, San Antonio, 1954; George C. Engerrand, “The So-called Wends of Germany and their Colonies in Texas and in Australia,” The University of Texas Bulletin, No. 3417, Austin (May 1934).

[3] Pertinent information on the subject can be found in Einar Haugen, “Problems of Bilingualism,” Lingua (1950), 2: 271-90; Einar Haugen, “The Analysis of Linguistic Borrowing,” Language (1950), 26: 210-31; Einar Haugen, Bilingualism in the Americas: A Bibliography and Research Guide, Publ. No. 26, American Dialect Society, University of Alabama Press, 1956; Einar Haugen, “Language Contact,” Proceedings of the Eighth International Congress of Linguists (Oslo 1958), 771-785, 798-810; W. E. Lambert, “Measurement of the Linguistic Dominance of Bilinguals,” Journal of Abnormal Soc. Psychology (1955), 50: 197-200; W. E. Lambert, J. Havelka & R. Gardner, “Linguistic Manifestations of Bilingualism,” American Journa1 of Psychology (1959), 72: 77-82; Uriel Weinreich, Languages in Contact, Linguistic Circle of New York, (New York 1953); Uriel Weinreich, “Research Frontiers in Bilingualism Studies,” Proceedings of the Eighth International Congress of Linguists (Oslo 1958), 786-97.

[4] The age breakdown of the informants is as follows: over 80 – 1 person, 70-80 – 21 persons, 60-70 – 9 persons, 40-60 – 3 persons, under 40-8 persons. Twenty-three of them were 14 years or older at the time when Lusatian ceased to be taught in the church school.

[5] This test has been proposed by S. M. Ervin & C. E. Osgood, “Second Language Learning and Bilingualism,” in Psycholinguistics, Journal of Abnormal Soc. Psychology Supplement, ed. C. E. Osgood and T. A. Sebeok, 1954, 139-46.

[6] The informants often could not recall any Lusatian term for common English or German words and agreed that the respective term in English, and less often in German, is the one commonly used, and is often not at all incorporated into Lusatian with respect to gender assignation and inflection. This pertained most often to names of animals and plants which are native to the Texas area or to new concepts and objects which were not known to the original settlers.


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