Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
German as a minority language
German speaking minorities live in many countries and on all five continents: the countries of the former Soviet Union, Poland, Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Belgium, the USA, Latin America, Namibia, and Australia. These German minorities, through their ethno-cultural vitality, exhibit an exceptional level of heterogeneity: variations concerning their demographics, their status within the majority community, the support they receive from institutions helping them to support their identity as a minority.
Amongst them are small groups (such as those in Namibia) and many very large groups (such as the almost 1 million non-evacuated Germans in Russia and Kazakhstan or the near 500,000 Germans in Brazil), groups that have been greatly “folklorised” and almost completely linguistically assimilated (such as the Germans in the USA or Australia), and others, such as the true linguistic minorities (like the German minorities in Argentina and Brazil, in western Siberia or in Romania and Hungary); other groups, which are classified as religio-cultural groups rather than ethnic minorities, (such as the Eastern-Low German speaking Mennonites in Paraguay, Mexico, Belize or in the Altai region of Siberia) and the groups who maintain their status thanks to strong identification with their ethnicity and their religious sentiment (such as the groups in Upper Silesia, Poland or in South Jutland in Denmark).
At least one million German speakers live in Latin America. There are German speaking minorities in almost every South American and Central American country, including Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
In the eighteenth century only isolated or small groups of German emigrants left for Latin America. However this pattern was reversed at the start of the last century as a tidal wave of German emigration begun. German emigration to the Americas totalled 200,000 people during the eighteenth century. During the 1880's, during the wave of mass emigration, this figure was reached annually. The Handbuch des Deutschtums im Ausland (The Germans Abroad Handbook) from 1906 puts a figure of 11 million people in North and South America with a knowledge of the German language, of which 9 million were in the USA. Although the USA was the focal point for emigration in the 19th century, emigration to Latin America was also significant for differing economic and political reasons.
90% of German Latin American emigrants in the 19th century went to the five Cono Sur countries: Brazil, Argentinia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile. In the last third of the century emigration to Argentina increased after the "Heydtschen Reskript" (1859) made emigration to Brazil harder. In the 1880's and 1890's German emigration to Latin America grew and in some years was the destination of up to 30% of German emigrants. During the Nazi period - until the ban on emigration came in to effect in 1941 - some 100,000 Jews from Central Europe, the vast majority of which were German speaking, moved to South America with 90% of these moving to the Cono Sur. FDrom the start of the 20th Century until 1946 80% of Jews lived in Europe but by the end of World War II this was reduced to 25%, however after the war over 50% of Jews now lived in the Americas. This change was aided by Jewish emigration groups such as the Hilfsvereins deutschsprechender Juden (later to become Asociación Filantrópica Israelita ) which was based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The majority of German minorities in Latin America - as well as elsewhere around the world - experienced a decline in the use of the German language. The main cause of this decrease is the integration of communities, often originally sheltered, in to the dominant society, and then modernisation after assimilation in to society which confronts all immigrant groups.
Specific reasons for language change from German to the national language usually derive from the desire of many Germans to belong to their new communities after the end of World War II. This is a common feature amongst the German minorities in Latin AMerica and those in Central and Eastern Europe: the majority of countries where German minorities lived had fought against the Germans during the war. With this change in situation the members of the German minorities, previously communities of status and prestige, were turned in to undesirable minroities. For many German minorities this represented the breaking point in the development of their language. In some South American countries the war period and immediately afterwards was a time of massive assimilation to the local culture (for example during the Getúlio Vargas period in Brazil).
Historical Development and Current Language Situation of German Minorities
Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay show some clear demographic differences that effect the minroity situation of the German language: Brazil and Argentina are massive countries and offers large amounts of land for immigrants to settle. The population density of the Cono Sur countries is relatively small (Brazil has 47 inhabitants/km², Chile has 45/km², Argentina and Paraguay both have 31/km², data from 1993), but there are major differences in the areas settled by Germans: Buenos Aires Province, which was was settled by Volga Germans, has a far higher population density that that of the Chaco in northern Paraguay (with 10 inhabitants/km²). Argentina and Chile have a far greater proportion of city dwellers (86% and 84% repectively), while Brazil is 75% urbanised, and Paraguay us just 47% urbanised. In relation to the population of Argetina, it can be called a "white country" (85% of the population is "European", with a large number of Italians ). Brazil is a multi-ethnic country and the statistics show this to be true. According to Baranow (1988: 1266) 120 languages are spoken there. With a combined "White" and "Mestizo" (decendents of European and indigenous blood) population percentage of only 65%, it differs fundamentally from the other states dealt with here, although this is less true in the South of Brazil. In Chile and Paraguay the percentage of Mestizos is 92% and 91% respectively, while the indigenous element is important throughout the country in Paraguay, and indeed Guaraní is the second official language.
German in Argentina
There are about 300,000 German speakers (1% of the total population of 33 million) and around 1 million ethnic Germans, of which 200,000 hold German citizenship. This makes Argentina one of the countries with the largest number of German speakers and is second only in Latin America to Brazil.
German in Brazil
The main variety of German in Brazil is Riograndenser Hunsrückisch and is found in the south of the country. The version of German there has changed over 170 years of contact with Portugese as well as the languages of other immigrant communities. This contact has lead to a new dialect of German which concentrated in the German colonies in the southren province of Rio Grande do Sul. Although Riograndenser Hunsrückisch has long been the most widely spoken German dialect in southern Brazil, like all other minority languages in the region, it is experiencing very strong decline - especially in the last three or four decades.
A strong stigma has been forming around the public use of this language. Today it is spoken mostly in private, in family circles and by the elder members of teh community and in rural areas. It is very common for people not to admit that they know it and speak it in their most private environs.
German in Chile
Chile (with a population of 12.5 million) has an estimated 20,000 German speakers (from an estimated total of 150,000 - 200,000 German immigrants). The vast majority of these arrived after 1846 from several regions of Germany, initially from Hessen and Brandenburg, then from Württemberg and later from Silesia, West Phalia and lastly from Bohemia. During the first wave of German immigration (between 1846 and 1875) German colonies were primarily set up in the "Frontera" region. The second wave of immigration occurred between 1882 and 1914 and was mainly comprised of industrial and agricultural workers, aminly from eastern Germany; the third wave (after 1918) settled mainly in the cities.
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