Texas German

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Here's a nice introduction to the subject:

Having spent a memorable five weeks at the outstanding summer institute on Indo-European linguistics and archeology held by DOALL (at least that's what we jokingly called it — the Department of Oriental and African Languages and Literatures) of the University of Texas (Austin) in 1990, and with my son and his family living in the Dallas area, I consider myself a sort of honorary Texan.  I've been to the state so many times that I've had the opportunity to explore various places that were of particular interest to me.  There were none that attracted me more than the towns where Texas German is (or was) spoken, such as Fredericksburg and New Braunfels.

The leading authority on the subject of Texas German is Hans Boas, who is featured in the above video starting at 1:13.  When I took one look at his name, I could not help but wonder whether he is related to Franz Boas (1858-1942).  I asked a lot of colleagues, but nobody seemed to be certain, so, after a couple of days, I wrote to Hans and asked him directly.  Here's how he replied to me:

No, I am not related to Franz, despite my last name.

But I share many of Franz Boas' views on language and culture and the name definitely is a great conversation opener at conferences and social gathering with linguists and anthropologists around the world.

Further, as Hans explained in a colorful reply to Brian Joseph:

If I were a mathematician or a pharmacy person, no one would care. But luck would have it that I'm in linguistics. But I'm not related to Franz. Even though it would make a great tag line going back to Saturday Night Live: "I'm Hans and I'm Franz, and we're here to pump you up with some phonemes."

Hans is associate professor of Germanic studies at UT-A.  He was awarded the 2011 Leonard Bloomfield Book Award from the Linguistic Society of America for his monograph titled The Life and Death of Texas German.  Texas German is a unique fusion of English and 19th-century German. The book includes an in-depth analysis of Boas’ Texas German Dialect Project, an online digital archive of recordings, as well as transcriptions and translations of interviews with more than 300 Texas German speakers. (Source). Hans serves as the Director of the University of Texas Linguistics Research Center, which was featured in the last post listed in the "Selected readings" section below (please support the UT LRC, everybody!).


Selected readings


[Thanks to Craig Melchert, Brian Joseph, Michael Weiss, Douglas Adams, J.P. Mallory, Barbara Partee, Joshua Katz, Sally Thomason, David Beaver, Neal Goldfarb, and Miriam Dexter]


  1. Philip Taylor said,

    April 25, 2020 @ 4:55 am

    As is to be expected, link-rot has affected some of the sub-linked material. Fortunately the Internet Archive (a.k.a. the "Wayback Machine") can come to our rescue, and the "featured story" Vanishing voices can now be found here.

  2. Laura Morland said,

    April 25, 2020 @ 7:44 am

    @Philip Taylor – I love the new (to me) term link-rot. Danke.

    And from the video I just learned the word Stinkkatze; today is a good day!

    P.S. to Victor Mair: I donated to the project yesterday, and will again. I must say that their site is one of the most supple donation websites I've ever encountered. Hats off to UT!

  3. Victor Mair said,

    April 25, 2020 @ 9:07 am

    From an old German friend:

    "Morjn" (Guten Morgen said quickly by Berliners)

    Sadly I could not HEAR any spoken words in the video and that's too bad.

    I've always said if you'd take a dialect speaker from S/W Germany
    and put him together with someone from Koenigsberg, they would
    not be able to understand one another. Neither does anyone
    understand the Westphalian dialect speakers. TV has "flattened"
    everything since its inception – even the Brits no longer sound

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    April 25, 2020 @ 10:28 am

    Not sure why "an old German friend" could not hear any spoken words in the video, but I have captured the audio and hope that he/she will have more success here. Fragments of Texas-German speech from 00:40, 01:42, 3:00, …

  5. ~flow said,

    April 25, 2020 @ 11:03 am

    Some of the (few) snippets actually do sound like they were recorded somewhere in present-day Germany. Much more modern than the Pennsylvania Dutch I've heard.

  6. John Swindle said,

    April 25, 2020 @ 4:46 pm

    More of the Texas German language itself can be heard here:
    and, perhaps less fluently, here:

  7. Luke said,

    April 25, 2020 @ 10:15 pm

    As a non native but relatively fluent German speaker I usually have trouble with dialects, but I don't find Texas German that hard to understand. It sounds like Hochdeutsch with maybe some distinctive pronunciation features (hamm'a, sind'ma, boich), delivered in a Texas accent.

  8. Joyce Melton said,

    April 25, 2020 @ 10:23 pm

    Since there are enclaves of people speaking American English in Brazil, I am led to wonder if there are islands of Portuguese speakers in Germany?

  9. Jim said,

    April 26, 2020 @ 12:31 am

    Slightly off-topic, but a request: does anyone know where to find good online material about Czech speakers in Texas?

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    April 26, 2020 @ 1:52 am

    The Texas Czech project can be found here. As with the Texas German project, registration is required in order to gain access to the archive.

  11. ~flow said,

    April 26, 2020 @ 6:47 am

    The speech of the lady in John's first link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_dH403pqRU) (thanks!) is quite interesting, to my ears it's mostly pretty standard, but with some interspersed traces of what I'd say is distinctly Platt, so coming from somewhere north of a line from Cologne to Königsberg/Kaliningrad. This to me is most saliently so at 6:07 when she says "Un(d) wir gehn heudzedach immer noch in die Kearch [und für uns ist das] arch wichtich" ("We still go to church today, [and for us that's] very important"). Her prosody of "Kearch" (church) is really like an echo of how people talk in the "flat countryside" ("auf dem platten Land"), i.e. the northern parts of Lower Saxony.

  12. Frans said,

    April 26, 2020 @ 2:21 pm

    It may well be that Stinkkatze (2:40) is uniquely Texan, but it doesn't actually feel that different to me considering the regular German word is Stinktier (i.e., stinking animal rather than stinking cat).

    The German itself sounded surprisingly regular to me.

  13. Krogerfoot said,

    April 26, 2020 @ 10:12 pm

    As someone who grew up in Texas and spent about a decade not far from Fredericksburg, what I love most about these German speakers is how instantly their English accents mark them as central Texans. It's fascinating to hear English terms, like "Angora," flying out of German sentences while retaining that sing-song drawl.

  14. Michele Sharik Pituley said,

    April 27, 2020 @ 2:53 pm

    My mom was German, from Emsland, and spoke Plaatdüütsch. I (born in Ohio) spoke that + English until I entered Kindergarten and my dad decided we'd be "English only". I regularly visit my cousin, who grew up in Papenburg ("Pap-m-boig") and now lives in Erkrath, near Düsseldorf.. I took 2 years of German at University. (All of that is just to say that I speak a mixed up German — my cousins tell me that I sound like I'm from Berlin.)

    Also: I have not yet listened to or watched the video.

    @Victor's old German friend: ""Morjn" (Guten Morgen said quickly by Berliners)"

    Is that like "Moin", which I was taught to say by my friends who live in Northern Germany? (My American friend who speaks Mannheim topolect wasn't familiar with it.)

  15. Philip Spaelti said,

    April 28, 2020 @ 4:19 am

    Thanks @John Swindle for the link. That's a beautiful example. My favorite is "Ich hap kein druble". (Where "druble" is presumably from English "trouble".)

    "Keach" is Platt? I'm no specialist here, but surely Platt would be "keak" or the like. I hear nothing in this lady's speech that makes me think "Platt".

  16. lane said,

    April 28, 2020 @ 5:23 am

    Most/all of the speakers in this video seem like they're not quite entirely at home in German – I could be wrong, but if I'm not, that's a bad sign – even its best elderly speakers sound like they have to work considerably harder to speak German than a true native. Which would mean it's in trouble.

  17. Ben Zimmer said,

    April 28, 2020 @ 12:07 pm

    It's a shame the Boases aren't related, even distantly. It could have been a follow-up to my 2008 post, "Linking the linguistic Lounsburys," in which I discovered that Yale anthropological linguist Floyd Lounsbury (1914-1998) was a third cousin thrice removed of Yale language and literature professor Thomas R. Lounsbury (1838-1915).

  18. Victor Mair said,

    April 28, 2020 @ 12:45 pm

    "third cousin thrice removed"

    I have a feeling that Hans is related to Franz without being aware of it.

    Incidentally, about seven years ago, I met an undergraduate linguist from Yale named Tommy Benfey and immediately thought that he must be related to Theodor Benfey (1809-1881), the German philologist and Sanskrit scholar. Indeed, he is, though I forget the exact relationship.

    Surnames like Boas and Benfey are not that common.

  19. Chris Button said,

    April 29, 2020 @ 7:05 am

    If I remember correctly, I think the linguist Douglas Pulleyblank at the University of British Columbia is Edwin Pulleyblank's (d. 2013) nephew.

  20. Lasius said,

    May 7, 2020 @ 5:39 am

    @ Michele Sharik Pituley

    "Is that like "Moin", which I was taught to say by my friends who live in Northern Germany?"

    Actually, no.

    The Berlin Dialect form for "morning" is something like "Morjn" or "Moajn".

    Low German "Moin" probably comes from "moien" (oblique masculine for "good", compare Dutch "mooi"), so it would be a shortening of "[have a] good [morning/day/evening]".

  21. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    May 7, 2020 @ 10:26 pm

    Lasius – thanks!

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