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Quantitative perspectives on variation in Mennonite Plautdietsch Open Access


Other title
Mennonite Low German
Language documentation
Russian Mennonites
Saskatchewan Valley
Linguistic variation
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Cox, Christopher D.
Supervisor and department
Newman, John (Linguistics)
Examining committee member and department
Baayen, R. Harald (Linguistics, University of Alberta / Eberhart-Karls Universität Tübingen)
Rice, Sally A. (Linguistics)
Priestly, Tom (Modern Languages and Cultural Studies)
Keel, William D. (Germanic Languages & Literatures, University of Kansas)
Department of Linguistics

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
In many endangered language communities, aspects of synchronic linguistic variation (e.g., the extent and formal characteristics of variation, the relationship of identified variables to one another, and the geographical and social distribution of such differences among and across local speaker groups) represent significant gaps in the documentation of local linguistic practices. While such information critically informs current typologies of sociolinguistic variation, its development presents methodological challenges for linguistic research, as limited prior documentation often renders empirically adequate profiles of variation difficult to establish. This is the case in the Saskatchewan Valley, an area in western Canada that served as an important crossroads in the migration of diasporic Russian Mennonite groups throughout the twentieth century. Despite the historical significance and almost unparalleled internal diversity of these communities in Russian Mennonite history, no prior linguistic research has been conducted in this region. This leaves the linguistic consequences of the complex patterns of inter-group contact and separation evinced in these communities poorly understood—a situation with consequences as much for linguistic and historical-cultural research as for community-based language initiatives, where such differences between groups of speakers often also call for attention. This study addresses the challenges that synchronic variation poses in such contexts through the documentation and analysis of the forms of Plautdietsch (ISO 639-3: pdt) spoken in the Saskatchewan Valley and surrounding areas. Given the absence of previous documentation in this area and the need for such resources in both academic research and community-based language initiatives, this study begins with the development of a Plautdietsch-language primer (Fibel) in partnership with Mennonite and non-Mennonite communities in the region. Through the contributions of several dozen first-language speakers of Plautdietsch, the resulting Fibel Corpus serves both as a resource for community language programs and as a standardized survey instrument for assessing the extent and distribution of local linguistic variation in this area. Quantitative, multivariate methods from dialectometry are subsequently applied to these records, identifying and systematically profiling recurrent patterns of variant selection that emerge among groups of speakers. These patterns are then related to the sociodemographic characteristics of the individuals and communities represented, providing a clearer sense of the social and historical embedding of observed variation. The results of this analysis provide not only insights into patterns of linguistic variation of relevance to Mennonite historiography and current sociolinguistic theory, but further suggest the general viability of such community-partnered, documentary, and quantitative approaches to linguistic analysis in contexts of language endangerment and underdocumentation.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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