Vernacular Writing and Sociolinguistic Change in the Texas Czech Community

Article excerpt

Abstract. This study examines the issue of language variation as characterizing the usage of an immigrant community in diaspora, specifically the Texas Czech community. It is demonstrated that the immigrants' language usage was rich and multifaceted, and that their language played a defining role in the maintenance and redefinition of ethnic and national identity. Specific features of language planning and language ideology of the Czechs and Moravians living in Texas are identified and discussed, chiefly as formulated in their press.

1. Introduction

The goal of our article is to examine the language of the speaker living in a diaspora, address the interrelation of the standard and dialect, and map out sociolinguistic change in the Texas Czech community (TCC) through the spectrum of its written culture. We recognize two main variants viable in immigration, Texas Czech Vernacular (TCV) and Texas Czech Standard (TCS). (1) In analyzing the language of news and cultural events in the immigrant community, advertisements, obituaries and tombstone inscriptions, announcements issued in the community, and other writing produced by Czech immigrants in Texas, the article draws on primary sources not previously translated and published. This represents the first attempt at elucidating the acculturation of a Czech immigrant community in the U.S. through the prism of its writing. Although some aspects of language usage among Texas Czechs have already been analyzed (Dutkova 1998, 1999; Dutkova-Cope 2001, 2003; Eckert 1993b, 1999; Hannan 1992, 1996; Mendl 1978; Perkowski 1978), no previous study has laid out the chronology of sociolinguistic change and exemplified it with primary texts. The article also represents a gesture in the direction of linguistic research on Moravian dialects in Texas. That research has never been accomplished on a full scale and never will be because of the recent indications that TCV, a variety rooted in Moravian dialects, appears to be a dead language by now. (2) Finally, the article also contributes to the limited number of ethnic studies of communities in North America settled by immigrants from central and eastern Europe (Cesi v cizine 1992; Bicha 1980; Gilbert 1972; Jerabek 1970; Lavine 1995; Olesch 1970; Perkowski 1970; Rappaport 1990; Riecanska 1998; Rippley 1994; Sabec 1995; and Ward, Shashko, and Pienkos 1980, among others).

Established by immigrants mainly from Moravian Lachia and Wallachia and in existence for some one hundred years, from the 1850s through World War Two (WWII), TCC was, in several respects, an atypical farming community, for these reasons: (i) TCC originated and maintained itself as a homogeneous group along the lines of language, geography, occupation, and religion; (ii) ethnic identity was reinforced not only through language, traditions, and spatial boundaries, but also by the culture of language planning; (iii) the community established its own professional, social, and religious institutions and moved within networks that did not reach beyond the TCC boundaries; (3) (iv) it had sufficient inner resources--linguistic, cultural and economic--to survive for several generations; (4) (v) until about 1920 TCC maintained contacts with the homeland through a continual flow of immigrants, let ters exchanged with the homeland (some survived in private hands, many were printed in the ethnic press), and the arrival of Czech priests and pastors (as reported in the press and minutes of various ethnic organizations). (5)

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2. Ethnic and Linguistic Background

The great majority of the Czechs and Moravians who immigrated to Texas came from a compact territory of eastern Moravia: Wallachia (Valassko) and Lachia (Lassko), bordering, respectively, Hungarian-ruled Slovakia and Prussian Silesia. (6) According to the 10th Census, 2,700 "Bohemians" lived in Texas by 1880 and 23,000 by 1900 (with at least one parent born in Bohemia or Moravia). …