Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Sounds of Ethnicity: Listening to German North America, 1850-1914

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Sounds of Ethnicity: Listening to German North America, 1850-1914

Article excerpt

Barbara Lorenzkowski, Sounds of Ethnicity: Listening to German North America, 1850-1914 (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2010), 304 pp. Cased. $55. ISBN 978-0-88755- 188.8. Paper. £31. ISBN 978-0-88755-716-3.

A significant proportion of the immigrants who came to North America during the period 1850-1914 were from the German-speaking countries of Europe. In this book Lorenzkowski explores how the German communities of Waterloo County in Ontario and the city of Buffalo in upstate New York sought to preserve their culture and language.

Singing clubs were a distinctive feature of German North American culture during this period. They provided a focal point for local communities. Periodic regional and national singing festivals also allowed German communities to connect across both the Great Lakes region and the continent of North America. However, Lorenzkowski shows that by the 1890s the soundscape of German North America had begun to fracture along class lines. Some community leaders tried to suppress audience participation at the festivals and folk music in favour of classical music. However, the singers and festival attendees refused to conform. The festivals continued to be celebrations of German popular music and culture complemented by the consumption of large amounts of lager beer.

Lorenzkowski also explores how the leaders of the German communities of Waterloo County and Buffalo unsuccessfully sought to ensure the survival of their language. She shows that the German spoken by immigrants began to deviate from standard high and low German over time with the subconscious adoption of English sentence structures and loan words. This caused great angst on the part of community leaders who wished to preserve the German language as it was spoken in Germany. However, towards the end of the period, even when German North American community leaders were still able to persuade the local authorities to offer German language instruction in the schools, their children's language of choice was English. …

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