Studying Kansas German Dialects

The basis for German dialect identification is found in maps that are derived from the results of a century or more of dialect interviews using the Wenker sentences (see the link to your left) or other questionnaires that usually have some basis in the Wenker sentences. Since the 1940s, the use of recording technology has allowed speakers to not only have their dialects transcribed in print, but also recorded. In the internet era, digital technology allows these recordings to be widely available as well.

Many German dialects in Kansas have been studied and classified according to their similarity to dialects that have been identified and described in the European German homeland since the late 19th century. The Deutscher Sprachatlas (DSA) is a series of large folio books that contain detailed maps of key words found in the Wenker sentences. These maps are available online at the Digitaler Wenker-Atlas (DiWA) website. The DSA is a major tool for all German dialect identification. The widely-available German-language handbook dtv-Atlas Deutsche Sprache by Werner König also contains many maps based on Wenker data along with other useful information. The Deutscher Wortatlas is another important resource that maps the German dialect realizations of over 200 words.

Map of Kansas with major German dialect regions identified
Color Key:  Low German Dialects   Middle German Dialects    Upper German Dialects

The dialect groups highlighted by solid lines on this map correspond to those settlement concentrations identified on the Carman Map as being of major importance in the first half of the 20th century. The red, green and blue colors correspond to the major dialect regions found on the German Homeland Dialects map. The dashed lines are groups of more recent origin who were not evaluated by Carman. There are many other smaller, more isolated German-language settlements all over the state which represent all three major German homeland dialect regions. Many of these settlements still have living speakers.

It is important to remember that dialectology is an inexact science. Many German immigrant dialects in Kansas have been separated from the German homeland for over 200 years. Some speakers came directly to Kansas, but others first spent time in the U.S. in other eastern states or on the Russian steppes or in Bukovina or in the Ukraine or in other places. Over the long years and distances, much dialect mixing has happened. Also, adults will often give up speech habits learned as a child for many reasons and pass along the new speech habits to their children. Some speakers in Kansas use words that cannot be found on the German homeland dialect maps. These words came into the dialects after speakers had left the German homeland. So, it should not be a surprise when inconsistencies are found in the described dialect features of a particular village or dialect region in the German homeland with those pronunciations and words used by a person who claims to be a speaker of that particular dialect. In the end, a speaker belongs to a particular dialect group if s/he believes it and others do not disagree.

Last Updated March 6, 2010