German Immigrants and Language

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German Language

The German language can be divided into two dialects: Low German and High German. Within the Low German dialect, there is the Low Saxon and Low Franconian dialects that have not be very common since World War II. However, Middle Low German was the predominant language in Northern Germany before the 16th century. After that came the evolution of the Early New High German which was based mainly on Central and Upper German varieties and eventually became the language of science and literature. Because of the standardization and mass use of the Early New High German, the Low Saxon was soon forgotten and was only spoken by the uneducated. Within the High German dialect, there is the Central German and Upper German dialects. There are numerous dialects that fall under Central and Upper German, but modern Standard German is mostly based on Central German.

German in America

With the Germans' tight-knit community, the main goal was appreciate, understand and embrace the German culture and language - a belief termed Deutschtum. Deutschtum reminds Germans that they must remain Germans by retaining the language and customs. By adhering to this belief, the German community protected itself from nativist hostility and the difficulties of coping with a foreign language. This belief was held so strongly by the community and its people that German Catholic priests would teach and remind people of it by saying "Language is faith." [1]

However, the strength of the community's belief and faith was not strong enough to hold up against the pressure of American impressions on the German community during wartime. Because of the suspicions and threat that Americans felt, German-speaking churches had to switch to the English language or become bilingual; schools stopped teaching German, and the German language press experienced a sharp decline in readers. Such profiling created an enormous obstacle and challenge to the German-Americans as they tried to adhere to Deutschtum, but at the same time prove their nationalism in such times of turmoil.


  1. Binder, Fredrick M., and David M. Reimers. All Nations Under Heave. An Ethnic and Racial History of New York City. Columbia UP, 1995. (page 76.)