Eikel (1949: 279), a pioneer in the study of Texas German, is the firstto provide a linguistic description of case syncretism in the German dialect ofNew Braunfels.
He notices that “the uses of the nominative and the accusativeof Standard German are in general practice in New Braunfels” and that “thedative … has been lost and replaced by the accusative”. Eikel (1954: 48-50)later on analyzes his findings with regard to a generational aspect,demonstrating that case syncretism is a progressive phenomenon among speakersof Texas German. The use of the genitive, for instance, is substantiallydecreased in the speech of his 24 informants and continually substituted byperiphrastic constructions including the dative. Subsequently, Eikel (1954: 53)discusses the usage of the dative among the speakers of the different agegroups and infers that “the accusative is used in many instances for thedative” and that “the use of the dative decreases from generation to generation.Eikel’s (1954: 56) findings suggest that the growing loss of the dative andgenitive has resulted in a two-case system with the accusative assuming theirroles. Eikel’s data as well as his analysis, however, need to be treated withsome reservation as the author does not cite concrete situations in which theaccusative has taken over the function of the dative. As he combines variouscontexts and roles of the dative into one general category, it becomesdifficult to determine the actual extent of case syncretism throughoutdifferent categories. Another issue that arises is the low statisticalsignificance of Eikel’s results due to a small sample size, thus impeding thedrawing of a conclusion about case syncretism.
As the linguist only surveyedsix speakers each of the youngest and oldest generation as well as twelveinformants of the middle age group, morphosyntactic variation is likely to haveoccurred. Eikel (1954: 48, 53, 55) himself cites several examples in whichinformants of the same age group exhibit a variable usage of cases. Due to aninsufficient and unrepresentative sample size as well as to a lack ofinformation about the use of cases in specific contexts, Eikel’s report ongenerational case syncretism needs to be treated with caution. BesidesEikel, other linguists have investigated case syncretism in various Germanlanguage islands in Texas, too. Pulte (1970), for instance, studied the casesystems of Texas German dialects spoken in four small towns near the border ofOklahoma.
By claiming that the discrepancies between generations as detected byEikel probably stem from the prevalence of two-case systems found in several ofthe Low German donor dialects of Texas German, Pulte refutes Eikel’s argumentthat English was the key factor in case loss. Comparable with Eikel’s (1949;1954) results, Gilbert (1965: 288-89) arrives at a similar conclusion based onhis investigation of the use of cases in the counties of Gillespie and Kendall.According to Gilbert, the omission of the dative eventually leads to a “twocase system: nominative and non-nominative” and thus to syntactic changes. Gilbert(1980) later explains case syncretism in Texas German by referring to a declinein literacy in German after the First World War which was brought about byanti-German sentiments and laws restricting German as a language ofinstruction. In his opinion, case syncretism thus occurred between 1875 and1925 and influenced different areas of the Texas German dialect to variousextents. In light of age, Gilbert hence concludes that the dative case isprimarily used by the older generation, in contrast to Texas Germans born after1940 who prefer the accusative over the dative. Thefindings of Salmon’s (1994: 61) study of the Texas German dialect spoken inGillespie county align with Eikel’s and Gilbert’s results in that only everyfourth of the youngest age group, born after 1912, uses the dative case, whiletwo thirds of the oldest generation and 55% of the middle age group, bornbetween 1900 and 1911, make use of the dative.
In contrast to Eikel, however,Salmon (1994: 65) maintains that it was not English that contributedsignificantly to case syncretism, but rather the prohibition of standard Germanas a medium of instruction in Texas schools. He furthermore states that theproceeding loss of the dative case can be traced to laws passed in 1884, 1909and 1918, which is why children born around 1878 were the first to beinfluenced by the act from 1884 fostering English as a language of education.As a consequence, Texas Germans born around 1878 and later vary their use ofcases, while the older generation exhibits a stable distinction between dativeand accusative. Texas Germans born around the beginning of the 20thcentury therefore belong to a transitory generation shifting “away from dativevs. accusative distinction, as they started school between the passage of thetwo laws essentially eradicating German instruction” (Salmon 1994: 62).Similarly, the following generation born during the second and third decade ofthe 20th century shows a rather infrequent differentiation betweenthe two cases, while speakers born around the Second World War demonstrate “completeloss of dative/accusative distinction and of all use of Standard German dativemarkers” (Salmon 1994: 62). Despitean in-depth and persuasive description of the way educational politicspromoting the English language in schools accelerated case syncretism in TexasGerman, the German linguist Boas (2009: 193) maintains that Salmon’spropositions need to be questioned and challenged for two reasons.
Firstly, itis uncertain whether standard German was the sole influence for the stabledistinction between accusative and dative found among Texas Germans born at theend of the 19th century as the donor dialects of the Texas Germandialect might serve as an alternative explanation. Boas furthermore supportsthis claim by illustrating that the impact of standard German in educationalinstitutions at the end of the 19th century was quite low as theexposure to it was rather limited. Secondly, he argues that most dialectsbrought along to Texas by immigrants from the Province of Hesse-Nassau in the1840s were considered to be among the more preservative ones retaining threecases (Boas 2009: 194).
Boas (2009: 195) furthermoretries to refute Salmon’s arguments by putting forward a different explanationfor the steady loss of the dative and genitive case. In contrast to Salmons,who maintains that educational policies promoting the English language haveaccelerated case syncretism in Texas German, Boas illustrates that thisphenomenon is due to various processes of new-dialect formation. Hedemonstrates that first-generation speakers born before 1880 use case systempatterns quite similar to those found in donor dialects brought to Texas byGerman immigrants. These speakers would therefore belong to the first groupTrudgill’s (2004) model of new-dialect formation.
The second generation wouldthen be composed of Texas Germans born after 1880 until the beginning of the 20thcentury. This group of speakers would thus be part of the second stage ofTrudgill’s model, marked by variation and intensified leveling, both featuresthat Salmons discovered in his studies on the use of cases among Texas Germans.Lastly, the generation of speakers born in the second decade of the 20thcentury and later would belong to Trudgill’s third phase, during which aleveling of most residual dative distinctions occurs (Boas 2009: 195). Byciting Trudgill’s model of new-dialect formation, Boas provides a more suitableand relevant explanation for case syncretism among Texas Germans in contrast toSalmons (1994), who attaches too much importance to the influence of the ban onthe use of standard German as a language of education on the loss of dativemorphology.