Tracing Swiss Heritage Speakers' Identities in North America

The impact that migration has on individuals, notably with regard to maintaining their language, and with that the intrinsically linked issue of identity preservation is currently highly topical. While we are nowadays mainly concerned with migrants from different language backgrounds who come to Switzerland (and other countries), in the course of history, Swiss nationals have also left their home country and home cantons for various reasons (mostly political, economic and religious) and settled elsewhere. It is thus possible to locate islands of so-called heritage speakers of Swiss French, Francoprovencal, Swiss German, and Swiss Italian all over the world. This project will focus on Swiss German emigrants in Wisconsin (US), the earliest of whom arrived in the nineteenth century (cf. Liiond & Liiond-Kellenberg 1979). Since the earliest

settlements, many generations of Swiss heritage speakers can be traced, notably up to the present day. Even though the latter were born in the US, they fully embrace their Swiss heritage, which is reflected in their language use and their cultural practices (see for instance the website of the Swiss Center of North

America). The reflections of Swiss identities (from the nineteenth century to the present) can be found in different modes: emigrant letters, early printed newspapers, diaries, recordings of mid-20th-century interviews as well as interviews carried out today, and the surroundings/landscape, e.g. Swiss German signs,

Swiss architecture * Traditionally, linguists (synchronic and diachronic) have used methods such as sociolinguistic questionnaires, interviews and participant observation OR analyses of old manuscript letters ( cf. Auer et al. ( eds.) 20 15) to collect language data, but this only captures a cross-section of the heritage

speakers' Swiss identities. In addition, the curation process, i.e. the selection and interpretation, of the collected data has hitherto only been carried out by the researchers (and may therefore be somewhat biased). The suggested project wants to complement the researchers' perspective of heritage speakers' identities by

putting the data collection, curation and labeling processes into the hands of the Swiss heritage speakers. In order to do so, this pilot study aims (1) to create a multimodal crowdsourcing app that allows the Swiss heritage speakers to collect different modes of data by way of taking pictures (manuscript, printed material, people and landscapes), recording speech, and making brief videos during a limited period of time. (2) Quality guidelines for the different (consecutive) processes will be determined with the help of the crowdsourcers.

Idiap Research Institute
University of Lausanne
Feb 01, 2017
Dec 31, 2017