Max Kade Institute

for German-American Studies
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Language

German-speaking immigrants did not come from one “Germany,” rather they originated in linguistically and culturally distinct regions. A speaker of Low German from the flatlands of the north, such as Pomerania or Holstein, would have had a difficult time understanding the High German dialects spoken by people from the topographically “higher,” more mountainous regions, such as Bavaria. Once in America, especially in rural areas, German immigrant communities continued to speak their particular form of the language for one, two, or more generations. A few groups of (bilingual) German-heritage speakers can still be found in America today, such as Pomeranian Low German speakers in Marathon County, Wisconsin. Learn more about German-heritage speakers and listen to recordings on the Max Kade Institute's German Dialects of the United States Web site, and find out more about Older Immigrant Languages of Wisconsin on the Web site of the Wisconsin Englishes project.

Most immigrants were literate in standard German, and many of their descendants learned to read and write in American schools, where German was the language of instruction. Here, as in Europe, books were printed in Fraktur, while the handwriting was Kurrent, the old German script. German-language publications produced specifically for German Americans thrived in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. They included newspapers and magazines, advice books and novels, children’s books and sheet music, and much more, covering every aspect of life.