Lester Seifert’s Survey of German in Wisconsin

The Interview Project

The Sheboygan Press, February 2, 1949. Click to enlarge.

Lester Wilhelm Julius “Smoky” Seifert is regarded as one of the most significant figures in the study of the German language in North America. His research on German heritage languages was groundbreaking, starting with a survey of German speakers in Wisconsin in 1946. Over several years, he recorded heritage speakers of German, including his mother Anna, his siblings, and other family members. Consultants answered a “Wisconsin German Questionnaire” specifically compiled for this project and some (like Anna Seifert) were recorded during free conversation. The recordings were made on soft vinyl disks using a SoundScriber machine. The original recordings are housed in the Max Kade Institute Sound Archive and have been fully digitized.

Click here for more information on Lester W. J. “Smoky” Seifert’s work.



Audio Samples

Anna Seifert Reciting a Children’s Tale in the Oderbrüchisch Low German Dialect, late 1940s

Click and the above link and listen to an excerpt from an interview that Lester Seifert made in the late 1940s with his mother, Anna (Jagow) Seifert (1876–1958). Anna recites a version of the German children’s story “Widewidewenne,” which is an example of a cumulative tale, similar to “The House That Jack Built” or Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham.” “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” is a cumulative song.

Lester Seifert Talking About His Family Background, late 1940s

Click on the above link and listen to Lester Seifert providing some information about himself and his ancestors.


In the Press

The Capital Times, February 1, 1949.

In February 1949, Lester Seifert initiated a media campaign across the state, with several local newspapers profiling his German in Wisconsin Interview project. Here are a few examples:

Marshfield News Herald, February 8, 1949

The Capital Times, February 1, 1949

The LaCrosse Tribune, February 1, 1949

The Rhinelander Daily News, February 1, 1949

The Sheboygan Press, February 2, 1949