Narratives at the Crossroads of Languages and Generations in Swedish-American Communities

Between the decades of 1850 and 1930, Swedish migration to North America occurred in many stages. Approximately 1.2 million Swedes settled in North America, amounting to a population ‘exodus’ roughly equivalent to one-fourth of all Swedes who lived during that time period (Runblom and Norman 1976; Ljungmark 1979; Barton 1994; Blanck 1997). The linguistic project Narratives at the Crossroads of Languages and Generations in Swedish-American Communities examines the patterning of stories that have been recorded in areas where Swedish and English have been spoken in varying proportions since the mid-nineteenth century. Two geographical areas of special interest in this project are the states of Minnesota and Kansas. Minnesota is readily acknowledged as one of the states in the Upper Midwest clearly characterized by a strong Swedish and Swedish-American presence. The state of Kansas, by contrast, attracted far fewer Swedish immigrants (Nelson 1943). Despite obvious numerical differences in the Swedish settlements in these two states, there are convincing reasons—relating to abiding social networks—for investigating and comparing linguistic data from two markedly different regions. The Swedes who settled on the central prairie established a small but pervasive network in and around Lindsborg, Kansas, that has persisted for more than 140 years.

Sound recordings and their transcriptions comprise the central empirical data portion of the project. Most of the spoken data have been recorded between the years 1962 and 1999. Additional recordings have been made over the last decade, and plans are underway to record more speakers. Some of the persons recorded for this study spoke Swedish natively and learned English after they moved to the United States. Other respondents are American-born persons of Swedish descent, and they learned Swedish as they were the children or, in some cases, grandchildren of Swedish immigrants. While some of the Swedish-Americans represented in the more recent portions of the data collection speak relatively little Swedish, their receptive bilingualism sometimes enables them to understand conversations in Swedish. For these reasons, therefore, the language background and the bilingual proficiency of a resident of one of the Swedish-American communities mentioned above will naturally vary. The bilingualism of a community can indeed be modelled along a continuum and in turn be illuminated by the powerful concept ‘heritage language’ (Valdés 2001). For example, the concept heritage language may be applied in order to highlight and in some cases amplify the connection individuals make between a given language and their family ancestry (Falk forthcoming 2011).

One of the central premises of this linguistic study is that storytelling is a chief means by which persons identify themselves as belonging to a community. Some of the central research questions to be investigated include the following: How do speakers shape their stories in these bilingual settings? How do speakers tell stories to persons who have different generational and/or linguistic backgrounds? For example, do story-telling patterns used by younger adults diverge from the ones told by older adults in the same communities? As implied above with the notion of a heritage language, the numbers of persons who speak Swedish natively in these communities is now relatively few (Hasselmo 1974; Karstadt 2003; Falk forthcoming 2011); nonetheless, Swedish-language elements continue to emerge in story-telling, so it is of chief importance to track the use of code-switched and code-mixed linguistic elements.

Angela Falk is the principal researcher in this project. Her dissertation study (see Karstadt 2003, below, published under her previous name) focused on language-contact phenomena relating to relative clauses and to pragmatic particles. Her most recent investigations focus on discourse patterning and on sociolinguistic dimensions of heritage languages.

The ‘narrative’ portion of this project was recently supported by the Faculty of Languages, Uppsala University, in the form of a strategic research grant in Fall 2009. The ‘language-contact’ portion of the prior investigations, which were part of Falk’s doctoral research and degree, was funded by the Fulbright Commission, Stockholm (The Fulbright/Roth-Thomson Award), by The University of Minnesota Graduate School (Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship), and The Swedish Emigrant Institute, Växjö (Research Grant). The Royal Gustavus Adolphus Academy for Swedish Folk Culture supported the publication of Tracking Swedish-American English (Karstadt 2003).

References cited:

Barton, H. Arnold. 1994. A Folk Divided: Homeland Swedes and Swedish Americans, 1840-1940. (Studia multiethnica Upsaliensia 10). Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis.

Blanck, Dag. 1997. Becoming Swedish-American. The Construction of an Ethnic Identity in the Augustana Synod, 1860-1917. (Studia historica Upsaliensia 182). Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis.

Hasselmo, Nils. 1974. Amerikasvenska. En bok om språkutvecklingen i Svensk-Amerika. (Skrifter utgivna av Svenska språknämnden 51). Stockholm: Esselte Studium.

Ljungmark, Lars. 1979. Swedish Exodus. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press.

Nelson, Helge. 1943. The Swedes and the Swedish Settlements in North America. Volume II. Atlas. Lund: C. W. K. Gleerup.

Runblom, Harald and Hans Norman, eds. 1976. From Sweden to America: A History of the Migration. (Studia historica Upsaliensia 74). Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis.

Valdés, Guadalupe. 2001. Heritage Language Students: Profiles and Possibilities. In Joy Kreeft Peyton, Donald A. Ranard and Scott McGinnis, eds. Heritage Languages in America: Preserving a National Resource. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics and Delta Systems, 37-77.

Selected publications by Angela Falk relating to this project:

Falk, Angela. forthcoming 2011. Long after the language shift: Swedish and Norwegian in heritage communities. In Dag Blanck and Philip J. Anderson, eds. Swedes and Norwegians in the United States. St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society Press.

Falk, Angela. 2009. Narratives at the crossroads of generations and languages. Studia Neophilologica 81 (2): 145-160.

Falk, Angela. 2009. Narrative patterns in monolingual and bilingual life-history conversations. In Anju Saxena and Åke Viberg, eds. Multilingualism: Proceedings of the 23rd Scandinavian Conference of Linguistics, Uppsala University, 1-3 October 2008. (Studia linguistica Upsaliensia 8). Uppsala: Department of Linguistics and Philology, 159-169.

Falk, Angela. 2008. Relatives in contact: On relativization strategies in Swedish-English language contact. SoLiD (Sociolingvistiska dokument nr 12). FUMS Rapport nr 198. Uppsala: Enheten för sociolingvistik (The Unit for Advanced Studies in Modern Swedish), Department of Scandinavian Languages.

Karstadt (now Falk), Angela. 2003. Tracking Swedish-American English. A Longitudinal Study of Linguistic Variation and Identity. (Studia multiethnica Upsaliensia 16). Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis.

Karstadt (now Falk), Angela. 2002. Talk over time. Longitudinal analysis of life-history recordings. In Ulla Melander Marttala, Carin Östman and Merja Kytö, eds. Samtal i livet och i litteraturen. Rapport från ASLA:s höstsymposium, Uppsala, 8-9 november 2001 (ASLA 15). Uppsala: Svenska föreningen förtillämpad språkvetenskap, 125-134.