Wednesday Seminar: "The Great Change" and the Shift from Norwegian to English in Ulen, Minnesota

David Albert Natvig (Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow, MultiLing) will give a talk on language shift and community structure in a Norwegian-American community in the United States.

Man, salt and pepper hair, beard, smiling


This talk considers this shift from Norwegian to English in Ulen, MN from the perspective of changes in the local community structure. It  follows previous work on language shift in bilingual communities (Lucht 2007; Salmons 2005a, 2005b; Wilkerson and Salmons 2008, 2012; Frey 2013; Brown 2018, in press), all of which draw on Warren’s (1972) analysis of community structures based on “horizontal” and “vertical” patterns. That is, institutions that tend to be internally or externally oriented, respectively. Accordingly, we argue, community-wide language shift to a (national) majority language occurs as a result of horizontally organized structures changing to more vertical ones. Here, I outline the verticalization theory of language shift in more detail and as an example show how vertical changes in community patterns drove the loss of Norwegian in Ulen. I draw on interviews with present-day community members and Norwegian speakers and United States Federal Census materials from 1910 to 1950. By all accounts, Ulen maintained Norwegian-English bilingualism from its incorporation in 1886 until the mid 20th century. However, with new jobs and infrastructure from New Deal programs following the Great Depression and more specialized and industrial agricultural practices, the community came to rely on extra-community systems, e.g., the Federal Government and state/national farming economies, for previously local functions. These outward-orienting processes rapidly impacted local social patterns that previously supported the use and transmission of Norwegian as these gave way to national structures, where English was and is the default mode of communication.    


David Natvig is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at the University of Oslo’s Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan and holds a PhD in Scandinavian Linguistics from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His research focuses on phonological theory, language contact – including language shift and maintenance – and language change, particularly in connection to variation in English, Norwegian, and Heritage Norwegian sound systems.

Published Feb. 6, 2020 4:06 PM - Last modified Feb. 18, 2020 1:11 PM