Contesting the centre: Low German-speaking Mennonite identity, language, and literacy constructions
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We make sense of who we are by talking about ourselves with others, telling stories about ourselves, our experiences, and our feelings. When we do this, we construct sociolinguistic spaces in which we speak, live, work, read, and play. These spaces are connected to geographical realities, or places, but consist far more of the practices in which we engage that give them meaning. When migrants move from one place to another, they construct new migrant spaces that contain aspects of their former place of living as well as their new one. Language plays a crucial role, because it is through language that we speak about ourselves, through language we construct spaces, and through language we position ourselves within those spaces. This project examines how Low German-speaking Mennonite (LGM) migrants to Canada from Mexico construct a migrant space and position themselves and the languages they come into contact with, and how their constructions of identity and literacy are linked to their perceptions and use of language. LGMs are a marginalized minority population connected to the Old Colony Church, a religiously conservative Mennonite denomination who speak Low German (Dietsch) as a primary language. The data for this project consist of 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork, individual interviews and focus group discussions. Drawing on an interactional sociolinguistic framework, narratives and conversations about language experiences are examined to illustrate how LGMs construct a migrant (Dietsch) space in Canada. Specifically, conversations about language attitudes, language learning experiences, and literacy practices are analyzed to determine how individuals position themselves and others in relation to the languages they encounter and the role these play in the Dietsch space. The author finds that the LGM participants in the study demonstrate significant agentive capacity by actively constructing and producing a Dietsch space that allows them to contest not only what constitutes the centre of the broader Canadian space, but also contest what constitutes the centre within the LGM migrant group.
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Christine Julia Kampen Robinson (2017). Contesting the centre: Low German-speaking Mennonite identity, language, and literacy constructions. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/11834