At one time, many Wisconsinites of German descent were trilingual, speaking a German dialect, High (standard) German, and English. German was for generations the most popular foreign language in schools, and was even used as the medium of instruction in both parochial and public elementary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions. In 1863, the German-medium Lutheran seminary referred to in this interview, Northwestern College, was founded in Watertown, WI. In the early twentieth century, partly due to nativist political pressures, but mainly because of language shift among German-Americans, English soon supplanted German in Wisconsin classrooms (including at Northwestern, which merged in 1993 with Dr. Martin Luther College in New Ulm, MN). However, German is still used occasionally as a language of worship, mainly in Lutheran congregations in rural Wisconsin.
Dialect: Wisconsin High German, Wisconsin German Dialects
Location: Ozaukee, Wisconsin
Tell us please what you remember of your grandfather and what he did in Germany.
Well, about Germany we know very, very little. And of his relations, I think he was the only son. And he was educated in Germany, at the university, and so on, and then as a missionary he was sent to Africa. Among the blacks and the everyday people he was busy at the mission. And my father was also born there in Africa. When he was seven years old they came back to America and my grandfather was a pastor in several congregations in Wisconsin and he had terrible asthma, such that he gave up every now and then and returned to Germany. He thought that perhaps the ocean voyage might have been good for him. Or that he might have just been able to rest a bit. That helped somewhat, but not much and he ended up dying of asthma later. And my father was educated at the college in Watertown, that’s in Wisconsin here, and then he was a teacher in several places, and then he came to Milwaukee, where he was at St. John’s for 42 years as a school teacher and principal.