Professor Talks About Differing Dialects
Leiker, Joy. "Professor Talks About Differing Dialects." Hays Daily News, 16 February 2001.
Thursday morning was more than just another lecture about the
German language for William Keel.
He said his visit to northwest Kansas was like the prophet
coming back to the mainland and everybody is ready to throw
rocks at him.
Keel, professor of Germanic languages at the University of Kansas,
was the featured speaker during the week of festivities commemorating
the 125th anniversary of the arrival of the Volga Germans
ethnic Germans who had settled the Volga River region of Russia.
He has researched various German dialects in Kansas and continues
his studies each year with regular trips to Germany.
More than 60 people, including a large number who had grown up
in these Volga-German settlements, gathered on the Fort Hays State
University campus for Keel´s presentation.
At one point, a man in the front row cautioned the Lawrence professor
as he started to talk about some of the differences in the Victoria-area
Be careful, I´m from Victoria, he said with a
But Keel said his research, especially recordings of conversations
with area residents, are some of his best references.
And when the 1990 Census indicated that less than 40 percent of
Kansans claimed any German ancestry, Keel said that was disheartening
For me, that´s like the loss of a natural resource,
Specifically, he examined some of the differences and similarities
in the dialects of the area Volga-German settlements, including
Catherine, Victoria, Munjor, Schoenchen, Pfeifer and Liebenthal.
And while some would call the local dialects sloppy,
Keel said he has found tendencies in the language that reflect a
variety of social situations.
He noted that the area reflects a very complex mix
of people that moved from settlements along the Volga River to Kansas.
Some of the most simple phrases and words, such as I am
or soap have as many as 10 different noted translations
just from the communities in Ellis and Rush counties.
You have to start putting all the different pieces of the
puzzle together, Keel said. Each of these villages had
its own language, plus its own grammar.
Historically, the Victoria dialect has been noteworthy because
the past participles were dropped from the end of phrases. But Keel
said there were a number of settlements in Germany that reflected
the same tendency.
Keel said many of the discrepancies in the local dialects have
been traced to the original settlements in Germany.
For instance, Keel said he suspects that Volga Germans didn´t
have potatoes when they lived in Germany. But once they migrated
to Russia, they were probably introduced to spuds and ultimately
adapted the Russian word for potatoes.
Leona Pfeifer, a local language historian, said she had always
joked that her husband Ed was bilingual since he was
able to adapt his German to communicate with both his family and
Those mixed marriages, as Keel called them, of two
people from different German communities, created an even more unique
dialect in some areas.
And although he has concluded that all of the Ellis County dialects
are derived from middle Germany, he said it is natural to have several
differences in the local language.
A lot of these languages have undergone two transplants,
Reprinted with permission of The
Hays Daily News.