Karen Matzke, Debby Tysdal and Susanna Von Essen, sisters and widow of Allen Spiker on recent visit to the Institute
A treasure of the audio history of North Dakota Germans from Russia is now available to researchers and the public. The NDSU Institute for Regional Studies and University Archives, in conjunction with the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, have placed portions of the "Allen Spiker German Russia Dialect Tapes" online.
The language of the German Russians of North Dakota is considered unique. The dialect first evolved in the foreign environment of the Russian colonies and, later, developed further in the United States.
Spiker, a descendant of German Russian immigrants, conducted dozens of interviews across North Dakota during the late 1970s and early 1980s as he researched materials for his master's degree thesis at the University of North Dakota. He typically asked questions of the oldest generation of German Russians who learned German as their first language and actively used the language in their communities and homes. His aim was to capture the rapidly disappearing dialect as part of his German linguist education.
The result was a collection of more than 80 reel-to-reel tapes, a portion of which have been digitized and made available at http://library.ndsu.edu/digital/spiker.
"He was fascinated by his own heritage and the heritage of North Dakota," said Susanna Von Essen, Spiker's widow. "This project was always something he talked about and, as far as his academic activity goes, it was truly his first love."
John Bye, NDSU archivist, said, "The collection documents a certain time period of German Russian immigrants. How did the German language get preserved from Germany to Russia and, then, to America? That's important from a linguistic standpoint, but the tapes also have people's stories, poems and music. It's a very good sense of history."
According to Bye, Spiker's work is an important contribution to documenting the culture and heritage of the largest ethnic group in North Dakota.
"The collection is available to linguists, people interested in Germany and those individuals wanting to discover family history," Bye said. "Descendants may want to listen to the voices of their parents or grandparents, which they may not have heard before. I think there are a lot of different uses here, and we realized we needed to make it available using online technology. Work will continue to add additional interviews. A link to the complete list of individuals interviewed is available online."