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A Quantitative Approach to Swiss German Dialect Syntax

Publication date2017

In the last decades, dialectometry has emerged as a new field of dialectology. As this kind of research requires large amounts of data, many dialectometric studies used data from “traditional” dialect atlases (e. g. ALF, AIS, RND) which were collected by investigating representatives of the oldest dialects available in the survey locations (i.e. the so-called NORMs, cf. Chambers & Trudgill 2004: 29). Moreover, these data contained mostly lexical and phonological (and sometimes morphological) variables, while syntactic phenomena are largely absent in traditional atlases. In this paper we would like to present results of a dialectometric study that focuses on three aspects which have not been given much attention in previous research. The first aspect concerns the research area, German-speaking Switzerland. Although it is one of the liveliest and at the same time best researched dialect areas in Central Europe, until recently (cf. Goebl et al. 2013, Scherrer & Stoeckle accepted) there have been very few dialectometric studies in this area (cf. Kelle 2001). The second aspect regards the investigated linguistic level: our analyses are based on syntax data from the Syntactic Atlas of German-speaking Switzerland (‘Syntaktischer Atlas der deutschen Schweiz', SADS; cf. Glaser & Bart 2015) which were collected between 2000 and 2002 in 383 locations German-speaking Switzerland. A special characteristic of this atlas – which leads to the third aspect we will focus on – lies in the large number of informants and their varying socio-demographic backgrounds. Whereas in traditional atlas projects, generally one or two representatives were interviewed at each survey location, in the SADS a total of almost 3200 informants participated in the survey (i. e. on average about 8 speakers per location). This gives us not only the possibility to work with frequency instead of binary data for each location, but more importantly, this setting allows us to include socio-demographic variables into our analyses. In other geographic and sociolinguistic contexts, extralinguistic variables other than geography turned out to be important explanatory factors for dialect variation (cf. Hansen-Morath 2016, Hansen-Morath & Stoeckle 2014). As for German-speaking Switzerland, various studies focusing on single phenomena from the SADS revealed high correlations between syntactic and socio-demographic variation (cf. Stoeckle accepted, Friedli 2012, Richner-Steiner 2011). However, it is still unclear whether this correlation can be observed for aggregated data and what role socio-demographic variables play in explaining syntactic variation. In order to answer these questions, we will pursue a twofold approach. On the one hand, we will create different subsets with respect to socio-demographic variables and perform dialectometric analyses for each of these subsets. A comparison of the results will help to answer the question whether a change in the geographic dialect structuring can be observed. On the other hand, we will perform regression analyses in order to determine the importance of different extralinguistic factors in explaining linguistic variation. Finally, the results will have to be interpreted in the light of the specific Swiss-German diaglossic situation, where (contrary to many other contexts) change toward both dialectal and standard structures can be observed.

Citation (ISO format)
SCHERRER, Yves, STOECKLE, Philipp. A Quantitative Approach to Swiss German Dialect Syntax. In: International Conference on Language Variation in Europe (ICLAVE 9). Malaga (Spain). 2017.
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