Reviving German language in the Barossa Valley

Friday, 21 February 2014

Linguistics researchers from the University of Adelaide have embarked on a unique project to help revive the almost-forgotten German language in the South Australian wine regions of the Barossa Valley and the Adelaide Hills.

Led by Linguistics Senior Lecturer Dr Peter Mickan and PhD student Kateryna Katsman, the project aims to bring German speakers together to share their stories, songs and experiences, and to help foster new generations of German speakers and readers wherever the interest may be strong.

The first such meeting will be held in Tanunda on Monday 24 February, involving some of the dozens of elderly German speakers who are descended from the early migrants to South Australia.

German-speaking migrants began arriving in the mid 1800s and for more than 100 years were a major influence on the Barossa and Adelaide Hills, including those regions' strong winemaking and food cultures.

But during and immediately after the First and Second World Wars, many families and schools discouraged children from speaking German, resulting in the language being lost to many.

"This was my own experience of growing up in the Barossa, and unfortunately many of my generation no longer speak or read German today because they were put off it, either by family or by educational institutions of the time," says Dr Mickan. "Luckily for me, I was able to study German at Immanuel College and at the University of Adelaide, and today we're helping to revive the language with the help of local community members."

Speaking on International Mother Language Day (Friday 21 February), Dr Mickan says it's important for people from non-English speaking cultures to maintain that link with their language.

"The same is true for all communities, whether they are Indigenous, Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian or German in heritage. Language is an important part of people's history, their personal identity and in many cases their cultural and religious practices.

"From a tourism and historical point of view, people often ask if German is still spoken in the Barossa Valley. The answer is yes, but these days the voices are not often heard and the German speakers have done so separately, without a community behind them. We're hoping to change that, and we've begun recording their voices, songs and stories so that future generations might benefit," Dr Mickan says.

The first meeting of German speakers as part of this project will be held at the Langmeil Centre, Langmeil Luthern Church, 7 Maria Street, Tanunda, from 1.30-3.30pm on Monday 24 February.


Contact Details

Dr Peter Mickan
Senior Lecturer, Discipline of Linguistics
School of Humanities
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 3405

Kateryna Katsman
PhD student, Discipline of Linguistics
School of Humanities
The University of Adelaide
Mobile: +61 (0)416 361 246

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762