What is Texas German and what does it sound like?

What is Texas German and what does it sound like?

by Jakob Straub

Updated May 12, 2023

Texas German describes a range of German dialects spoken in the US state of Texas. Germans were the largest ethnic group of immigrants from Europe to arrive in Texas as early as the 1830s. Many Germans settled in the so-called “German Belt” across the south-central portion of the state, and the area sprouted a number of unique language dialects and examples of German heritage in Texas.

Full or partial German ancestry remains strong in Texas, and Germans form the third-largest national origin group in the state. Though speakers of Texas German once numbered in the hundreds of thousands, the Texas German dialect is expected to die out in about a decade, though local conservationists make efforts to preserve it.

Read on to find out more about the Texas German dialects and their historic origins!

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What are the roots of Texas German?

Texasdeutsch or Texas German is not one language or dialect, but rather a variety of dialects. The variants of Texas German descended from the immigrants and German-speaking settlers in Texas. Over time, these dialects evolved and incorporated English loan words along with other hyperlocal changes. For this reason, how Texas German sounds and how it is spoken may differ depending on the area of Texas you’re in.

The German influence in Texas dates back to 1831, when German settler Johann Friedrich Ernst received a land grant of thousands of acres in what is today Austin County. This was the beginning of the German Belt. Ernst wrote home to convince other settlers to come to the independent republic of Texas. Many German nobles heeded the call hoping to find wealth and prestige.

They formed a German emigration society called the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas (Verein zum Schutze Deutscher Einwanderer in Texas, or Adelsverein). In the 1840s, this society helped thousands of German immigrants move and established German towns across Texas. You can still find traces of these settlements in the Texas German towns of New Braunfels and Fredericksburg, for example.

Key facts about Texas German

The German immigrants formed ethnic enclaves and established communities in south-central Texas through chain migration. In 1850, they made up over 5% of the population in the newly annexed state. The relative isolation of German settlers preserved their culture as well as their language, and the German influence in Texas reached its peak in the 1890s.

Who speaks Texas German?

The ancestors of Texas Germans immigrated between 1830 and 1900. Most German settlers were middle-class peasants, farmers, land-owners and artisans and included some intellectuals with a university education. The migration for them was an investment, and they were motivated by ambition and the search for freedom rather than poverty. The German settlements in Texas reflected their diversity in background, customs and language.

Many Germans came to Texas from west-central Germany: Nassau, southern Hanover, Brunswick, Hesse or western Thuringia. The chain migration started by Friedrich Ernst drew settlers from Oldenburg, Holstein and Westphalia. Over two thousand German-speaking settlers also came from the Upper Rhine plain of Alsace to found an Alsatian colony in 1844.

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Where is Texas German spoken?

The so-called German Belt spans broadly across south-central Texas, from Galveston and Houston in the east to Kerrville, Mason and Hondo in the west, from the Coastal Plains to the Hill Country. 

Medina County also drew German-speaking settlers. The German Belt expanded to Lee County, and later settlers spread to north, north-central and western Texas. When German immigration subsided in the 1890s, new ethnic islands still sprang up until the 1920s when people moved away from the original German Belt.

How many people speak Texas German today?

Over 2.9 million Texans claimed full or partial German ancestry in the 1990 US census, but most of these people of German descent don’t consider themselves ethnic Germans and don’t speak Texas German. At the beginning of the 20th century, approximately 90,000 Texans spoke Texasdeutsch, and their number increased to 160,000 by 1940.

However, two world wars and an anti-German sentiment sharply curbed the use of German in Texas. Because of infrastructure improvements and increased mobility, the population mixed, and German enclaves became diluted or shrunk in size. Texas German speakers had reduced to around 70,000 by the 1960s. Today, only around 5,000 people still speak the Texas German language. Because they hardly pass it on, Texasdeutsch faces extinction within the next 10 to 15 years.

What does Texas German sound like?

Remnants of the German heritage in Texas are still visible today; for example, in the culture and German Texan architecture. Because most remaining speakers are in their 70s or older, you’ll likely only hear senior locals speak Texasdeutsch. The Texas German Dialect Project at the Department of Germanic Studies and the Linguistics Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin attempts to preserve the Texas German language.

Recordings, such as those done by the Texas Historical Commission or for Wikitongues by Vernell or Evelyn demonstrate what the dialects sound like. Listen closely, and you can hear the difference in pronunciation from standard German and the existence of loanwords from English. 

Is Texas German disappearing?

Texasdeutsch is a living testament to the German influence in Texas. Immigrants and settlers from Germany brought their language and culture with them as early as the 1830s. Their settlements formed the so-called German Belt. Because of their diverse backgrounds, Texas German is not one dialect, but has many local variations.

Though nearly three million Texans can trace their origins to German immigrants, the Texas German speakers were never that many and reached their largest number of around 160,000 before World War II. In the postwar era, the dialects faded and the mixing population in the state contributed to their decline. The Texas German Dialect Project, though dedicated to the preservation of Texas German, expects it to die out by 2035.

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Jakob Straub

Jakob is a freelance writer in Barcelona, Spain, and his favorite books have pages all empty. As an expert storyteller, he publishes creative fiction in English and German and helps other authors shape their manuscripts into compelling stories. Thanks to an expertise in a wide range of topics such as writing, literature and productivity to marketing, travel, and technology, he produces engaging content for his clients. Apart from the escape that books offer, Jakob enjoys traveling digital nomad style and stays active with climbing and hiking. Find out more about him on his websiteTwitter or on Goodreads.

Jakob Straub

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