Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

J. Albert Bickford


This thesis presents a case study of a small-scale language documentation project carried out in Berne, Indiana. The goal of this project was to capture, through audio recording, samples of the Swiss German language that could be presented to the Berne community and preserved for future use. As much as possible, this project was carried out according to best practices for language documentation, so that the data will be accessible to the academic community for further research after there are no more living speakers of the Berne, Indiana Swiss dialect.

The history of the Swiss Mennonites who settled the Berne, Indiana, area is presented, situating the dialect geographically, historically, and linguistically. An assessment of past and present patterns of language use within the community suggests that the time for documentation is now, while there are still a few remaining speakers of the language. Project goals and design are presented, along with four models of linguistic field work, arguing that it is possible to work within several of these models simultaneously in order to conduct a project that focuses on community values, even under less than ideal circumstances. Methodology for collecting, organizing, and archiving the data is discussed, evaluating effectiveness and suggesting changes for future work. An assessment of the data collected, in light of sociolinguistic issues related to language shift, shows that through language documentation valuable insights into the culture of a community can be gained. Obstacles encountered during the documentation project are discussed so that researchers working on similar projects in the future can benefit from lessons learned in this project. Finally, this thesis concludes by discussing potential benefits of this project for both the Berne community and the academic community.

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