While dialects are often considered to be old-fashioned, probably because of their association with older people in rural areas, the German dialects that Dr. te Velde discussed in his lecture “Why We Need Dialects and Dialect Research” were actually quite innovative. Besides the references to Dutch, this was the aspect of the lecture that I found most fascinating.
For one thing, dialects are primarily oral; in fact, the German word for dialect is “mundart,” which means type of mouth. Oral languages usually change more quickly, instead of being relics of a past state of language that the written languages usually encapsulates. One of the dialects that Dr. te Velde researched, Kiezdeutsch, is spoken by the German children of immigrant parents. Despite their different linguistic backgrounds, these young people speak a relatively uniform dialect of German with its own innovations. This is perhaps the opposite of the standard view of rural, homogenous, elderly speakers of a dialect.
Dr. te Velde also studied Hessian and Swabian. These dialects display a number of phonological developments, such as the transformation of en to e and e to Ø at the end of words. These changes follow the natural progression of language to economize whenever possible. In fact, this particular development, though not reflected in the written language, has been standardized in Dutch. Hessian and Swabian have also experienced some syntactical developments. For example, the genitive is in the process of becoming obsolete, just as it has in Dutch. In these German dialects, however, it is being replaced by the dative case.
The idea that dialects can be repositories of linguistic development is not limited to German dialects. English adopts many words from non-standard dialects. Furthermore, the internet has produced its own variations with different syntactic structures than standard written English. A language’s dialects appear to be tied not only to its past but to its future as well.