The Role OF Low German Essays Example

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Germany, Language, Linguistics, Dialect, Education, Culture, Standard, Sociology

Pages: 9

Words: 2475

Published: 2020/09/19

__ January 2015 (date)

Most of the world languages do not exist only in their ideal condition. Usually there are one or more dialects spoken in the certain parts of the country or by the certain communities. Often dialects do not have an official status. However, the researches provide many reasons why it is strongly recommended not to lose these dialects. First of all, such language varieties carry the large volume of cultural heritage of people who spoke it in the past. And, as known, cultural identity plays a significant role in the development of the society.
Low German belongs to the Germanic group of languages and is still spoken by relatively small quantity of people in Germany. The question of its role, its status and its future is very important for the German culture.
Low German is used in everyday life in several northern German regions (e.g. East Frisia). There are also two categories of territories where it is also spoken, but in the lesser volume, they are Northern Germany (where it can be considered as a regional language) and some linguistic communities in Kazakhstan, Russia, the United States, Canada and South America. Also there are some varieties of it spoken in the Netherlands.
Low German dialect has a large number of differences compared to Standard German and other German dialects. There are some examples:
Third form masculine pronoun is hae, that is similar to English he. In the high German it is er.
In comparison with Upper German dialects, where there are words ich, machen, Dorf, das, Apfel and Pfund, the same words in Low German sound like ik, maken, Dorp, dat, Appel, amd Pund.

Low German’s characteristic feature is that the effect of High German Consonant Shift is absent there.

In Low German the initial [s] before the consonants is substituted by [ʃ] in Upper and Central German dialects, i.e. [s]ten (Stein) ‘stone’, [s]nīden (schneiden) ‘to cut’.

In the East Low German dialects all the nouns have single ending for plural form -(e)n.

All Low German dialects have a single non-nominative case for the personal pronouns (Fagan).
In general, there are more differences in pronunciation and vocabulary than in grammar, which is almost the same for Standard and Low German.
Low German was the main language in the Northern part of Germany and an important language for commerce and trade in the Middle Ages. However, later in the XVI century, High German started to take on more significance as routes of trade changed, shifting power to the Southern German regions. As in the XVIII and XIX centuries mass education that used High German as the principle language began popular, Low German had become a language that was spoken mainly at home and was even sometimes associated with poor education.
There were around 700,000 Low Geman speakers in the Northern part of Germany in 2010, two times less than 20 years before. Some experts have forecasted that Low German will totally disappear in around 20 years and a large volume of regional history and identity would disappear together with it. Thus, we can clearly see the trend to lesser use of Low German dialect and its substitution by Standard German.

The Changing of Low German’s Role and Importance during the Last Two Centuries

In one of the researches conducted by Langer and Langhanke we can read about the Low German’s perception in the XIX century, mainly concerning its status in elementary schools.
The German speakers in Schleswig-Holstein were mostly bilingual, with Low German as the small variety and mother tongue of most people and High German of the high variety and the official discourse language, including church services, schooling and administration, the same as it was in previous centuries. Low German was considered to be a language of peasants, unsuitable for formal and literary use, and therefore an obstacle to achieving high social level amongst the inhabitants.
The researchers successfully named Low German as a country’s treasure that is worth protection. A consequence of this re-evaluation was including of poetry in Low German language, for instance, by Groth, and short passages for reading into school program during the XIX century. It must be admitted that this tradition continues until today. As literary examples of Low German were considered worthy studying in school, the scientists’ goal was to afford Low German to take much greater space in the lessons at school, for example, also as a language for speaking, but it was not supported by school teachers. It was told by teachers that technical and abstract concepts could just not be described in Low German language. The most significant argument, however, was that only High German should be the German national unity language and no challenging should be made by any other language. Popularization of Low German was thus considered to be not only as a drive towards cultivating Northern culture, but also as a separatist idea against unity of all Germans, and for this reason Low German was not an option for a united Germany. After a long struggle for German nationhood and nationality, the Schleswig-Holstein citizens now required from their schools the exclusive use of the national language of Germany, namely High German:
The citizens of Schleswig-Holstein have struggled to the death for nationality of Germany, have kept their nationality for fifteen years under unbelievable pressure; and now politically belong to Germany. Therefore they rather reasonably require the exclusive High German’s use in their schools.
Groth's writings most probably have had a direct influence on the disappearance of arguments for the Low German’s extermination. His poetry in Low German had great respect amongst teachers, and they have happily agreed that these works should form part of the lessons at school, so that the school textbooks created after 1850 often include literary passages and works in Low German language, the majority of them taken from Groth's works. Arguments for using of Low German as a language of teaching during the lessons with the goal to facilitate the learning by children are rarely suggested and never have real approval or support. We can see how successful the literary works creation in Low German has been in raising sociolinguistic profile of the language sufficiently to accept it as an example of high North German culture. However, its stigma as a lower-class or rural language, and the availability of a nationally accepted High German language, restricted it from really regaining its status as a language for non-cultural writing or a spoken language, i. e. school lesson or administration. This situation between the Low German’s status as acceptable in literary culture of Northern Germany, and as completely virtually unacceptable in any other linguistic sphere of usage continues till now.
The Schleswig-Holstein’s sociolinguistic situation presents a special case. Rather than deny any other language in High German’s favor, as it usually happened in the other parts of Germany, the generally accepted and peculiar Low German’s status as a language rather than as a dialect was a real problem. Also, it was a large part of Northern identity, history, culture and, on the other hand, it was a restriction for national unity that was realized only in High German. The most important fact is that Low German as a spoken language had lost too much ground over the previous years in order to restore important linguistic features such as ‘formal writing’, and etc. All the attempts to enlarge the language's use failed because of the large presence of High German in formal and written discourse.
Many regional and minority languages today participate in similar discussions on their linguistic validity, the suitable discourses in that they can be applied, their ethnic or nationalizing status, and their possibility to express complicated thoughts. This is similar for the non-dominant languages of South Jutish, Frisian, and Low German of the German-Danish region, too, and the arguments presented today are built on a long tradition of similar ideas” (Langer and Langhanke).

Present State of Low German and its Importance for the Contemporary Germany

According to Reershemius, in Northern Germany, there is a situation of stable diglossia that developed from the XVII century on and continued until the second half of the XX century. Low German was used as the spoken variety, while the Standard German was emerging as the standard and written language. Since the 1960s many parents stopped speaking Low German with their children thinking that they would have problems with further education and wishing to be the part of modern society. Consequently, the quantity of Low German speakers has reduced significantly during the last 40-50 years. Now, Low German is spoken in Northern Germany by around 2,000,000 people. Low German is disappearing because of the decreasing quantity of youth, who speaks it. The similar tendencies also exist for Low German in the places where it is spoken outside Northern Germany.
A research on the attitudes towards Low German and Standard German studied the situation with Low German-speaking village in East Frisia and explains linguistic and social processes on a micro-level. According to the research, 70% of the inhabitants actively speak Low German. 53.6% consider Low German to be their first language; other 18.4% say that they are bilinguals. Here we should consider the fact that most of inhabitants were older than 55 years old. The 41-50 age people group decided not to speak Low German earlier in their lives. Low German speakers from this age group refused from using the language in public, at work and in their families. People from this generation were youth in the 1960-1970s, when economic and social changes and other modernization processes took place more strongly than before. In that time there was visible social orientation toward standard language and education in this standard language with very important for the future of the youth.
The statistics shows that local residents did not refuse from learning and speaking Low German in various spheres of their lives. The interest to this dialect was rather strong and most probable would remain the same during next several decades. However, Standard German had become much more important during the last two centuries, because it was official and widely used in all spheres of social life.
According to the research, Low German was still spoken as a vernacular in people’s everyday life, such as the family, in the neighborhood, among friends, in the pub, playground, supermarket, or post office. In that time many people from the village started working or studying in the nearest town and thus began speaking Standard German similar to that town’s residents.
New Standard German was used for the further development, such as contemporary mass media or the Internet. Young people can learn about Low German only with the help of the generation of their grandparents. Low German media and other social or cultural activities associated with the language are highly appreciated and welcomed as they are related clearly to the leisure or entertainment.
Speaking about Low German’s current situation, it should be admitted that this language is shifting to Standard German. Language shift should be analyzed on two levels (the social change level and the level of the attendant ideologies). Social changes during the last 60 years have changed Low German’s perceptions by the speakers. The older speakers keep speaking Low German due to former agricultural economy and lifestyle, but younger generation has had to meet the demands of contemporary, industrialized society where Standard German has taken a dominant role.
Some researchers say that Low German plays a significant role in the development of tourism industry in the region of Northern Germany. It is used for the marketing purposes in order to attract tourists and thus receive profit from such an activity.
Low German is considered today as part of the regional heritage and culture, and significant effort is made in order to preserve it. German government signed in 1999 The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages that recognizes Low German as a language worth supporting, preserving and promoting.
Linguistic Landscaping. Linguistic landscaping is the study of analyses of the linguistic landscape and visible language exhibition in public space. Language visible in public space including monuments, signs, posters, inscriptions, graffiti, supports many purposes in communication, connected to the social life organization in public, for instance commemoration, advertising, instructions, orientation, or the marking of possession or belonging.
The public space language may serve two purposes: conveying messages, expressing symbolic value. The information analyzed in the research describes all signs in the street (including signs in Standard German) confirm that Low German was visible on advertising boards, street signs and house names. The readers of these signs are local residents and tourists. According to the Low German survey in 2007, however, it is necessary to remember that most of the people residing even in this village do not use Low German and only 46% say that they understand it well (Reershemius).
According to the native speakers of English, Low German sounds very similar to their own language. Those two languages belong to the one group and thus have a lot of similarities in terms of lexicology, grammar, phonetics, and etc. English and Low German originated from the same routs, so English speakers noticed that they can understand much of what is said in Low German.

The role of Low German for Native Speakers

According to Reershemius, awareness of the local language and culture does not mean the revitalization of Low German that is threatened by reducing of young speakers’ quantity. Post-vernacular practices of linguistics do not necessarily cause an improvement of a lesser-used language situation. However, they may form the basis of a distinct ethnic, regional or social variety of the main language.
During a rapid shift and loss of regional, minority and smaller languages it gets apparent that many of them still exist as post-vernacular varieties. Some of these languages play the role of building of identity within a society even after they have almost disappeared in everyday communication. This happens through various cultural practices, such as music, amateur theatre and folklore, attempts to learn the language at courses, translation, and etc. Language(s) can be among the most important factors in the social identity’s construction for a community and for an individual. A language that is no longer spoken as a vernacular can add in symbolic value what was lost in the communicative functions. Members of a post-vernacular community may not understand or fluently speak a language, but they can participate in different activities, such as engaging in discourse on the language, performing in the language, doing or using translations, surrounding themselves with things connected with the language, attempting to master the language, and using some borrowed phrases and words of the language in their primary vernacular. Being a participant of a post-vernacular speech society is a consciously-made decision by the person, who chooses the culture and language in order to be the part of the number of elements which form his or her social identity.
Post-vernacular linguistic community members may have inherited the variety, that means that grandparents and/or parents spoke it, or they may have adopted it without any connection to the speech community or variety” (Reershemius).
According to Stewart, since the appearance of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages in 1999, Low German has been recognized as a cultural heritage that should be protected. According to the Lower Saxony’s Minister for Science and Culture, Professor Dr. Johanna Wanka, plattsounds provides an opportunity to increase interest to Plattdeutsch music and language” (Stewart).


Low German has a very long history and, in spite of various issues on different stages of its development, this language managed to exist and even to be spoken till now. It plays a significant role in preserving the cultural heritage of the region.
At the moment it does not have an official status in Germany, thus it is not used in administration and education. However, texts and poems written in this language are learned at schools till now.
Local residents of Northern Germany take various efforts not to forget this language and thus to preserve a certain piece of German culture and historical heritage. Regarding this language’s future, most of the researchers predict that it will exist and young generation will be able to speak it; however, they do not suppose that it will become an official language or will be used on the academic or other high levels.

Works Cited

Fagan, Sarah M.B. German. A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Print.
Langer, Nils, and Robert Langhanke. 'How To Deal With Non-Dominant Languages – Metalinguistic Discourses On Low German In The Nineteenth Century'. Linguistik online 58.1/13 (2012): 77-95. Web. 9 Jan. 2015.
Reershemius, Gertrud. 'Post-Vernacular Language Use In A Low German Linguistic Community'. Journal of Germanic Linguistics 21.2 (2009): 131-147. Web. 9 Jan. 2015.
Reershemius, Gertrud. 'Reconstructing The Past? Low German And The Creating Of Regional Identity In Public Language Display'. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 32.1 (2011): 33-54. Web. 9 Jan. 2015.
Stewart, Nicolette. 'German Dialects: The Sound Of Plattdeutsch'. Young Germany. N.p., 2013. Web. 9 Jan. 2015.

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