As a branch of the West Germanic group, "Low German" includes
all varieties derived from Old Low Frankish (e.g. Dutch and Afrikaans) and
from Old Saxon. In Germany, the name (Niederdeutsch/Plattdeutsch)
is used as a general label for Low Frankish and Low Saxon varieties that
happen to be used on German soil. In a specific sense, the name refers to
varieties that descended from Old Saxon. These are used in Northern Germany
and in the eastern parts of the Netherlands. The native name Neddersassisch
(Low Saxon), in the Netherlands Nedersaksisch and Neersaksisch,
has begun to be applicable to all Old-Saxon-derived varieties.
There are also speakers of Low German in Poland, Denmark, Russia, Ukraine,
Central Asia, Australia, the USA, Canada and Latin America. This includes
Mennonite Plautdietsch. Low German is the native language of about
3 million people and can be understood by about 10 million people. Since 1999,
Low German has been recognised by Germany as a regional language according to
the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The Netherlands
recognised their varieties somewhat earlier.
Low German first appeared in writing during the 9th century in the form of
two poems, Heliand (The Savior) and Genesis, short texts,
such as a baptismal oath, a little earlier. It was used as a written language
in official documents until the 17th century, when it was largely replaced by
High German. German traders from the Hanseatic cities dominated trade on the
Baltic Sea coasts and their language influenced the other languages of the region.
Low German literature has a long history. While in the recent past it
consisted mostly of traditional styles and genres, publication of works in
contemporary styles and genres have been on the increase since the middle
of the 20th century, especially since official recognition of the language.
There is no standard orthography or a standard written language for Low
German. A German-based spelling system is usually used by speakers of Low
German in Germany, and a Dutch-based one in the Netherlands.
Northern Low German pronunciation (Germany, Sass Orthography)
Short vowels are slightly lengthened (but not changed otherwise) before m, n, ng, l and r. In these cases they tend to be written double in Dutch-based systems.
Long vowels (and diphthongs where applicable) except long i are spelled as single letters in open syllables; they are spelled as double letters in closed syllables and when followed by more than one consonant letter. Long i is always spelled ie. A long vowel is supposed to be followed by h wherever this applies in the German cognate. In the Lokkum Guidelines orthography (which is used in religious circles), long vowels are represented by double letters in both closed and open syllables (unless they are followed by lengthening h).
In some northern dialects, especially in the Lower Elbe region, long a is pronounced [oː] and tends to be spelled o or oh.
Long monophthong e is supposed to be distinguished from the diphthong spelled e/ee by being written with an ogonek (ę/ęę) or as ä/ää, but most writers ignore this rule.
Long monophthong ö is supposed to be distinguished from the diphthong spelled ö/öö by being written with an ogonek (ǫ̈/ǫ̈ǫ̈) or as œ, but most writers ignore this rule.
At the end of a syllable, b, d and g are devoiced.
In dialects of the Lower Elbe region and Western Mecklenburg, the marked diphthongs become long monophthongs before syllable-final r.
Following i, ie, e, ü or ö in the same syllable, ch and g are pronounced [ç]; after a, o or u [χ].
At the end of a syllable, h is not pronounced.
Voiceless stops are aspirated only at the beginning of a word.
Traditionally, l is pronounced velar (like English l) at the end of a syllable.
n becomes [m] before b and p; it becomes [ŋ] before ch, g and k.
At the end of a syllable r becomes a vowel. At the beginning of a syllable it is traditionally trilled, but under German influence some speakers now use uvular [ʁ].
s is pronounced [z] before a vowel, elsewhere [s]. Before p, t, m and n at the beginning of a syllable, s is always [s]; it becomes [ʃ] only in a few marginal dialects and under strong German influence.
The apostrophe is used as an omission symbol. At the end of a word, it tends to stand for omitted older e, in which case the preceding vowel is lengthened (long vowels and diphthongs becoming extra long) and preceding d is not pronounced in many dialects. Most writers do not understand and follow this rule.
Sample text in North Low Saxon
Wat Wöörd' un Rechten sünd, daar sünd all de
Minschen free un liek mit boorn. Se hebbt dat Tüüg för
Vernimm un Gewäten mitkrägen, un dat böört jüm,
dat se eenanner in'n Geest vun Bröderschup in de Mööt kaamt.
This text in Fraktur
This text in Sütterlin
IPA transcription of this text
vat vœːɪɝ ʔʊˑn
ˈrɛçtn̩ zʏˑn(t) dɒːɐ
zʏˑn(t) ʔaˑɫ de ˈmɪˑnʃn̩
frɛˑɪ ʔʊˑn liːk mɪt
bɔˑʊɐn zɛˑɪ hɛp(t)
dat tʰyːç fœˑɐ fɝˈnɪˑm
ʔʊˑn geˈveːtn̩ ˈmɪtkreːgŋ
ʔʊˑn dat bœˑɪɝt
ɟʏˑm dat zɛˑɪ
gɛˑɪst fʊˑn ˈbrœˑɪdɝʃʊp
ˈʔɪˑne mœˑɪt kʰɒːmt
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights