AskDefine | Define Plattdeutsch

Dictionary Definition

Plattdeutsch n : a German dialect spoken in northern Germany [syn: Low German]

User Contributed Dictionary



From Plattdeutsch.


  • /ˈplɑtˌdɔɪʧ/ or /ˈplætˌdɔɪʧ/
  • /"plAt%dOItS/ or /"pl

Extensive Definition

Low German or Low Saxon (Plattdüütsch or Nedersaksisch; see nomenclature) is any of the regional language varieties of the West Germanic languages spoken mainly in Northern Germany and eastern parts of the Netherlands.

Geographical extent

Low German in Europe

Variants of Low German were widely (and are still to a far lesser extent) spoken in most parts of Northern Germany, for instance in the states of Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Hamburg, Bremen, Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg. Small portions of northern Hesse and northern Thuringia are traditionally Low Saxon speaking too. Historically, Low German was also spoken in formerly German parts of Poland as well as in East Prussia and the Baltic States of Estonia and Latvia. The language was also formerly spoken in the outer areas of what is now the city state of Berlin but in the course of urbanization the language vanished.
Today, there are still speakers outside of Germany to be found in the coastal areas of present Poland (minority of ethnic German Pommersch speakers who were not expelled from Pomerania, as well as the regions around Braunsberg). In the Southern Jutland region of Denmark there may still be some Low German speakers in some German minority communities, but the Low German and North Frisian dialects of Denmark can be considered moribund at this time.

Low German outside Europe and the Mennonites

There are also immigrant communities in several places of the world, such as Canada, the United States, Mexico, South Africa, Central Asia, Malaysia, India, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, where Low German is spoken. In some of these countries, the language is part of the Mennonite religion and culture . There are Mennonite communities in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Canada which use Low German in their religious services and communities; the people are largely ethnic Germans whose ancestors had moved to newly acquired Russian territories in Ukraine before emigrating to the Americas in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The type of Low German spoken in these communities and in the midwest United States has diverged since emigration. The survival of the language is tenuous in many places and has died out in some places where assimilation has occurred. Mennonite colonies in Paraguay, South America and Chihuahua, Mexico are said to have made Low German a "co-official language" of the community, in addition to the countries' official language, Spanish.


Low German is called Plattdüütsch by native-speakers in Germany and Nedersaksisch by most native-speakers in the Netherlands. Low German is officially called Niederdeutsch ('Low German') by the German authorities; in eastern parts of the Netherlands it is officially called Nedersaksisch ('Low Saxon') by Dutch authorities. Plattdeutsch and Nedersaksisch are seen in linguistic texts from the German and Dutch linguistic communities respectively.
"Low" refers to the flat sea coasts and plains of the Northern European Lowlands, as opposed to High German and the mountainous areas of central and southern Germany, and the Alps (Switzerland and Austria).
The ISO 639-2 language code for Low German has been nds since May 2000.


There are three different uses of the term “Low German”:
  1. A specific name of any West Germanic varieties that have neither taken part in the High German consonant shift nor classify as Low Franconian or Anglo-Frisian; this is the scope discussed in this article.
  2. A broader term for the closely-related, continental West Germanic language family unaffected by the High German consonant shift, nor classifying as Anglo-Frisian, and thus including Low Franconian varieties such as Dutch.
The colloquial term "Platt" denotes both Low German dialects and any non-standard variety of German; this use is chiefly found in northern and western Germany and is considered not to be linguistic .
Many people in northern Germany are unaware that the use of Low German does not abruptly stop at the German-Dutch border, but in fact continues on into the eastern Netherlands. Among those who are aware of it, a measure of estrangement (especially Dutch versus German influences and Dutch versus German based spelling), besides alleged sensitivities remaining from the German occupation in World War II, is often used as an argument in favor of ignoring the dialects of the Netherlands. The general attitude among Low German speakers in the Netherlands, however, is that the Dutch Low Saxon varieties belong to a continuum with the Low German varieties of Northern Germany. Many Low German speakers in the Netherlands are willing and happy to participate in activities organized on the German side of the border, and Dutch people have won prizes in Low German literature contests in Germany.

Status with respect to German and Dutch

globalize European view
The question of whether Low German should be considered a separate language, as opposed to a dialect of German or Dutch, has been a point of contention. Linguistics offer no simple, generally accepted criteria to decide this question, as it is of little academic interest. However, scholarly arguments have been put forward in favour of classifying Low German as a German dialect.
Some such arguments are:
  • Low German lacks any meaningful standard form regarding grammar, orthography, or other aspects, that would bridge the immense regional differences within Low German and form an equivalent to the standard forms of German, French, or other generally accepted independent languages (although Northern Low Saxon serves as a common intelligible language in TV and radio programmes);
  • Low German is not used widely anywhere, and especially not outside of colloquial oral communication. It is spoken on a daily basis by a small minority in Northern Germany. Use in the media is limited to small columns or segments that typically are specifically intended to foster and promote the language;
  • Written Low German is used almost exclusively for belletristic literature, but not for technical documents, administrative or legal texts, etc.
In contrast, Old Saxon and Middle High German may have met enough of these criteria to be considered separate languages in their own rights.
Claims to the contrary have also been made, ascribing to Low German the status of an independent language on par with German, Dutch, Danish, etc. They are often motivated by efforts to paint an uplifiting, positive picture to combat the perceived image of Low German as a dying and irrelevant idiom, and show comparatively little interest in establishing objective criteria and measuring Low German by these. Instead, they focus on different points such as:
  • The great differences between High and Low German; these are examined as absolutes and not compared to the differences between High German and other extreme, but established dialects (such as Swiss German), or between Low German and Dutch.
  • The ostensible successes of very recent efforts (in the 1980s and 1990s) to revive Low German in the media, the schools, and in language societies.
Low German has been recognised by the Netherlands and by Germany (since 1999) as a regional language according to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Within the official terminology defined in the charter, this status would not be available to a dialect of an official language (as per article 1 (a)), and hence not to Low German in Germany if it were considered a dialect of German. Advocates of the promotion of Low German have expressed considerable hope that this political development will at once lend legitimacy to their claim that Low German is a separate language and help mitigate the functional limits of the language that may still be cited as objective criteria for a mere dialect (such as the virtually complete absence from legal and administrative contexts, schools, the media, etc.).

Classification and related languages

Low German is a part of the West Germanic dialect continuum.
To the West, it blends into the Low Franconian languages which distinguish two plural verbal endings, as opposed to a common verbal plural ending in Low German.
To the South, it blends into the High German dialects of Central German that have been affected by the High German consonant shift. The division is usually drawn at the Benrath line that traces the maken – machen isogloss.
To the East, it abuts the Kashubian language (the only remnant of the Pomeranian language) and, since the expulsion of nearly all Germans from Pomerania following the Second World War, also by the Polish language. The Low German dialects of Pomerania are included in the Pommersch group.
To the North and Northwest, it abuts the Danish and the Frisian languages. Note that in Germany, Low German has replaced the Frisian languages in many regions. The Saterland Frisian is the only remnant of East Frisian language and is, outside East Frisia surrounded by Low German, as are the few remaining North Frisian varieties, and the Low German dialects of those regions have Frisian influences from Frisian substrates.
Some classify the northern dialects of Low German together with English, Scots and Frisian as the North Sea Germanic or Ingvaeonic languages. However, most exclude Low German from that group often called Anglo-Frisian languages because some distinctive features of that group of languages are only partially observed in Low German, for instance the Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law (some dialects have us, os for ‘us’ whereas others have uns, ons), and because other distinctive features do not occur in Low German at all, for instance the palatalization of /k/ (compare palatalized forms such as English cheese, Frisian tsiis to non-palatalized forms such as Low German Kees or Kaise, Dutch kaas, German Käse).


Old Saxon

Old Saxon, also known as Old Low German, is a West Germanic language. It is documented from the 9th century until the 12th century, when it evolved into Middle Low German. It was spoken on the north-west coast of Germany and in Denmark by Saxon peoples. It is closely related to Old Anglo-Frisian (Old Frisian, Old English), partially participating in the Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law.
Only a few texts survive, predominantly in baptismal vows the Saxons were required to perform at the behest of Charlemagne. The only literary texts preserved are Heliand and the Old Saxon Genesis.

Middle Low German

The Middle Low German language is an ancestor of modern Low German. It was spoken from about 1100 to 1500. The neighbour languages within the dialect continuum of the West Germanic languages were Middle Dutch in the West and Middle High German in the South, later substituted by Early New High German. Middle Low German was the lingua franca of the Hanseatic League, spoken all around the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. Based on the language of Lübeck, a standardized written language was developing, though it was never codified.


After mass education in Germany in the 19th and 20th century the slow decline which Low German was experiencing since the end of the Hanseatic league turned into a free fall. Today efforts are made in Germany and in the Netherlands to protect Low German as a regional language. Various Low German dialects are understood by 10 million people, and native to about 3 million people all around northern Germany. Most of these speakers are located in rural villages and are often elderly. However, the KDE project supports Low German (nds) as a language for its computer desktop environment.

Sound change

As with the Anglo-Frisian languages and the North Germanic languages, Low German has not been influenced by the High German consonant shift except for old /ð/ having shifted to /d/. Therefore a lot of Low German words sound similar to their English counterparts. One feature that does distinguish Low German from English is final devoicing of obstruents, as exemplified by the words 'good' and 'wind' below. This is a characteristic of Dutch and German as well and involves positional neutralization of voicing contrast in the coda position for obstruents (i.e. t = d at the end of a syllable.)
For instance: water [wɒtɜ, watɜ, wætɜ], later [lɒːtɜ, laːtɜ, læːtɜ], bit [bɪt], dish [dis, diʃ], ship [ʃɪp, skɪp, sxɪp], pull [pʊl], good [gout, ɣɑut, ɣuːt], clock [klɔk], sail [sɑil], he [hɛi, hɑi, hi(j)], storm [stoːrm], wind [vɪˑnt], grass [gras, ɣras], hold [hoˑʊl(t)], old [oˑʊl(t)].
Low German is a West Germanic language of the lowlands and as such did not experience the High German consonant shift. The table below shows the relationship between English and Low German consonants which were unaffected by this chain shift and gives the modern German counterparts, which were affected by the sound shift.
Note: The words shown are phonetic cognates. The semantic values of some of these words have shifted over time. For example, the correct equivalent term for "wife" in modern Dutch and German is vrouw and Frau respectively; using wijf or Weib for a human is considered archaic in German and derogatory in Dutch, comparable to "bitch". There is no phonetic equivalent to Frau/vrouw in English.


Generally speaking, Low German grammar shows similarities with the grammars of Dutch, Frisian, English and Scots, but the dialects of Northern Germany share some features (especially lexical and syntactic features) with German dialects.


Low German declension has only three morphologically marked noun cases, where accusative and dative together constitute an objective case.

Dative dän

In most modern dialects, the nominative and the objective cases are primarily distinguished only in the singular of masculine nouns. In some Low German dialects, the genitive case is distinguished as well (e.g. varieties of Mennonite Low German.) It is marked in the masculine gender by changing the masculine definite determiner 'de' from de to dän. By contrast, German distinguishes four cases; nominative, accusative, genitive, and dative. So, for example, the definite article of the masculine singular has the forms: der (nom), den (acc), des (gen), and dem (dat.) Thus case marking in Low German is simpler than German's.


In Low German verbs are conjugated for person, number and tense. Verb conjugation for person is only differentiated in the singular. There are five tenses in Low German: Present tense, Preterite, Perfect, and Pluperfect and in Mennonite Low German the Present Perfect which signifies a remaining effect from a past finished action. For example 'Ekj sie jekomen'-'I am come'-means that the speaker came and he is still at the place to which he came as a result of his completed action.
Unlike Dutch, German and southern Low German, the northern dialects form the participle without the prefix ge-, like the Scandinavian languages and English. Compare to the German past participle geschlafen. This past participle is formed with the auxiliary verb hebben 'to have'. It should be noted that e- is used instead of ge- in most Southern (below Groningen in the Netherlands) dialects, though often not when the past participle ends with -en or in a few often used words like west (been).
The reason for the two conjugations shown in the plural is regional: dialects in the central area use -t while the dialects in East Frisia and the dialects in Mecklenburg and further east use -en. The -en suffix is of Dutch influence.
In Mennonite Low German, some verbs inflect into two moods: Indicative and Imperative. For the verb 'jäwen'-to give,for example, the Imperative form is 'jefs'.
There are 26 verb affixes.



  • a- the tongue is put right between the mouth's bottom and mouth's top and right behind the mouth's teeth and mouth's back, and hum
  • a- just below and behind the sound just mentioned, and hum
  • ä- like in date, plain, in ray
  • air- like in fairy
  • e- like in death
  • e- a schwa
  • e- the tongue is put a little further forward than right in the center, and hum
  • ie- like in heat, teeth, she
  • i- like in hit
  • o- like in story
  • o- like in boat
  • oo- like in tooth
  • ur- like in hurry
  • u- like in book
  • u- like in pluck
  • ü- the tongue is put between the teeth and right behind them and hum


Since there is no standard Low German, there is no standard Low German consonant system. The table shows the consonant system of North Saxon, a West Low Saxon dialect.

Writing system

Low German is written using the Latin alphabet. There is no true standard orthography, only several locally more or less accepted orthographic guidelines, those in the Netherlands mostly based on Dutch orthography, and those in Germany mostly based on German orthography. This diversity—being the result of centuries of official neglect and suppression—has a very fragmenting and thus weakening effect on the language as a whole, since it has created barriers that do not exist on the spoken level. Interregional and international communication is severely hampered by this. Most of these systems aim at representing the phonetic (allophonic) output rather than underlying (phonemic) representations. Furthermore, many writers follow guidelines only roughly. This adds numerous idiosyncratic and often inconsistent ways of spelling to the already existing great orthographic diversity.


There is a lot of information about Low German to be found online. A selection of these links can be found on this page, which will provide a good frame work to understand the history, current situation and features of the language.
If your organisation isn't listed here, feel free to add it.
  • Skik (Drents/Dutch - Drenthe, the Netherlands)
  • Jan Cornelius (East Frisian - Ostfriesland, Germany)
  • Törf (Gronings - Groningen, the Netherlands)
  • Eltje Doddema (Veenkoloniaals - Groningen, the Netherlands)
  • Boh foi toch (Achterhoeks - Gelderland, the Netherlands)
Unorganized links:


Plattdeutsch in Catalan: Baix alemany
Plattdeutsch in Czech: Dolnoněmčina
Plattdeutsch in Danish: Plattysk
Plattdeutsch in Pennsylvania German: Blattdeitsch
Plattdeutsch in German: Niederdeutsche Sprache
Plattdeutsch in Estonian: Alamsaksa keel
Plattdeutsch in Spanish: Bajo sajón
Plattdeutsch in Esperanto: Platgermana lingvo
Plattdeutsch in French: Bas-allemand
Plattdeutsch in Western Frisian: Nederdútsk
Plattdeutsch in Croatian: Donjonjemački jezik
Plattdeutsch in Italian: Lingua basso-tedesca
Plattdeutsch in Hebrew: סקסונית תחתית
Plattdeutsch in Ligurian: Lengua tedesca bassa
Plattdeutsch in Hungarian: Alnémet nyelv
Plattdeutsch in Macedonian: Долносаксонски јазик
Plattdeutsch in Dutch: Nederduits
Plattdeutsch in Dutch Low Saxon: Nederduuts
Plattdeutsch in Japanese: 低ザクセン語
Plattdeutsch in Norwegian: Nedertysk
Plattdeutsch in Norwegian Nynorsk: Plattysk språk
Plattdeutsch in Occitan (post 1500): Bas-saxon
Plattdeutsch in Low German: Nedderdüütsch
Plattdeutsch in Polish: Język dolnoniemiecki
Plattdeutsch in Portuguese: Baixo-alemão
Plattdeutsch in Kölsch: Nėederdeutsch (Shprooch)
Plattdeutsch in Romanian: Germana de jos
Plattdeutsch in Russian: Нижненемецкий язык
Plattdeutsch in Scots: Nether-Saxon
Plattdeutsch in Slovenian: Nizka nemščina
Plattdeutsch in Serbian: Нисконемачки језик
Plattdeutsch in Serbo-Croatian: Donjonjemački jezik
Plattdeutsch in Finnish: Alasaksa
Plattdeutsch in Swedish: Lågtyska
Plattdeutsch in Chinese: 低地德语
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